To Meat or not to Meat…..

Dairy cattle

This is an article I wrote recently for the Evening Herald newspaper in response to reports that scientists have now discovered that they can successfully grow meat in a laboratory as the demand for animal protein is ever-increasing. Is a reliance on meat really the best future for mankind and our planet? This is my own opinion….

With the recent announcement that scientists have discovered a way to grow meat in a test-tube, it’s clear that the demand for meat is greater than ever and looks set to continue to grow. Scientists have managed to grow strips of beef from stem cells of the animal, which they believe will become a viable future food source. They hope that this will curb the shocking scale of environmental damage caused by animal agriculture and deforestation. But sadly for animal lovers and the cattle themselves, they will still have to be slaughtered for the process to be completed efficiently. Certainly impressive advancements from a scientific perspective, but is it really necessary? Surely if the ultimate goal is to dramatically reduce the burden on the environment, while also lessening the horrendous slaughter of billions of animals a year, then the obvious solution is to encourage everybody to adopt a plant-based diet.

“So what do you actually eat?” As a vegan I’m regularly faced with this question from curious carnivores. People seem to have been programmed into believing that more meat is better, thanks to the effects of mass marketing campaigns and the ‘meat and two veg’ culture perpetuated in this country. The undeniable truth is that humans do not need meat nor the secretions of animals to be healthy and well-fed individuals. In fact, we are vey well equipped to all eat a vegetarian or even vegan diet. Our digestive systems are also built differently from those of a carnivore. They’re long and winding, so large amounts of meat take a long time to move through the many feet of intestine. As it takes so long in that hot environment, it can begin to rot and cause unhealthy bacterial growth and toxicity. Whereas the gut of a tiger is only three times as long as the trunk of its body, meaning waste matter is rapidly excreted. Thankfully, the range of foods, of options and alternatives available to non meat-eaters is quite extraordinary, and right now I’m eating a wider range of foods than I could ever have imagined. A plant-based diet does require a certain level of awareness of what nutrients are required on an everyday basis, but the level of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients consumed give you an immense physical energy, lightness and mental clarity that eating meat and dairy does not deliver. I know this from personal experience. Even better, a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, seeds, nuts, pulses and whole grains can also greatly improve your health, and reduce the risk of major lifestyle-related diseases, including heart disease and cancer. I come from a family of meat-eaters, and I live with an enthusiastic carnivore. He argues that humans have been eating meat for centuries and it’s how we have adapted to survive. True, but humans have also been fighting in wars, and committing murders, rapes and hate crimes for centuries. That doesn’t make it correct, either. We have the resources, the nutritional knowledge and a greater environmental urgency than ever before to slow down the rate of destruction that large-scale industrial farming is wreaking on the planet. Furthermore, the horrendous suffering, torture, abuse and slaughter that billions of animals go through every year to be turned into food is not an issue that most compassionate-minded and moral humans can happily think about. Most are aware that the content of their hamburger was once a living, breathing animal, yet most people also choose to ignore it. I don’t want my body to be a graveyard for the rotting flesh of a murdered animal, thanks very much!

I am constantly asked about my protein intake and what do I eat to meet my needs. That is one of the biggest myths out there. The World Health Organisation advises that only about five percent of our daily calories should be from protein. In normal diets, it’s practically impossible to get below that percentage as a wide range of whole foods contains adequate amounts. The average plant food supplies at least ten percent of its calories in the form of protein and green vegetables average about fifty percent. Furthermore, the strongest animal on earth, pound for pound, is the gorilla – a vegetarian by nature and design.

I am not asking you to simply give up meat and dairy on the spot. But I do think it’s all too easy to choose to consciously ignore these issues in favour of satisfying your culinary desires. The food we choose to eat is one of the most important decisions we make everyday as humans, because of the far-reaching consequences of what we put on our plates. Moving towards a more plant-based diet would greatly improve world hunger, rainforest destruction, environmental damage, loss of resources and massively reduce the numbers of animals exploited and slaughtered, while also preventing or even reversing the major lifestyle-related killer diseases. It is certainly food for thought.