Welcome to October! This month’s challenge takes place on your dinner plate…
October goal: Eat less meat.
Kiwis love meat. Our country ranks #11 in per capita meat consumption based on data compiled by the OECD. Individually, we eat on average 106 kilos of meat each year. So what’s the problem? Well, it’s twofold: high levels of meat consumption impacts both our environment and our health.
First up, the environment. Meat production affects the environment on multiple fronts. Large-scale farming produces a huge amount of atmospheric emissions, contributing significantly to global warming. Runoff from animal waste enters the soil, groundwater and rivers, adding excess nutrients and leading to algal blooms that degrade aquatic habitats. Raising beef, sheep, pigs and chickens also requires a lot of water – not just for the animals themselves, but also for growing the grass and grains required to feed them, and producing the fertilizer needed to grow feed crops. In fact, it takes about 15,500 litres of water to produce just 1 kg of beef. Lamb isn’t far behind, requiring almost 10,500 litres of water per kg of meat.
And it’s not just the raising and feeding of the animals that has an effect. It’s also the transport, packaging, processing, and storing of meat that requires abundant energy and resources. On the whole, agricultural systems are responsible for one-third of the global greenhouse gas emissions. In New Zealand, that percentage sits even higher, at 48%. And while people, of course, need to continue to eat, paying a bit more attention to the impacts of the foods that we are eating can go a long way towards reducing the footprint our food production leaves on our planet.
Secondly, health impacts. There are associations between meat consumption and health problems like heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer, though these associations aren’t well understood and some of the most recent research suggests that it is processed meat, not fresh meat, which drives the disease risk. Red meat in particular seems to be a culprit: the more meat you eat, the more likely you are to be affected by 9 major diseases. People who eat less meat tend to eat fewer calories, ingest less fat, weigh less and just be generally healthier than those with a heavily meat-based diet.
So this month, find a way to cut a bit of meat out of your diet. Even choosing vegetarian fare just one or two days a week will help on both the health and environmental fronts. It’s a great time of year to eat less meat as well as the winter shortage of local fruits and veggies is slowly being replaced by an abundance of locally-grown produce. Head to your local farmer’s market and find something new to try. Growers may even have recipe ideas to accompany their wares and help you learn how to incorporate new fruits and veggies into your diet.
As always, practice makes perfect. It can be hard to learn to cook new meals with new ingredients. Take this month to test out some fresh recipes – you may find an endearing family favourite! Taking up this challenge together with friends or family members makes it easier, too. (And it’s always more fun to cook with friends…)
How to participate:
Choose the level below that works for you, and don’t forget to upload a picture of yourself finding creative ways to reduce your meat consumption. Maybe even share a vegetarian recipe for others to try out! Include the hashtag #OSOFSustainableMe and you could be featured on the Plastic Free New Zealand page!
Here’s what to do:
Beginner: Join the Meat Free Monday campaign by finding one day per week to eat vegetarian. Check out the links above and below for recipe ideas.
Step it up: Give up meat 3 or 4 days out of the week.
Want more? Try going vegetarian for a full month!
Already vegetarian? Give veganism a try (5 vegan recipes for beginners). Already vegan? Pat yourself on the back and help a non-vegan friend or family member learn how to reduce their meat intake.
How does it help?
As stated above, farming animals for meat distributes lots of different wastes to the land and the atmosphere. Increased carbon in the atmosphere contributes to global warming and acidification of the oceans. Reducing the amount of animal waste entering freshwater systems also keeps those wastes out of the ocean where they are altering the chemical and biological makeup of the sea.
Resources: (Please note, this is not an endorsement of these organizations, stores or products from OSOF, just a suggestion of how to get started)
Why Go Meat Free? – Meat Free Monday New Zealand
Agriculture and Climate Change – European Environment Agency
10 ways to eat less meat – Fine Cooking
Vegetarian Recipe Ideas – Bite
Contributor: Andrea Greene-Liberatore