I was recently at a 'Fishbowl Discussion' where the topic for the floor was "What is Sustainable Meat?" It took me less than a split-second to come up with the Meta-Answer 'If plants are better for the planet than meat, then the sustainability of meat does not matter'.
But I am coming at the topic from a vegan/vegetarian perspective. Already I am poised to say that, intrinsically, animals have rights and shouldn't be killed. Despite the advertising you might see across the interwebs and TV stations, the animals raised for slaughter live in squalid conditions and are treated inhumanely. Those conditions are what enable most people in the United States to have meat on their plate for any meal they wish! But the rights of animals and dissection of 'the system' were not on the table during the discussion day, rather the updated query: How can we change our diets in order to be more sustainable?
My answer is still the same: Sustainable Meat exists, but why make a decision to eat it when there are better options out there, which would allow you to live with more wild land and fewer greenhouse gases funneled into the atmosphere?
Depending on whether you count transport costs, and how you weigh in other farming externalities, It has been estimated that between 18% to 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions are due to current methods of livestock production (Why is this a problem? Think NYC or the Maldives underwater, droughts and extinction of many animal species!). This colorful infographic also shows a few of the resources that go into making a burger.
Imagine the enormous amounts of land used for the production of meat utilized, instead, for a forest preserve, a playground for you or your kids, or even common space to adventure through and explore!
By cutting down on the amount of meat we consume, we send a message directly to those people slaughtering animals for our culinary pleasure that we disagree with the status quo of wasted land, poorly paid workers, poorly treated animals and that in raising our own standards, the meat industry must raise theirs to meet our levels.
It is difficult to cut back, or go off meat; I acknowledge that many people don't want to. The popular movement, Meet Free Mondays, or Meat Less Mondays, however, offers an alternative practice that makes a tangible difference regarding the sustainability of our eating practices. Going full off of meat for one day doesn't just help to conserve and rewild places throughout our country. Most people find that they considerably reduce their food budget and enjoy getting into touch with their inner cook; experimenting with fun vegetarian takes on traditional dinners!
Part Time Carnivore is a neat peer/contest support website that allows you to register yourself by country, region, and you can even include your work buddies or sports team as PTC's in order to see how much land you have saved and Carbon Dioxide emissions you have stopped depending on how many days you have chosen to not eat meat. The website also keeps a total for everyone who has joined up on it.
If you are looking for a simple, immediate habit that you can change to save yourself money, protect people and animal rights, and safeguard our planet while eating really healthily, then this is probably the biggest little change you can make. And it is fun as well.
My grandma still frets when I come over to her house and tell her for the fiftieth time that 'I am a vegetarian' about what to feed me. But give it some practice, full time or part time, and you discover a world of new tastes, culinary experimentation, great health and fitness benefits, while brushing any of that guilt off your shoulder.
Keep it Green, Keep it Real
There are many websites and cookbooks that can show you how to get the same nutrition from your new dietary decision. If you do decide to take up challenge to go at least a day meat free then I would love to hear from you, and possibly start a rotating round of blog posts on food tips and tricks as well as your rationales for the change in eating habits! Please get in touch at NathanOzcan@gmail.com
Further- If anyone wants a particular issue covered, or thinks it would be interesting to get it covered (in a debate format)- feel free to email me as well! It would be great to hear from you.