Just off the bat, yes. Yes, you absolutely can call yourself an environmentalist if you eat meat. After the backlash following a similar statement from actor and environmental advocate Suzy Amis Cameron in 2014, I would not say otherwise. I do, however, think it is important that people who care about the human impact understand that, in terms of lifestyle choices, by far the most effective thing you can do is change the way you eat.
From birth to plate, every 400g of beef produces 105kg of greenhouse gasses (GHG). The average pack of mince weighs 500g meaning eating beef once a week for a year produces 6552kg of GHG emissions, as well as using 520,000 litres of water and cutting down 3432 trees. For comparison, the average car produces 4600kg of CO2 per annum.
Palm oil, the current media villain, is responsible for 26 million acres of deforestation to date;the cattle industry is responsible for 136 million acres. 59% of all land on earth is used for livestock farming, this represents 83% of all farmland despite the industry only contributing18% of our dietary calories. And, while only 0.3% of ocean plastics are straws, 46% are fishing nets and tackle. Agriculture isn’t generally regarded as an environmental issue, but it currently greatly outstrips travel and even energy in terms of emissions and global impact.
In the case of animal agriculture, making a change very much is your responsibility
This is clearly the most significant environmental challenge we face, but unlike energy or transport, the solution to this one is very simple. Agriculture is entirely consumer driven and, as consumers, we have a huge amount of power and freedom to influence the market. You can’t demand that the national grid only provide renewable energy to power your house, but you can stop buying meat. The effect of societal change is very evident from Quorn’s growth in recent years. In 2017, the company registered a 16% growth as a direct result of increasing numbers of vegetarian and flexitarian customers. In the case of animal agriculture, making a change very much is your responsibility.It seems illogical that anyone who claims to care about the environment would disregard it
The practicalities of being vegetarian or vegan are a prolific argument against, but it’s becoming less and less compelling. With over 3,000,000 vegetarians and 600,000 vegans in the UK alone, the surrounding industries are growing rapidly. Gone are the days when it was hard to find alternatives for meat, a good recipe, or a restaurant to eat at. There’s even a place in Manchester where you can have wings, a BBQ bacon cheeseburger, a brownie, and a milkshake without a hint of an animal product.
The nutritional argument holds no water either; it is generally accepted that you can get every nutrient you need without eating meat or dairy which, incidentally, also constitute the main food groups which cause heart disease. As for protein, Kenneth G Williams is a lot bigger than all of you.
The fact is, it is no longer unenjoyable or difficult to stop eating meat. For such a simple and impactful lifestyle choice, it seems illogical that anyone who claims to care about the environment would disregard it. It is this cognitive dissonance which I encourage people to acknowledge and address.
Simply cutting out beef could be the same as getting rid of your car
I am not under any illusions that I have the right to say who is and isn’t an environmentalist. Imagine being the person who tried to claim our saviour David Attenborough wasn’t an environmentalist because he still has roast chicken on Sundays. However, those who call themselves environmentalists, or even just claim to care a bit, should appreciate that this is the biggest impact you can have in terms of lifestyle choices.
You don’t need to become vegan overnight. It’s unsustainable in the same way that going to the gym seven days a week when you first join is unsustainable. But simply cutting out beef could be the same as getting rid of your car, meaning you don’t need to subject yourself to riding a bike for miles and miles, or struggling to carry your weekly food shop home cradled in your arms because you forgot bags. Just lay off the beef burgers, give Linda McCartney sausages a go, and your carbon footprint could shrink considerably.