So there I am, plate of salad in front of me. “You can’t eat just that. Don’t you want some pasta or something?” This is the worst part of being vegetarian – making other people feel uncomfortable.
My in-laws and Mr Green are tucking into a Sunday lunch of roast chicken and pigs-in-blankets. They’d be enjoying their lunch more if I wasn’t lurking in the corner like a dark shadow, my salad silently saying, “Didn’t you ever watch Bambi? Or Babe? Don’t you know it’s just plain wrong to kill and eat things (survival situations notwithstanding)?”
I went veggie during the mad cow crisis – it seemed the perfect excuse, having always felt squeamish about meat. It was the odd lumps of gristle you encounter that really turned me off, plus urban legends of people biting into a chicken nugget only to have a cyst explode. Yuk. Twenty-odd years on and declaring you’re vegetarian when invited to a dinner party is still the equivalent of wearing a burka to a nightclub. One thing has changed – people’s reasons for going veggie. In the 1980s it was all animal rights and ‘meat is murder’ T-shirts; today it’s to save the planet. So as Veggie Month gets into full swing, what’s the evidence that swearing off meat makes a difference to your carbon footprint?
According to the UN, animal farming is responsible for 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. As well as from the poor beasts’ digestive systems, these emissions come from transportation, supplies, feed, power and everything else required to farm animals. The UN’s research found the impact of animal farming on global warming worldwide is greater than that of the transport sector. But a roast chicken still tastes good, right? I know.
Let’s look deeper. It’s estimated that removing meat and dairy products from our diet could reduce individual carbon footprints by one and a half tonnes per year (our total footprint is about ten tonnes per person). The other environmental issue associated with farming concerns water – the use of it and pollution from animal waste. It’s estimated to take 1,000 litres to grow 1kg of wheat compared to 11,000 litres to produce a quarter-pound beefburger. In pollution terms, the familiar story is that of animal waste rich in phosphorus and nitrogen making its way into watercourses, leading to the growth of algae (which chokes other life forms). They don’t mention this in all those dairy adverts with buttercups and long-lashed cows. And did I mention the rainforests being razed to make way for soya production, 75 per cent of which goes into animal feed?
Research from the 1990s estimates that if Britain went vegan, less than a quarter of the current farmland would be needed. Would that land become a concrete jungle or remain green and pleasant? I guess we won’t find out until the lab-grown meat project really takes off.
Dutch scientists estimate that the environmental impact of their synthetic meat would be 60 per cent less than for the real thing. At present, the cost of producing a synthetic burger is £200,000, so it may be some time before you see them on supermarket shelves. Meanwhile, I’m trying to curb my dairy habit, which keeps me far from the moral high ground.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 5 C to 11 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west