From day 1, I’ll admit that I’ve been a rather ravenous meat-eater – the smell of bacon in the morning produces a lusty euphoria in me, roast beef with all the trimmings is the epitome of a perfect Sunday, and if I had to eat one last meal before the apocalypse, it would be steak (medium rare, with a pinch of garlic butter.
Naturally, this has come with the usual questions throughout life of “if you love animals so much, why do you eat them?” The answer has moulded and developed as life goes on, with the statements “we’re designed to eat meat”, “it’s essential for the protein” and (rather blandly) “it tastes too good” all being battered about.
Yet as time goes on, many carnivore conservationists such as myself become increasingly aware of facts that essentially make these above excuses rather redundant, and I now find myself at a bit of loss when I try to think of a scientific reason as to why we need to eat meat when discussing the issues with vegan/vegetarian friends – quite simply, we don’t. Protein isn’t sacredly bound to an animal’s flesh, and while we may have evolved eating meat, we also spent our early days cannibalising neighbours we didn’t like.
On top of that, it’s clear that the meat industry has a huge impact on the environment. Six to seven billion people all wanting to eat meat makes its production about as beneficial to the environment as Owen Paterson (good riddance) commandeering a Chelsea-tractor rally to launch a new fracking site. Over a fifth of all land on Earth is used for grazing livestock, while a third of our arable land worldwide grows its food. Up to 40% of abstracted water in the US is used to sustain meat production, while the phosphate pollution caused by farming can severely degrade aquatic ecosystems. The excessive levels of carbon dioxide and methane released by the meat industry could account for anything between 18 to 50% of all greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, this relentless demand for it to be cheap and readily available often ensures the creatures we eat live over-crowded, pitiful lives before slaughter in factory farms that make the worst human prisons look like five-star hotels. (For further reading on the impacts of meat, I’ll redirect you to Time magazine and George Monbiot)
These issues have been bugging me for a while now; just writing that made me feel increasingly guilty about the bacon and sausages I had this morning in the student union canteen. I’m going to admit, I just don’t have the will power to give it up completely. For that reason alone I’ll never be as sustainable in my eating habits as I could be unless/until I take the veggie plunge. But you can at least be a better carnivore, by eating less and better.
The former is probably the easier of the two, especially if you’re a student whose pockets don’t often stretch to buying large quantities of meat anyway. The meat-free Monday initiative is one way of easing into it, and I’ve found a simple method to simply be replacing processed meats like burgers, sausages and mince (which are in turn likely produced on factory farms) with the vegetarian replacements – because to be frank, the meat versions are probably about as far from the original animal as they are! And they’re often better. I tend to refrain from advertising on this blog, because I’ve never thought about it and didn’t need to until now, but the Linda McCartney sausages and mozzarella burgers are absolutely superb. Adopting such dietary habits then makes the consumption of ‘real’ meat, such as that holier-than-thou roast beef on Sunday, all the sweeter.
This issue of ‘real meat’ comes in to play in the second method of eating better, and is much harder to initiate. A lot of the logos you’ll see on supermarket meat that people often take to mean the animal has lived in a Somerset Shangri-la, such as the red tractor, tell you sod all about the life that animal’s lead, and much of the meat off the shelf will be from the heavily polluting, drug-pumped, disease-breeding, horrific life of factory farm stock. In this case, you could stick to the expensive, aforementioned ‘real’ meat, but in no way is it a certainty of ‘clean’ produce. The best way is undoubtedly going to your local farmers market or shop – supporting better welfare, and your local economy to boot.
It’s all very well trying to improve your own meat consumption, but ultimately we’re going to need more encouragement of the population at large. It’s amazing how little we know about where our meat comes from, and I’ve frequently heard that school children should have a trip to such a place early in their education so they can make the choice for themselves. Equally, I feel it should be a legal obligation for meat packaging to include a photo of the environment the source stock has been reared within. We already stick pictures of diseased lungs on cigarette packets – why should this be any different? Seeing an image of hundreds of chickens cramped together with no room, walking in their own faeces may well make the consumer think twice about buying those cheap drumsticks.
Less realistically, it would be nice if we ate more expensive, yet conservation friendly, venison. We’ve got too many deer in this country as it is, and it’s about as free-range as you get. As far as I know, there isn’t much muntjac meat in circulation, but it could be a useful way of dealing with those pesky invasive species.
Food for thought. It’s already got me thinking about dinner, and I think I’ll have another one of those mozzarella burgers.