While the number of people practicing vegetarianism and veganism in the UK and Ireland has risen exponentially in recent years, the vast majority of the world still eat meat. However, even small changes, such as simply reducing the amount of meat, especially red meat, in an individual’s diet has been shown to significantly lower carbon emissions. Such changes could potentially cut carbon emissions by one third by 2050, helping us to keep global warming at a manageable pace.
Curiosity over ‘reducetarianism’ or ‘semi-vegetarianism’ has indeed been increasing dramatically over the last decade. Google has reported a steady 87% increase in searches over the last 14 years as many try to limit their meat intake. That said, many people are still reluctant to impose such restrictions on themselves.
This reluctance could stem from assumptions that by limiting your access to a food group that many people enjoy, reducetarianism becomes a voluntary reduction in quality of life. Indeed, a controversial study from the Medical University of Graz in Austria suggested as much back in 2014.
However, far from lowering one’s quality of life, more recent data has conclusively proven that reducing the amount of meat in your diet can drastically improve your standard of living. From simply cutting out red meat to having one meat-free day per week, people are not only reducing the impact they have on the environment but are also enjoying some of the associated benefits of the lifestyle.
Every food item comes with a carbon footprint, amassed from the amount of resources used to produce, package, and ship it for sale in stores. In terms of its environmental impact, red meat dwarfs the carbon emissions of other food items. Cutting it out therefore stands out as the easiest way to substantially reduce your own carbon footprint.
1kg of vegetables on average produces around 2kg of CO2, or the equivalent of driving about 4.5 miles in a car. In comparison, the same quantity of beef produces around 27kg of CO2, or the same as driving for 91 miles.
According to the UK’s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, the average person in the UK consumes around 103g of beef per week. With this in mind, over the course of a year abstaining from beef would enable an individual to travel the equivalent of 487 miles more than beef eaters at no additional environmental cost. To put this into perspective, this is roughly comparable to being able to circumnavigate Mauritania, a reportedly fantastic holiday destination.
With the global population expected to rise to 9.1 billion by 2050, there are growing concerns over the amount of land required to produce enough food to accommodate such an increase.
It is estimated that by 2050 meat production will increase to 470 million tonnes per year, up from 200 million today. Facilitating this increase would require nearly 500,000 square miles of extra arable land in order to grow grain for livestock to feed and to provide them with pasture. This, according to Professor Mark Sutton of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, would be a highly inefficient use of land within the US and Europe. With this in mind, should reducetarianism enter the mainstream, such land could likely be put to better use.
According to the National Association of Realtors, the minimum area required to have a property classified as a mansion is roughly 5,000 square feet. If, for the sake of demonstration, meat production remained at its current rate due to widespread dietary changes throughout the world, it would indeed be possible to produce over 2.8 billion mansions, more than enough to accommodate the projected increase in the world’s population. Moreover, given the adherence of real estate prices to the laws of supply and demand, these properties would more than likely be affordable to the average person.
With increased meat production comes increased water consumption. The Institute of Mechanical Engineers has shown that producing 1kg of beef requires well over 15,000 litres of water, with vast quantities being used solely to produce grain for livestock. Moreover, by 2050 the total amount of water required for global meat production will have increased by 11%, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
With the amount of water wasted growing crops that never reach the consumer estimated to be around 550 trillion litres annually, surely a reduction in meat consumption would provide an ample source of water that could be allocated towards more worthy causes?
Producing 5.4kgs of beef requires over 85,000 litres of water, or the equivalent of the capacity of the average swimming pool. Given that the US used 246 trillion litres of water in 2012 alone for producing beef, if only red meat were removed from the diet of the US population it would be possible to fill roughly 2.9 billion swimming pools. This, coincidentally, is comparable to the increase in the number of mansions that would result from maintaining global meat production at current levels. Why have a chicken in every pot when we could have a pool in every mansion?
Far from yielding a lesser quality of life, reducetarianism could have the potential to give people the standard of living most associate only with the rich and powerful. With exotic holidays, spacious accommodation, and luxury home installations awaiting those willing to curtail their love of meat, perhaps one day people will cease ordering beef rare, and instead order it rarely.