Roar writer Talia Shehadeh encourages readers to become meat-free in 2020.
As another year begins, we are encouraged to participate in one of the many January challenges such as dry-January or Veganuary, signs for which cannot be missed. They attract those of us who wish to start the year off right, reset and detox or rid themselves of past sins.
This year the popularity of Veganuary has grown immensely. According to the non-profit organisation, 2020 saw a record 400,000 sign-ups, a substantial increase from the 250,000 in 2019. This news should fill us with hope and joy as so many people worldwide are making the conscious effort to be environmentally and ethically minded. Instead, when I read this I felt guilt and disappointment. I began to question why I had not taken on the challenge, or even considered it. I hold myself to be an environmentally conscious person, and I try to act accordingly: I do not eat meat, I avoid dairy, I try to shop consciously, and I carry a keep-cup, water bottle or a plastic bag replacement with me.
Yet, there is always something missing, something more I could have done. At least this is how I feel as an advocate of the environmental movement. I have attempted to follow a vegan diet a few times, but I have retreated due to the negative ways I believed it affected my health. I know that I am doing more for the environment than the average person, but somehow, I still seem to feel guilty about not being a Vegan.
One of my countless January deadlines included a science briefing on the ways changing diets can influence the climate. After completing this, I felt a little more settled about my lifestyle choices. For this assignment, I was looking specifically at the greenhouse gas emissions from the food industry. Shockingly, this industry is responsible for over a quarter of total greenhouse gas emissions, 72-78% of which is from livestock production alone (Springmann et al., 2018).
A study by Tilman and Clark in 2014 found that ruminant livestock was the greatest single source of greenhouse gases in the food systems, shown in the graph provided. Ruminant livestock includes cattle, sheep, goats and buffalo. They are distinguished by their unique digestive systems that emit methane during processes of decomposition and fermentation. The study highlights that by following alternative diets such as Mediterranean, pescatarian and vegetarian there could be a net reduction of emissions by 30%, 45% and 55% by 2050, respectively. As demonstrated in the graph, dairy and eggs also produce notable greenhouse gases, but the emissions of meat and fish are considerably more impactful. It is clear that any diet free from meat, or even with reduced meat consumption, will cause considerable cuts to food-related greenhouse gases and will help global efforts to meet the emission targets set in the Paris Agreement, COP21.
The global population is rising and with current dietary patterns, an 80% increase of greenhouse gases has been predicted, according to Tilman and Clark’s study. So, if Veganuary or any other vegan challenges scare you, then start off by reducing your red meat consumption, try ‘Vegetanuary’ instead – an opportunity to live a life free from meat. This diet will still have a vast positive impact on your environmental footprint, and for most, it is significantly more achievable and maintainable than the vegan diet.