I wrote my first post on the subject of Food – “Can you be a meathead and a treehugger?” a while ago now.
Reading the responses (and feeling a bit of a slacker for not having posted anything back yet… 🙂 ) – one element of the (lively) debate that struck me was that there were a number of ‘nutritional beliefs’ in play, beliefs that were in fact modern myths.
I thought it might be useful to examine the top ten of these myths, thinking that if we can deal with the ‘technical reasons’ for not changing diet then we might be left with purely choice driven issues – which might help the focus of debate.
I reached out to Dr Justine Butler of Viva for some help with this and between us, over the past few weeks we’ve compiled a list of the Top Ten Food Myths and busted them. You can read this here – take a look and see what you think. And pls feel free to pass the PDF version around.
Pulling this together gave me an interesting new perspective on food choice. It’s probably worth reading this ‘myth busting piece’ first, if you can. But here’s my new perspective;
Animals are the middle men in our diet. They get what they need from plants. They get what we need from plants. And we don’t actually need them to get it for us.
In fact it’s most inefficient for us to use animals to get our nutrition. For example it takes roughly ten kilos of vegetable protein (fed to a cow) to make one kilo of meat! Animals consume huge quantities of water (something that will be increasingly scarce in the world) and they belch and fart their way to being one of the biggest contributors to climate change – a bigger cause than transport at some 18% globally. And for what?
Whether we’re talking B12, Iron, Calcium or Protein – Plants can provide all that we need and often in a form we can use more readily (and safely) – if we don’t pass it all through the bodies of animals first.
We’re pushing ourselves up the food chain because we can, or because we could (in the days of cheap abundant oil). It costs vastly more to feed a meat eater than a vegan or vegetarian, it adds massively to climate change, it brings serious (and awful) health problems. And it costs a shed load of oil (and rainforest) into the bargain. Not to mention it’s not a very nice way to treat animals.
All of this will shortly be a luxury we cannot afford anyway. The way we eat today is not sustainable.
We need to take animals out of the equation (eventually, not overnight) and convert our farms to Organic (fertilizers are the product of massive fossil fuel use). We need to be using wind powered farm machinery (the wind powered tractor is on the ‘drawing board’) and grow (much) more of our own food here in the UK.
Probably the biggest single step that we can take (towards food sustainability) is to stop feeding the food that we grow to animals to achieve that incredible 10 to 1 ‘diminishing return’ – we’re talking about (roughly) an order of magnitude increase in efficiency after all…!
It’s clearly more sustainable not to eat animals or their by products and clearly a big step to fighting climate change. It also brings big health benefits and it’s a far cheaper diet.
And then there’s animal welfare, and the holocaust we visit on them and their children year in and out. (Seriously – 860 Million chickens a year are slaughtered in the UK and over 10 Billion ‘chicken periods’ (eggs) are eaten every year)
IMO – There’s an unarguable case to shift our diets. Simple taste preference or habit is a weak counter argument, and immoral given what we know.