Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to educating yourself and creating healthy habits.
In 2019, I was having dinner with a friend when she said something that changed my mindset on eating meat forever: maybe it’s not about going entirely vegan at once, but instead giving up the things you can. The non-absolutist viewpoint made the whole process a lot more appealing: after thinking about it the rest of the evening, I decided to give up fish and lo and behold, six months later, I gave up red meat. How did I decide what to cut out? My decisions came down to animal cruelty, the environment, and my own health.
So… why fish? Usually the last thing to go when people try to consume less meat, my reasoning for cutting out fish was quite simple: they are essentially tortured no matter where they are farmed. The fishing process puts them through ridiculous levels of pain, with many being dissected alive without any stunning beforehand. The cruelty behind fish farming is often dismissed with a nonchalant: they’re just fish, they can’t feel anything. For years I believed this too, mindlessly eating the fish served to me, until I got a fish of my own and realised that this was not the case.
On another level, fish farming is also terrible for the environment. According to a study, a two-acre fish farm can produce over 100,000 kilograms of waste, which kills other organisms in the water. The fishing industry also destroys valuable ocean habitats and kills exponentially more fish than are actually consumed… Did you know that only one in three fish that are caught are actually consumed?! Overfishing is one of the largest problems with eating these sea creatures; because of industrial farming, many species are killed until they are on the brink of extinction; not only devastating for the species themselves, but also resulting in a knock-on effect on ocean ecosystems. The problem from this industry comes from the high demand for the animal, and the pressures of mass production. Lives are being wasted, but millions of tonnes of waste accumulates and ecosystems are being destroyed too.
What about red meat, then? My decision felt a more difficult one, but it came with well-rounded reasoning: the suffering cows face, and the horrible impact that cattle farming has on the planet and even our own health. For starters, cows spend their entire lives in excruciating physical conditions – I will spare you the gorey details, but it’s worth the research if you want to become more educated on the topic.
Additionally, beef (along with lamb and goat) have the largest negative impact on the climate crisis, making up around 62% of livestock emissions. Methane, which is known to be far worse than carbon dioxide in trapping radiation in the air, is a large byproduct of livestock farming. In fact, 40% of methane produced by humans comes from agriculture. Cattle farming is also problematic because of the land and food use required to maintain animals; a Cornell University study showed that the grain used to maintain livestock in the US would be enough to feed 800 million people. This same study also commented on water waste, noting that beef productions require about 100,000 litres of water per every kilogram of food.
Negative health consequences can result from consuming red meat: there is a clear link between consuming red meat to bowel cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other health problems. Considering the amount of waste created, the horrible impact on the planet and the negative health benefits, plant-based options are an all-around better environmental food option.
The decisions I’ve made about eating meat are personal, and I don’t think that my choices are necessarily the “right” choices. I’m not trying to force them on you. There are a lot of things I could cut out of my diet that would support the ending of animal suffering and be better for the planet, the dairy industry being a whole other subject. This is perhaps just the start of my journey, and my decisions, spurred on by my friend’s motivating remark, came from my personal experiences, reflection, and values – as should yours.