It's finally been proven that my meat-eating is definitely ruining the environment, but it's just so good
I want to be an eco-warrior but while I’ve put a toe in the water, I can’t quite commit to the cause. I thought perhaps this research was what I needed to finally push me over into the vegetable patch, but even as I write about it I know I’m already failing
There is more good news for the salad shooters amongst us this week as a huge piece of research into farming has finally confirmed the thing your vegan friend has been telling you ever since they saw Cowspiracy – cutting out meat and dairy really could save the planet.
The study assessed the environmental impact of more than 90 per cent of foodstuffs, right from their inception to the moment we at them. And it turns out that if you care enough about the environment to recycle your shopping bags or cycle to work, then you’re wasting your time. The biggest impact you can make on the environment is cutting out meat and dairy.
The problem is not simply that livestock take up huge amounts of land in return for very little nutrition (livestock accounts for 83 per cent of agricultural land but just 18 per cent of our calories); it’s also that all the processes involved in getting that pork (or beef or chicken or duck) to the plate add up to one big environmental disaster. From greenhouse gases (all those cow farts) to the use of electricity and water, and even the air miles the food travels; the second you make the decision to bypass the veggie options on the menu, you’re about as eco-friendly as Donald Trump eating a hamburger on Air Force One.
I’ve been increasingly aware of the damage my food is doing not just to me but also the world around me since my former flatmate went vegan a few years ago. While remarkably unpreachy, the increasing numbers of vegetables around our kitchen and a few gentle remarks about how we could all do our bit to manage global warming didn’t go unnoticed.
Nor, quite frankly, did some of her delicious-looking food. I’d like to claim that my love of our planet’s greenery comes before my love of the moment you smell a really delicious dinner, but I’d be deceiving us all. The reality is that for me to even think about going vegan I need first to be reassured that food will still be a pleasure and not a chore. Because this is the real kick with veganism: however good it might be for you or the planet, how do you convince yourself that a life of hummus and broccoli is a good one?
Apparently some people can, as according to the Vegan Society more than half a million Brits now identify as vegan, up from around 150,000 just 10 years ago. Clearly we are making the move to meat-free. It can’t have hurt the vegan cause that social media is packed with an array of beautiful young things all Instagramming their avocado toast and promoting the values of a “plant-based” lifestyle. I haven’t quite established the difference between “plant-based” and “vegan” other than the former seems to spend more on their yoga pants, but whatever it is, it’s sneaking it’s way into all our consciousnesses, including mine.
I’ve just bought the new Bosh! cookbook – two blokes trying to make veganism cool for the guys – I try and do meat-free Mondays and I make such a mean vegan cheesecake that die hard dairy queens have begged me for the recipe. And yet... I just can’t commit to giving up chicken fajitas on a Wednesday night, my mum’s shepherd’s pie (which I cannot replicate no matter how often I try), or that Ben & Jerry’s when the week has just been too long. I want to be an eco-warrior but while I’ve put a toe in the water, I can’t quite commit to the cause.
I thought perhaps this research was what I needed to finally push me over into the vegetable patch, but even as I write about it I know I’m already failing. The voice in my head is working out whether I could give up a couple of flights a year and have the same impact, or maybe use my car less and still be able to eat roast beef on a Sunday.
I’m clearly a fairweather vegan wannabe and I don’t think I’ll ever change, but maybe that could be good enough. I could just channel my inner Jamie Oliver and stay meat-free on a Monday. And maybe a Tuesday too. I could stop just perusing the veggie options and actually order them when I go out. And, easiest of all, I could just switch to a vegan ice cream choice. None of this is going to save the planet entirely but maybe, if we all just cut back on our meat a little bit, we wouldn’t be harming it quite so much.
Harriet Minter is a journalist and broadcaster, and presenter of Badass Women’s Hour on talkRadio