Could you go meat-free for Lent?
Reducing the impact of what we eat isn’t simple. There are lots of factors in the environmental impact of our food: how far it has travelled, how and where it was produced, and the life-long impact of the product and packaging itself. Whilst certain foods might tread lightly on the planet in some aspects, they could have significant effects in others.
It is clear however that, in general, animal products – beef, dairy and sheep in particular – have a significantly larger environmental impact than those of plant based substitutes. Both UK and UN planners indicate that to achieve our greenhouse gas commitments we must reduce the amount of meat in our diets.
This Lent, making one big change to the way you eat could be an opportunity to think carefully about the environmental impact of your food. That’s why we’re inviting you to consider going without meat, or free of animal products all together, during the Lenten period.
Agriculture and the environment
Over the past 50 years, farmers and other food producers have risen to the demands of growing and increasingly affluent population. The amount of calories produced per head of population has increased by over one third, and meat production per person doubled.
Increasing populations and the effects of climate change will continue to place further pressures on food producers in the future. Land will be required for food and energy production, as well as being needed for uses that enhance biodiversity or absorb greenhouse gases.
More sustainable agriculture that supports biodiversity whilst optimising the amount of food produced is needed. Church networks tell us that many UK farmers are refining their practices to meet these aims, and working hard to increase the sustainability of their farming.
We also know that some parts of our diet come at a higher environmental cost than others. Both in the UK and worldwide even the most efficiently and sustainably reared meat – most especially sheep and beef meat – has a much higher impact than plant based alternatives.
The consensus is that whilst meat production will remain an important source of food, especially in developing countries, a sustainable global diet will need to be substantially less meat intensive. This may mean substantial and difficult change for many farming communities across the world, something we need to recognise in the coming years.
So, what changes can you make?
There are lots of vegetarian and vegan alternatives to eating meat, so get creative! You could start by swapping meat options for beans and pulses, like lentils, kidney beans and chickpeas. These are great sources of protein, and also add fibre to your meals. If you aren’t able to cut out meat products all together every day, why not consider eating meat for only 2-3 days a week?
It’s important to think carefully about the kind of substitutes you’re going for when you change your diet. Are you choosing foods which have travelled a long distance? How have the vegetables you’re buying been produced – did their farming have a significant impact on the land? For example, almonds grown for almond milk are often produced in California, and have a high impact on water use and the bee population, as well as needing to be transported globally.
Some farms sell veg boxes either directly or through local delivery companies. These contain vegetables which are in season and have the advantage of reducing the food miles of your food.
We’re not always able to make the best choices due to financial and access constraints. Reducing the consumption of meat or animal products might not be a long term change for you. But making a change over the Lenten period and asking these questions is making a great start to considering how you can live lightly.
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