Eating meat is common in most cultures around the world. As countries become developed, their meat consumption increases. This is why some of the richest countries (such as the US and Australia), also eat the most meat. With awareness of climate change on the rise, people have started to ask the question: is eating meat sustainable? In this post, we’re going to give our take on the topic.
Benefits of meat
Momentarily leaving out the ethical dilemma of eating meat (for this post), there are some physical benefits of doing so. It can be a significant source of nutrients that are otherwise difficult to obtain in nature. There is a statistical link between countries that have easy meat-access and rises in life expectancy. This could be because of the high amounts of protein, vitamin B12, zinc, selenium and iron in meat.
Other than that there are many people who see eating meat as part of their culture. According to some studies, we may have been eating meat for over 2.6 million years (source: Nature.com). Many delicacies around the world contain some kind of meat. People who eat these dishes like previous generations of their relatives can feel connected to their culture. Giving up meat can mean giving up some of these dishes, which many people have a very hard time doing.
Drawbacks of meat
Unfortunately there is also a cost to eating meat (otherwise we wouldn’t be writing this post 😉 ). The environmental cost of eating some types of meat is up to 10 – 50 times higher than other vegetables. A large culprit are animals that release large quantities of methane. This gas heats the planet significantly more than the better-known carbon dioxide.
As mentioned earlier, there is a range of health benefits to eating meat. However, just like a lot of things in life, when undulged in excessively it can cause a number of health issues. A lot of developed countries are now facing this problem. Other than the obvious problem of an increasingly overweight population, some studies have shown links between high red meat consumption and problems such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes (source: World Cancer Research Fund).
To meet the huge demand for meat, a monstrously huge industry was born. This industry has no eye for the welfare of the animals, and happily sacrifices it for higher production. Most people would likely agree that they’d prefer it if the animals were treated better, but they feel as if though there isn’t much they can do. Sadly, they aren’t wrong entirely – it’s hard to see how the world could produce so much meat and at the same time give animals a fair treatment. However, as mentioned earlier, we will not be discussing the ethical issues too broadly here, since we feel it is an issue that deserves a separate discussion.
Is eating chicken sustainable?
They grow quickly and live relatively short lives. Chickens can also reproduce quickly. They need relatively little food and water compared to other livestock. Poultry also does not release methane and need relatively simple and small areas to live. All of this combined means that chicken is one of the most sustainable meats you can eat. Furthermore, in terms of our enjoyment, it is quite a flexible ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes.
Is eating pork sustainable?
This is a difficult one to answer. They need much less food than other animals such as cows and are very flexible about the food that they do eat. A lot of farmers feed them food waste, which means food does not necessarily need to be grown for them. They also grow and reproduce quickly. It all sounds good so far, but there’s a catch: They’re actually rather intelligent animals and can often be some of the worst treated. So, technically, yes; pork is more sustainable. However, we would advise you to consider their treatment specifically before buying.
Is eating beef sustainable?
Beef has a very high impact on the environment as a result of the methane they release. There is also an environmental cost to producing food for them, as well as the amount of time it takes them to grow. On top of that they demand large amounts of space, which restricts the quantity of animals that can be healthily kept in one area. Because of this, beef can hardly be called a sustainable meat.
Is eating lamb sustainable?
Beef is well-known to be bad for the environment, but what most people don’t know is that lamb is also one of the most problematic meats. This due to the same problems that beef has – their digestive systems are similar to that of cows, which means they too produce lots of methane. In addition, they only reproduce once per year, which means animals must be kept fed and alive for a long time in order to maintain an ongoing supply of lamb. For this reason, you should treat it similarly to beef.
We’ve given quite a lot of information in this article so we’d like to wrap it up by giving you an easy answer: If you don’t want to stop eating meat, you don’t have to. We very strongly believe in doing things in moderation. Living more sustainably doesn’t mean you have to give up everything you enjoy. What you could aim for is to reduce the amount of meat you eat. Tons of people eat meat with almost every meal (we were some of them in the past). In our experience, a lot of the time this meat doesn’t actually add all that much to the meal, other than the fact that we’ve come to expect it. Often it can easily be swapped out.
If you occasionally removed the meat from some of your meals and tried to replace beef & lamb with chicken & turkey, you would significantly lower your impact on your environment and improve your health. With enough people doing this, meat production could have an easier time keeping up with demand which would not only be better for the environment but also for animal welfare.
If you found this post useful, please share it on social media. If you’ve been able to reduce your meat consumption, feel free to leave a comment saying what you’ve done!