Meatless Monday

Meatless Monday

9 August, 2012
One simple step
What links a Paul McCartney song, the Belgium city of Ghent, improving your health and reducing CO2 emissions?
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The term Meatless Monday first popped up in World War One, coined by the U. S. Food Administration to encourage Americans to do their bit for the war effort by conserving staples, including meat. In the Second World War it was again promoted for the same reasons, and then wasn’t much seen again until 2003 when ‘The Centre for A Liveable Future’ in the US relaunched Meatless Mondays to fight a different kind of war - a war on public health issues and climate change.
 
The worldwide meat industry produces about 1/5 of the world’s greenhouse gases. It’s a startling reminder that all our consumer choices, including what we eat for dinner, are linked to climate change. The idea of going vegetarian to reduce our environmental impacts has started spreading around the world to places like Australia, Brazil, Canada, Finland, Holland, and Taiwan. In the UK, the drive to go meatless on Monday was launched by Paul McCartney, with abundant celebrity support and endorsement. He even wrote a song for the cause! Meanwhile in Belgium, the city of Ghent has taken the idea on wholeheartedly: on Thursdays the entire city goes vegetarian to promote sustainability and health. Growing public awareness has led to a Swedish burger chain to take the step of publishing the carbon footprint of each item on their menu. In Asia, the movement has a strong foothold in Japan and Taiwan.
 
The health benefits of going vegetarian are numerous. The bulk of vegetarian meals have low or no saturated fats, when made with ingredients such as beans, lentils, nuts and vegetables. Vegetarian meals also usually contain a larger percentage of fibre, which is often lacking in modern diets. How does the environment benefit from us eating less meat? Most meat takes much more energy, water and resources to produce (and to treat the resulting waste) than the equivalent in plant-based food. Studies suggest that meat takes about 10 to 250 times the amount of water, land and transport cost in comparison to the same amount of grain in calories. Why the large variance? All steaks are not created equal, and meats impact the environment to differing degrees. The sustainability of your meat depends on the rearing practices, conditions and location of the livestock or fish. For example, chickens born, fed on scraps, and ultimately eaten in a rural Cambodian village would be relatively sustainable in comparison to beef intensely farmed in large-scale feedlots the US. In intensive cattle production the cows may be fed with imported grain and soy grown in deforested Amazon, then slaughtered and flown, chilled, all the way to Asia to arrive on your plate. A University of Chicago study in 2007 found that vegetarians in the United States produced 1.5 tonnes less carbon dioxide per year than meat eaters just from their diet differences, whereas switching to hybrid car only cuts 0.8 tonnes per year. In 2006 a report on livestock commissioned by the United Nations stated that the meat production is "one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global”.
 
Eating less meat is one of the easiest ways to reduce your impact on the environment, and represents such a simple way for people to adjust their lifestyles and create sustainability. Starting your own Meatless Monday is as easy as pledging yourself to go vegetarian once a week or more, or bringing the idea to an organization, school or workplace.
 
For ideas, news and updates on the movement visit: http://www.meatlessmonday.com/

By: Carley Lauder
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