Meat. To Eat, Or Not To Eat?

If you had asked me one year ago about my thoughts on vegetarianism, I would have replied that there was no argument that would convince me to give up eating meat. It constitutes a necessary part of our diet, we are all born omnivorous, and I would happily go out and hunt my meal if I had to earn my moral right to eat animal flesh.

Well, it’s amazing how travelling, reading and a bit of curious, open-minded inquiry can transform even the most previously-stalwart carnivore.

I love eating meat. It is the centrepiece of every a la carte main course. Cooked properly, it is absolutely delicious. Balsamic roast lamb shank… char-grilled barbecue ribs… fillet steak (rare) with pepper sauce… I salivate even as I type! If you watch the podcast, you’ll see me ranting about great spicy chunks of meat on regular occasions. Before I left, and for the first few weeks of the trip, it would be bread and jam for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and some form of meat dish for dinner. Vegetables would feature as an accompaniment or as an ingredient for some elaborate sauce or flavouring.

If you skip back in the blog to November last year, you’ll see that Andy, Mark and I converged upon the city of London to demonstrate against apathy towards the problem of climate change. I was assaulted by pamphleteers on the way into Trafalgar Square. One of the flyers that resultantly festooned my being was a preaching of the religion of veganism. I read it, and found myself offended by its derogatory tone. I was emotionally blackmailed into feeling guilty about my diet. So I binned it. But my mind did keep drifting back to its message — that our country is eating meat at a rate that is unsustainable and unnecessary.

I’d never really thought of that before. It dwelt on the outer fringes of my consciousness while I went about my life, building a little house of concern.

Arriving in Geneva to meet our contact at the WWF, I questioned him about it over lunch, as I knew he was a long-time vegetarian.

By the end of the discussion, Mark, Andy and I had resolved to cut meat out of our diet almost completely.

Some figures to digest, as it were:

  • Animals raised for food in the U.S. consume 90% of the soy crop, 80% of the corn crop, and 70% of its grain [1].
  • The U.S. could feed 800 million people with that same amount of grain.
  • According to the vegetarian author John Robbins, it takes roughly takes 60, 108, 168, 229 pounds of water to produce a pound of potatoes, wheat, corn and rice respectively. He reports that a pound of beef however, requires 12,000 gallons of water.
  • A person in the United States who switched from the typical diet to a vegan diet would, on average, reduce CO2 production significantly more than switching from a Toyota Camry to a hybrid, Toyota Prius.

While these figures relate to the U.S., the story is the same throughout the Western World. Have a look at the Wikipedia article on environmental vegetarianism if you’re interested to learn more.

It’s no secret that our meat consumption has increased in the post-war era. I asked my parents about their diet when they were growing up. Meat on a Sunday (roast beef — the poor man’s choice), and leftovers, seasonal vegetables, potatoes and the like for the rest of the week.

Meat on special occasions alone? Surely not!! But this is how things apparently used to be before the post-war rise in living standards and levels of disposable income. It was more economical to keep a vegetable patch or go to the local market — before supermarkets came along, and made meat easily available to all, every day of the week.

I’m not becoming a vegetarian, but I can save meat for special occasions. We now get our protein from beans, pulses, lentils, cheese, and the like. It’s incredible how much money we save, and it means that once in a while I can treat myself to a spicy meaty kebab without my conscience spoiling the taste.

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One response to “Meat. To Eat, Or Not To Eat?”

  1. tom, i honestly cant believe it — the amount of times i tried to defend vegetarianism to you and how many arguments, if playful, we would have! on the strange side i have now stopped being a vegetarian after two years and even eat meat that i never would have before : steak, lamb, etc.! — good luck to you all!

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