Wednesday 9 April 2014

Fifty Shades of Green

Posted by Rosie

This meme popped up on my Facebook page yesterday and various friends and I were discussing how well (or not) we are doing at Eco-Gites we certainly drink tap water, nearly always shower (or share bath water!), have meat-free days and eat pretty much all of what we buy.  Where we do rather fail is bicycle use.  The boys do cycle or walk to the village to pick up the school bus when they can but overall one of the disadvantages of rural living is increased car usage compared to city dwellers.   

Some-one else then joined in our Facebook conversation and was quite adamant we should actually be eating more meat, not less.  

The argument against eating meat is a strong one.  It takes far more land and water to produce a comparable weight of meat to vegetables.  Virgin forest is being cleared for rearing animals and with the trees gone and overgrazing, the result is often large scale soil erosion.  With an increasing population and many millions starving can it make sense to be eating more meat when the same amount of land could produce vegetables to feed far more people? 

A considerable amount of meat eaten in the UK today still comes from unethical producers, often outside of the UK, by farmers (and I use that word with caution) who rear their animals in a far from sustainable manner.   Animals are kept 24/7 in vast factory farms where the death rate is high.  To try and reduce death rates, the animals are routinely treated with antibiotics regardless of whether they need them or not. The producers naturally wish to maximise their profits so the animals are pumped with growth hormones and grow at an unnaturally fast rate, often resulting in the likes of chickens being unable to walk due to their weight .... not that they have far to go in their massive sunless prisons, factory farms anyway.  These animals, having never seen the light of day are then transported, crammed into lorries, often over great distances to be slaughtered in far from humane conditions at a massive abattoir.  To further increase profit the meat may be pumped with water (think of those lovely “plump” chicken breasts you see for sale) that shrink so much when you cook them as the water evaporates away.

Buying this cheap meat may be good for your pocket but not for the animal or for the environment.  And what about those antibiotics and growth hormones?  Can you be sure there are not traces in these in the meat?  Do you really want to be eating these with their negative health effects?

So why was this lady on Facebook so insistent that we should be eating more meat?  Let me explain - she is in the meat industry producing ethically reared meat – the animals are out in the fields as long as the weather permits and fed as naturally as possible.  Her argument is that far from eating LESS meat, we should be eating more meat, but more “GOOD” meat likes hers.  This is perhaps a fair point.  She also argued that if someone shifts from eating meat one day a week to a pre-packed, highly processed vegetarian dish made from vegetables routinely sprayed with pesticides then the environmental benefits are zero or may actually be worse. Is she right?  She could be although she could also be wrong.  One could still argue that her meat may be ethical and well reared but surely the land where the cattle graze could produce far more vegetable protein to feed far more people than her cows can?   And vegetables should produce less methane, a greenhouse gas that cows pump out as bovine wind in great quantities.

Who ultimately is right?   The ethical cattle farmer who says that we should be eating more meat and not “demonising” meat production or the meme producers who say we should be eating less meat full stop?  The trouble is there is no right or wrong answer.  There are pros and cons on both sides and in reality the issues are so intertwined  so doing one apparently green action may actually be making things worse overall.  For example, if everyone ate less meat then less “bad” meat would be consumed.  That is surely a good thing.  But the knock on effect could be that the producers work even harder to produce meat that is even cheaper at the expense of sustainability and the welfare of the animal.  This would be a backward environmental step. 

For what it is worth, this is my story with regard to meat and the best solution that we have settled for.  When I first met Simon I was a virtual vegetarian, not because I didn’t like the idea of eating meat nor because I thought it was cruel.  I simply didn’t particularly like meat and found myself feeling very bloated after I ate it.  However when I fell pregnant I started to crave meat and so Simon and I tracked down some ethically produced meat sold through a nearby farm butchers and I started to eat meat again.  However not in large amounts.  This meat was a bit more expensive than comparable supermarket meat and a lot more expensive than the vegetables I had been growing on our allotment.  We set a weekly budget and ate good quality meat, but not every day.  We ate plenty of locally produced vegetables for a balanced diet and as the meat we bought was not treated with hormones or antibiotics I didn’t feel bloated after eating it.  We had found a compromise.  Eat meat but make it GOOD meat and don't eat it every day.  THIS is what I believe is a step in the right direction but that is probably just too complicated for a meme like this one.

You see being green isn't easy.  Everything we do is interconnected so finding the best way to be green is very complicated and in all honesty beyond the likes of us mere mortals to work out.  To be green there is not a right or a wrong thing to do because there is not just one form of green - there are at least 50 shades of Green!  

What do you think?  Should we all switch to ethically produced meat and eat the same amount as before or should we still eat less meat what-ever?  Do you eat more or less meat than say 5 or 10 years ago.  I would love to hear your views.

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  1. It was my facebook wall the original discussion popped up on. I think we should eat meat less frequently and make it 'good' meat. My aim this year is to only eat meat that I know the provenance of. I grow my own chickens and rabbits, my mother grows lamb. At the farmers' market Iocally, we are lucky enough to have producers of pork and beef. So I can say, hand on heart, that all the meat we eat comes from within fifty miles. And that most of it has food miles of zero.

    I know the effort it takes to produce a chicken; it costs me about a tenner in money; but in time-terms, a lot more. So we make chicken last a whole week - roasted, curried, stir-fry, stock. To me, it's worth it.

  2. Good article by the way.

    I question being a full veggie in this country because it would mean a very restrictive diet.
    The only nuts that grow in the UK with any reliability are Hazels. The only beans you can grow for protein are either low in protein (broad beans) or low in yield.
    All the veggies I know eat a varied diet based mainly on imported beans, nuts, etc.
    If you are eating dairy products then you still need 'inefficient' herbivored to sustain your diet.
    So being a veggie does not automatically mean you are being 'environmentally friendly'.

  3. I agree it's more nuanced than simply eating more or less meat.
    To add another thought to the discussion I feel it's about efficiency. Maybe land is better used to grow vegetable crops than meat but we are so wasteful of all the stuff we grow (the amount of veggies that never get to be sold due to being rejected for wrong size or similar - we can't continue to be this picky) that I think that needs to be addressed first.
    An appreciation and respect of food and it's production especially meat is needed. We've been spoilt with cheap food (and it's often just been down to pure cost) and we think it's disposable. If we ate all we grew that would be a start and I include meat in that.

    As to the main point about eating less or more meat. I personally feel meat is a perfect source of protein for humans. We have to eat an awful lot of veggies in a big variety to get the same result for our bodies. I know there are very healthy vegetarians and vegans but that sort of eating doesn't suit my body (tried it; tired, bloated, every cold going) There is a balance agreed and eating a diet based on real, unadulterated, unprocessed food is what I try and aim for.

    And as a final thought to toss in to the mix, as I wake up and my hay fever senses the huge fields of oil seed rape around here. How much land that could be growing food is now being used to grow fuel?

  4. Not all land used for grazing is suitable for growing crops - around here in East Anglia, there's plenty of good farmland (less than there used to be: so much of it has been used for house-building) but there is also a lot of marshland; water meadows that flood regularly. These have never been ploughed and some of the grasslands have probably never been sown and, since subsidies are paid for them not to be over-fertilised (in some cases, they are not fertilised at all), they are wildlife havens.

    Vegetable crops are often sprayed far more than grassland, both with pesticides and herbicides, and monoculture isn't much good for the rest of the wildlife in the area either. The methods of growing aren't necessarily very green - for example, round here, strawberries are nearly all grown under cover, so that they're clean, less reliant on the weather and not damaged by birds, and the season lasts from April until October.

    We have a septic tank, so no water we use is wasted, I grow a lot of vegetables and we buy milk from the milkman, to support a fading industry, or raw from the farm gate. I buy local meat and support local shops. We heat the rooms we need to, which doesn't include bedrooms or bathroom. That doesn't make me especially green, I use aeroplanes to go on holiday and I buy shedloads of imported wine, among many other sins. I'm about as muddle-headed as the next person, on the whole.

  5. You and I share very similar stories and really, we can't beat ourselves up about it. We're hugely conscious about our environmental impact. And we do the best we can. Great post, raises some interesting questions.

  6. This is really interesting. I'm a vegetarian and have been since I was 17. As a knock-on effect, my kids eat slightly less meat than most people. I'm afraid I don't know where the meat they eat comes from, but I suspect it's not the 'good' meat. A vegetarian friend said if she could farm her own meat and know exactly what it was fed and where it came from, she would eat it. I know I would never do this myself - killing the animal or seeing the animal grow up would be way worse than just buying faceless (in all senses) meat in the supermarket. But I think that could be a good solution for some people - or from a sustainable butcher of course.
    Popping over from PoCoLo :)

  7. I've been veggie for 20+ years but the rest of my family still eat meat. We try to buy from the local farm shop but if we're eating out or having a takeaway I'm pretty sure the meat isn't great. Whilst I became veggie for ethical reasons I've stayed veggie because of environmental ones - I really do think people should cut down on their meat intake as the planet cannot support our huge population if everyone expects meat at every meal. #pocolo

  8. Wow,this is such a good post and the comments are very thoughtful,certainly given me food for thought.

  9. As a girl from a thrid world country where poverty and hunger is a big problem, I try to live simply and not waste so much as I know the value of food. I eat meat. But again I made sure that it is from the sources I know (or at least the label said so). We drink tapo and when we buy bottled water it is only so that we can re-use the bottle for our next outing. I kept on re-suing them until they are ready to go to the recycling bin. This post is thought provoking. I cipoed the image and will talk about it with my husband on how we can save further. Thanks for sharing #pocolo

  10. We don't eat meat daily, it's a cost thing, but I so try to get to the farm shop to buy it when I can.

    We are doing what we can to be green, we recycle efficiently, use cloth nappies and have just switched to soap nuts for doing the laundry!


  11. I think it is all a personal choice. As you well said, some people choose not to eat meat for purely personal reasons. Other because they believe in a cause. Some people choose to eat meat because their bodies need it. Other because they enjoy it. Anyway, we should all work towards the removal of those horrible "farms" you mentioned and against unorthodox practices like the use of pesticides. Then we will all be healthier, vegan, vegetarian or carnivores :-). #PoCoLo

  12. As always I find your posts really thought-provoking. I have to say that I think good meat with provenance is so much better for you than the stuff that comes through the supermarkets and you not really knowing where it comes from. The only problem I have is the expense! I think proper practices should be the only practices. Thank you for linking to PoCoLo x

  13. I dislike buying the cheaper meat versions on supermarkets, mainly because I studied animal science and through looking into pharmacology, we got an insight of what goes on. What goes into what and how much. The statistics would shock you. So we buy from the butchers, but only a few days a week, mainly because it is far more expensive. #PoCoLo

  14. Never any waste in our house but that's just life with 6 tweens & teens! I'd love to do a meat free day but the kids would be endlessly snacking to fill up and husband would just ask when dinner was! You have some great healthy measures in place. We do eat good meat though, the best, our own!

  15. I love a thought provoking post such as this! I agree that eating good quality meat is the way forward. I often buy whole animals from a local farm and split it with a friend (lamb & pig) costs a fraction of what it does at the supermarket and is about a million times better quality. Win win really #PoCoLo

  16. I'm with you. Instead of eating meat 7 days a week, we now eat meat 5 days a week, but good meat, I would like it to be less still, but little by little and all that. After all Hubs is French so there's still quite some convincing to do!

  17. Great blog post! I used to be vegetarian but stopped when I was pregnant! Now I only eat meat if I know where it has come from and always try and get it from our local farms. No nasty meat from supermarkets if I can help it...and if I cannot help it then it has to be organic at least!

  18. I gave up meat for lent because if I am honest I can go weeks or even months without it anyway. I started eating Quorn many years ago and I actually prefer it. Great post and thanks for linking up #GoldenOldies

  19. Fab post. I love meat and I think it's down to to the individual. We do try and buy organic meat when we can and ethically reared sounds like a good choice where possible. Thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogposts


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