I’m a meat eater – not a particularly dedicated one, but a meat eater. I can’t identify as a vegetarian or vegan because while I don’t like the idea of hurting or killing animals, I do rather like the taste of meat, eggs and cheese.
I’m not alone – the majority of people in the UK eat meat. But it seems that increasing numbers are turning to vegetarianism (up to 12% of people according to one source, although other sources put the figure closer to 2%).
So apart from the difference in diet and taste, why else is there a reluctance towards going vegan?
Firstly there’s the social aspect. Vegans have rather unfairly developed a negative reputation over the years – thanks to a few pious preachers, everyone else gets tarred with the same brush. ‘How do you spot a vegan at a dinner party? Don’t worry they’ll tell you,’ goes one joke. No-one wants to be perceived as the sanctimonious one in the group.
Another problem is the lack of choice in supermarkets for vegetarians and vegans (at least in the ready meal aisle, which is where I’m most often haggardly drawn on a week night).
Going vegan is going to be a tough conversion for most people – both socially and practically, as we learn to retrain our flavour palates, try new recipes and consider supplements to make up for any iron or vitamin deficiencies.
Unfortunately, we’ll probably have to reduce our collective meat consumption in future, if not give it up altogether.
Three reasons to go vegan:
1. Meat isn’t what it used to be
Two thirds of the 70 billion farm animals we produce each year around the world are factory farmed, resulting in poor quality cheap meat which is often packed with water, fat, growth hormones, antibiotics and other substances.
Why does this matter? Because we’re ingesting all that rubbish second-hand, through the meat itself and other animal products. This could have serious repercussions for global health.
2. The current rate of meat production isn’t sustainable
According to the Economist ‘it takes much more grain, land and water to fatten an animal to produce a pound of meat than it does to grow the same number of calories in the form of grain that is eaten directly’ – and global demand for livestock products is set to increase by 70% by 2050.
As mass-bred animals continue to chomp their way through a third of our global grain supply, and our population continues to grow, already-scarce resources are going to become scarcer and more expensive.
3. We’re becoming more enlightened as a society
The internet is an effective vehicle for exposing environmental damage and ethical malpractice. Slaughterhouse videos are only a click away on YouTube, and worrying statistics on environmental decline are everywhere.
As we become more knowledgable, enlightened, and compassionate globally, will people become less tolerant of the cruelty of slaughterhouses and more concerned about the environment?
Meat-eating is the socially acceptable norm now, but perhaps one day we will come to view it as barbaric as we do other countries eating domestic animals like dogs and guinea pigs.
So should you try veganism?
I don’t think anybody should try it; it’s a personal choice (and I myself am reduced to a slobbering mess when presented with roast pork and apple sauce).
Ideally we’ll find a happy middle ground where everyone can eat sustainably produced meat, but some big changes need to happen in terms of production and volume.
Technological advances may help to mitigate some of the issues with meat production. But one day it’s a possibility none of us will eat meat or animal products – out of financial and environmental necessity more than anything else. Trying a vegan diet for a while might be good practice.