Jessica Holifield discusses whether changing to a vegetarian diet is a solution to the environmental crisis.
The number of people following a meat-free diet in the UK is rapidly on the rise, with approximately 500,000 Britons renouncing meat in 2020. It is now estimated that 14 per cent of us here in the UK follow some form of a meat-free diet, whether that be pescatarian, vegetarian or plant-based. Ethical reasons and health concerns can be enough to lure somebody into cutting back on animal products, but as we find ourselves in the midst of a climate emergency there is another reason why somebody may choose to ditch dairy and meat. In recent years, countless reports have been released telling us that cutting back on meat can help ease climate change, and environmental and animal activists have advocated for this too. But is veganism or vegetarianism really going to help in a climate disaster as intense as the one we find ourselves in?
Writing for the BBC, Richard Gray pointed out that a vegan diet is not always ‘green’. He did acknowledge that, ‘there is no doubt that meat – beef in particular – makes an unsurpassable contribution to the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. It also devours more land and water and causes more environmental damage than any other single food product’. However, Gray proceeded to list the shortcomings of certain fruits and vegetables. As we may have seen, avocados are particularly bad, needing about 834 litres of water per kilogram of fruit. Mushroom farming methods produce CO2 because of the energy required to heat the room they are grown in. But is this not an issue with modern farming methods, as opposed to the vegetable itself? Gray continues, telling us that researcher Joseph Poore found that almonds, cashews, and walnuts are some of the most water-intensive crops grown on the planet.
However, what this article fails to point out is that omnivorous people also eat fruits and vegetables. As well as eating meat – which, as various studies have proved, is damaging to the environment as a result of methane being released into the atmosphere as well as the water it requires – meat-eaters also consume fruit and vegetables. To assume that, in the case of omnivorous palettes, it’s a case of either/or is to look at the issue one-dimensionally.
Many of us have stopped using plastic straws in a bid to help the ocean, but have we ever considered not eating fish?
Climate activist Greta Thunberg has campaigned that we should swap to a vegan diet or we have no chance of reversing climate damage. She tells us, ‘the climate crisis, the ecological crisis and the health crisis – they are all interlinked […] the way we make food, raising animals to eat, clearing land to grow food to feed these animals . . . It just doesn’t make sense’. I find myself in agreement with Greta. Likewise, Environment provided us with reasons why a vegetarian diet is better for the environment: it requires less land; it minimizes pollution; it conserves water and it protects marine ecosystems. Many of us have stopped using plastic straws in a bid to help the ocean, but have we ever considered not eating fish? With arguments like this put before us, in conjunction with ethical and health reasons, it might be worth us reconsidering our lifestyle choices.
Having said this, it’s not enough to change our diets. Politicians need to be doing more to help the climate crisis rather than thinking about lining their own pockets. Big companies should be figuring out how they could make a positive impact. Additionally, if for some reason you can’t change your diet, it could be worth looking at other lifestyle choices you could make: using apps like Olio helps to reduce food waste; purchasing loose fruit and vegetables cuts down on plastic; using public transport reduces CO2; buying from charity shops helps limit our consumerism. Hopefully, with society working together and making changes where possible, we will begin to see climate change reverse in the coming years.