In this article, my ‘call to action’ is to raise awareness on how the choices of meat and fish we add to our diet have an impact on the environment. Each of us has our own personal agenda and limits on what we feel we can accomplish with our ecological nutrition choices. But I believe that knowledge is powerful and I hope to bring some knowledge here to readers about meat, fish, eggs, nutrition and our Mother Earth. Particularly, this article is addressed to those like me, who enjoy eating fish and meat but want to make the most of an eco-friendly diet that our lifestyle and budget allows.
First, these questions:
Eco-nutrition questions to ask yourself:
- How much less meat and fish can we eat and still have a healthy diet?
- How can we adapt our food purchases to support better treatment of animals?
- Are worldwide meat and fish supplies in danger of running out?
- Should we be concerned about the impact of our meat and fish choices on the environment?
If you are interested in learning more about eco-nutrition, please consult the first article in this series on eco-nutrition.
How much less meat and fish can we eat and still have a healthy diet?
The biggest concerns with making a decision to eat less meat and fish are:
1. Will I get enough protein in my diet?
2. Will I get enough iron from my foods to prevent iron-deficiency anemia?
If you don’t want to give up animal meat entirely, you may be surprised on the small amounts of whole proteins that the body actually needs to stay healthy. A healthy adult could eat a meat source once a day (as part of a healthy diet) and still have enough protein and iron to stay healthy.
We do not ‘need’ to eat meat or fish more than once a day. Maybe it is time to rethink how much meat and fish we consume.
Americans, in general, eat about 207 lbs. of meat a year, which is 60% more than Europeans (at 134 lbs./year) and quadruple the amount of developing nations. This number is somewhat overestimated because Americans, (again – in general) waste more meat (by not using all of the meat that is bought or throwing away spoiled meat) than the population from other countries.
How can we adapt our food purchases to support better treatment of animals?
Even if we are not animal treatment activists, I think most of us would be shocked at some of the lifestyle conditions of the animals we consume. I believe by knowing more of how the animals live before we eat them, we can make more informed and personally comfortable decisions on what meat, fish and eggs we buy.
Imagine yourself at the grocery store in front of the chicken aisle. You see a variety of choices, and if you are on a strict budget your eyes scan towards the cheapest priced chicken on sale. But what do you get for this lower-cost brands of chicken? If you have ever seen the conditions of chickens (see picture above) that are marketed for the cheapest costs possible, it may shock you enough to turn vegetarian. (And what about processed chicken in products like chicken nuggets?).
But I do understand how expensive it is to feed a family (I have 4 kids) and many of us are stuck between a rock and a hard place and just fill up our shopping carts with closed eyes (I have done this too).
Should we buy that bargain brand of meat (chicken as an example)? Or pay a bit more and buy meat that has lived in better conditions?
- Pay more. Buy less meat (we only need meat once a day at most). Use more of the meat carcass in cooking (like the Europeans-see below for more details).
- Look for labels like free-range, cage-free, barn-roaming for chickens and eggs (rather than non labeled). However these labels are still not a guarantee that these animal products are the best choices for the environment. Let me explain:
Just because the label says free-range, organic, cage-free or barn-roaming, we cannot assume these animals are living well
The legal terms for eco-friendly animal living practices vary from country to country or these terms are even non-existent depending on where you live.
As an example: the term ‘free-range’ for chickens and eggs (and birds grown for human consumption) in America means that the bird must have outside access. The producer is then allowed to label the product as ‘free range.’ In reality, the bird might spend only a few minutes outside a day, if that. Recently, this has lead to the more accurate terms: ‘barn-roaming’ where the chickens are confined to a barn, not free-range (with outside time) and ‘pastured poultry‘, where chickens are raised on grass pasture. In reality, the living conditions of hens living in cages is by far, the worse situation as you can read here.
Where I live in France the laws are different. In the European Union, the rules for free-range methods are not the same and are less broad than in America. There is a mandatory labeling on egg shells with 0=organic, 1=Free Range 2= Barn 3 = Cages. In fact, a new law passed in 2012 requiring all commercially produced eggs to be laid by hens in more humane conditions (see article here). In the EU, on the other side, there are no regulations for free range pork, so pigs could be indoors for their lives.
The best choice, when your budget can afford it, is to buy organic because of both environment (birds must be given reasonable access to outdoors) and health reasons. The consumption of organic eggs means that birds are not given hormones or antibiotics at any time.
Are worldwide meat and fish supplies in danger of running out?
Maybe the animals raised for human consumption will not run out, but the resources to raise these animals might. Resources like land to grow feed and water.
“There will not be enough water available … to produce food for the expected 9 billion population in 2050 if we follow current trends,” Malin Falkenmark and colleagues at the Stockholm International Water Institute stated in the report.(see source here).
But our fish may run out first. Statistics are shocking, even more than you can imagine.
As many as 90 per cent of all the ocean’s large fish have been fished out. (see statistics here)
Should we be concerned about the impact of our meat and fish purchases on the environment?
Livestock farming accounts for 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. We need land and lots of water for animal grazing and for growing feed for animals. The demand for land use means that over periods of time, the land becomes degraded, the soil quality declines and the forests are cut down for more pasture. Statistics: 50% of world agricultural harvests are needed to raise animals for humans consumption, and animals graze on 26% of the Earth’s surface. The population is increasing and thus the demand for meat is increasing too.
We are also draining the fish supplies in our oceans and disturbing the natural selection of fish. I wrote in my last article on supplement choices on how Menhaden fish is over-fished for fish oils supplements and feed. This has greatly disturbed the natural fish selection (and it is not the only case). We also buy fish from companies that cultivate fish in fish farms, which may be ‘better’ for the environment, but has its own constraints and health issues.
For these reasons, a more eco-friendly move to eat less meat and fish is a eco-nutrition step for our environment.
Five ways to be meat and fish eco-friendly for the environment and for your diet:
- Eat less meat: once a day is sufficient to get what you need from your diet.
- Buy better quality meats, fish and eggs that are eco-friendly. Do research (in the country you buy food from) on the laws regulating living conditions of animals, fish and eggs you eat.
- Use more of the animal carcass, similar to European habits. A key example: making soup from meat bones instead of throwing the bones away. Or by eating more of the animal (my grandmother used to make pig’s feet!).
- Buy the quantities of meat and fish you need and will use and keep food under good hygienic conditions (which leads to less spoilage).
- Start your Meatless Mondays.For the environment, can you give up meat every Monday?
And your ways? Tell me your suggestions and I will add them to the list.
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