For the sake of transparency, I’ll share with you the reasons I’m not currently a vegetarian or vegan:
- I love pretty much all food, including meat.
- I feel healthier if I eat meat sometimes, as well as other animal protein sources like eggs and yogurt.
- I don’t have the discipline to never eat meat.
- I don’t always think about animal welfare when I’m shopping for food, cooking or eating what someone else has prepared for me.
- Perhaps I’m just a bit lazy.
Now, I’m not saying these are ‘good’ reasons. They don’t necessarily justify my non-vegetarianism. But those are the honest reasons why I am not currently a vegetarian. That being said, I usually only eat meat once a week at the moment, so ‘vegetarian’ eating is the norm for me the vast majority of the time.
Anyway, the truth is I am an omnivore, and so are most of the people on the planet. That may or may not be a good thing, depending on how you judge the matter, but it is true all the same. And, as this article from The Economist points out, as people around the world become more affluent, meat eating is on the rise. Meat is a desirable commodity for most people, and if it is affordable and available, they want more of it!
This does create issues that we omnivores have to think about and address.
One issue is that raising livestock does have negative environmental effects, such as the use of land and water for sustaining animals, the destruction of natural ecological systems to create grazing land (i.e. chopping down the Amazon Rainforest to make space for cattle farming), and CO2 emissions that come from cows, to list some of the most obvious.
So, eating meat means that more animals will be raised for food, which means that there will be more harm done to the environment.
There is a way to lessen the impact, but it presents it’s own moral and ethical problems: efficient factory farming. This type of intensive farming can decrease the impact of livestock on the environment but obviously has the downside of being worse for the animals involved.
So, in a nutshell, you can’t have enough happy, frolicking, free-range animals to feed everyone without taking up huge amounts of space and wrecking the environment. You also can’t completely protect the environment and valuable wild habitats without resorting to the cruelty of factory farming.
I admit, it seems that the obvious best-choice is for everyone to become vegetarian (although, realistically, this isn’t an option for everyone either, due to the geography and climate, and consequently the food sources available, in certain areas of the world. I also cannot claim that it would be the healthiest choice for every individual, as I am not a nutritionist or doctor). However, I think one must face the fact that that’s not the direction things are heading, and while global vegetarianism may be ideal (I stress the may), this isn’t a perfect world and we can’t wait around for that to happen.
So, the question is: how can the least damage be done, to both the environment and the animals involved? How can we strike a balance between treating food animals as humanely as possible while using the least amount of land and other valuable natural resources?
One additional and very important bit of information the article highlights is that not all animals are equal when it comes to environmental impact, resource usage and nutritional output. For example, pork and poultry are more efficient than red meat (i.e. more protein with less environmental cost), and dairy is a more efficient form of protein than meat. Just a little something else to think about.
Click here for the full article from the Economist – Livestock: Meat and Greens