The days of a meal being meat-and-three-veg are long gone as we embrace the delicious bounty that vegetables have to offer. Not only is it good for our waistlines, it’s also good for the planet.
Australians are the sixth biggest consumers of meat after South American countries and the USA, eating around 95kg of meat per year.
If you think that sounds like a lot of meat, you’re right. It’s a whopping three times the amount recommended in the Australian Dietary Guidelines and three times the global average.
The stats show we’re eating way more meat than we need to be. And it doesn’t just affect our health.
World beef production is increasing at a rate of 1.3% per year, partly due to an increasing population and an increased per capita demand. With the world’s population expected to increase from 7 billion to 9.8 billion by 2050, feeding this many more people will require global food production to dramatically increase.
We are past the tipping point – it is no longer sustainable to consume meat in the high amounts we do. Eating a bacon and egg roll for breakfast, a chicken sandwich for lunch and a steak for dinner is just too much meat, both for health and environmental reasons.
In order to curb the environmental impact of meat, more Australians need to reduce their meat consumption and apparently that’s exactly what’s happening according to recent research conducted by the University of Adelaide.
Veganism was undoubtedly one of the biggest buzz words of the past decade and new statistics suggest that Australians unable or not wanting to rule out meat completely are embracing a more flexible and balanced approach known as ‘meat reducing’.
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What is a meat reducer?
The study into Australians’ food choices found a small percentage, 1.7%, of Australians are on a vegan diet, 4% call themselves vegetarians, the majority, 75.6%, of Australian adults identify as meat eaters and nearly a fifth, 18.7%, identify as meat reducers, which researchers identified as “a growing but largely unexplored population subgroup in Australia”.
For many Australians, the meat reducer approach offers a more realistic way to eat more healthily and more sustainably without cutting out entire food groups.
While meat reducing might be the latest fad diet in our parts, the approach is well known in the Mediterranean and Blue Zones of the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives. In these places, meat is consumed one or two times a week and is viewed as an important, occasional inclusion in the diet.
Ideally, a balanced diet includes small amounts of animal-based products because meat contains important micronutrients, such as B Vitamins, Iron, Zinc and highly bioavailable forms of protein.
Why is meat reducing the way forward?
Recently, the EAT- Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, brought together 30 scientists from around the world who reached a consensus on the most sustainable and healthy diet. Their report published in the Lancet indicated that global consumption of fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts will need to double and consumption of meat and sugar will need to decrease by more than 50% in order to transition to a healthy diet for a population of nearly 10 billion by 2050.
In a big nod to meat reducers, the EAT-Lancet Commission found that a “diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”
In case you need any further convincing to jump on the meat reducer bandwagon, here are nine reasons why we need to do more than just meat-free Mondays to save the planet:
- Raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, trains, ships and planes in the world combined (UNFAO, 2006)
- The production of beef is particularly greenhouse gas intensive because cattle are ruminant animals (have 4 stomach compartments) and produce significant amounts of methane (a greenhouse gas 21 times as intensive as carbon dioxide)
- A significant proportion of the greenhouse gas effect from beef production comes from the loss of trees where feed crops are grown and harvested to feed the beef. For example, in South America, some 70% of former forests have been converted into grazing land
- Globally, agriculture is the second biggest contributor to greenhouse gases (after the energy sector)
- Worldwide, livestock accounts for between 14.5% and 18% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions
- Large amounts of energy and water are used to convert plants into meat protein – it takes approximately 3000L of water to make one steak, which is the equivalent of two months’ worth of showers
- To produce 1kg of protein from red meat compared to red kidney beans requires 18 times more land, 10 times more water, nine times for fuel, 12 times more fertiliser and 10 times more pesticide
- To produce the meat in a standard burger, as much greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere as driving a car 60km (Scientific American, 2015)
- The food we choose to eat contributes more to our eco-footprint than our transport and home energy use combined, with meat, eggs and dairy products the biggest contributors. The average Australian’s eco-footprint is seven hectares, which is the 11th largest in the world.
Sophie Scott is an environmental scientist, nutritionist, meat reducer and the FIAFitnation head nutrition trainer.