Is a vegan diet good for the planet?
I hope you’ve all enjoyed the festive period,
With Christmas and new year now behind us, it feels a good time to reflect on 2019 and feel proud of what we’ve achieved, yet also look forward to 2020 and get excited about what further projects I’d like to embark on. It’s also been a time to re-evaluate where Grassfruits fits with the current dietary choices, and the growing concern for the environment - a key ongoing focus for Grassfruits.
I hope amongst your New Year's resolutions you’re planning to eat more pasture-raised meats in 2020. Veganuary is now upon us and you may be considering an animal-product-free start to the year. This being said, I urge you to weigh up the impacts of these decisions. I’ve put a few points together for you to consider when thinking about a dietary change in 2020. These are some of my opinions and concerns surrounding veganism and the environment. Although I'm an advocate for a diet including pasture-raised meats, I’m pleased veganism has encouraged many to think a little about where their meat is coming from and the production systems used to get meat on their plate.
Many people opt for a plant based diet for animal welfare reasons. You don’t have to search for very long these days to find some rather brutal slaughterhouse footage; the internet is well saturated with these videos. These are often filmed in countries with poor animal welfare standards and in industrial cutting plants, which show poor slaughter practices. Although I believe that large scale plants can still offer high welfare and slaughter standards, I still feel that small operations are best. However, the industrialisation of our food system and the increasing demand for cheap meat puts even higher levels of pressure on these plants, often resulting in standards slipping and mistakes being made. Industrialised meat production comes at the expense of animal welfare, or more precisely at the expense of animals instinctive behaviours, which can benefit our environment. In pasture-based animal production systems, instinctive behaviours are centre to the whole system. Cattle to graze, chickens to scratch and peck, and pigs to root, roam and wallow. Please get to know your farmer, ask them questions or better still go and see them. Contact Us
Are pasture raised meats good for the planet?
More than ever before, and rightly so, people are becoming concerned with their carbon footprint and how we can minimise our impact on the planet. This is another reason people are turning to a vegan diet. Is this the right choice for our planet though? We certainly need to cut out our intake of industrial-raised meats. In my opinion, supporting pasture-raised farmers could potentially help our planet more than switching to a vegan diet. Through the use of holistic management practices, animals can be used as a tool to accelerate the photosynthetic process, disrupt the soil and fertilise the soil with their urine and poop as they go. Put simply, the soil feed the grasses, the grasses feed the animals and the animals feed the soil which feed the grasses. This is all part of the birth, life, death, decay process. Holistically managed livestock build top soil while producing food. Top soil is becoming very scarce, we should be doing all we can to build it.
Some of my biggest concerns don't necessarily lie with veganism itself, but more the big businesses that have come about as a result of the growing popularity of this ‘ism’. Companies, such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, have developed their own plant-based alternatives to the beef burger. Ingredients of which are as follows; pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, rice protein and other natural flavors, including apple extract and beet juice extract (for colour). Ingredients for Impossible Foods burger include: water, soy protein concentrate, coconut oil, sunflower oil, potato protein, soy leghemoglobin (a group of protein found in animals and plants) and other natural flavors, according to their websites.
Ingredients to a 100% Grass Fed Beef Burger are as follows… Grass-fed beef mince, onion, salt and pepper. I think I need not explain myself any further. Should we not be looking to eat a more whole foods based diet, be it vegan or otherwise? These meat alternatives that are popping up left, right and centre are incredibly highly processed.
Many meat and dairy alternatives are largely comprised of industrially-grown mono crops. As can clearly be seen above. I often come under fire on this point as many will say that the large majority of these crops are fed to livestock anyway. Correct, and a large percentage of which are fed to herbivores - animals that don’t have the biological make up to digest these foods in the first place. Herbivores, cattle and sheep eat grasses! They have a stomach called a rumen which enables them to digest grasses which we cannot, and turn sunlight energy stored in the grass into proteins. Pigs and chickens on the other hand are monogastric animals and are also omnivores, enabling them to eat a more varied diet, therefore grain being a more suitable choice for pigs and chickens.
I think the point I’m trying to make is that we need to stop blaming the cow, or the meateater, or the vegan, and take a look at system change. The cows will carry on farting and burping anyway, and if we all stop eating beef tomorrow they're still going to be there… still farting and burping, along with the vegans… telling you they’re vegan.
Industrial agriculture, whether it be producing livestock feed or human food is still responsible for 80% of world tropical deforestation and 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The UN estimates we have 60 years worth of topsoil left. Without topsoil our food system will collapse! Veganism is not going to solve these problems. There needs to be an overwhelming paradigm shift in world farming practices. One which builds topsoil, restores natural ecosystems and protects our food system for future generations. Soil needs to be built every time we grow a crop, every time we harvest a cow, every time we pick a tomato, topsoil must be built!
The UK market for meat-free foods is now reported to be worth £740m. Officially 350,000 people in the UK signed up to take part in veganuary, with many more unofficially taking part, and millions more worldwide. If people were to get as excited about Regenerative Agriculture as Veganuary, I think we might be onto something. Our food-production systems should be in harmony with nature, no matter what we’re producing. And our dietary choices should not come with a cost to our topsoils, our health and the environment.
Thanks. All the best for 2020