Carnivores, lend me your ears.
For the vast majority of South Africans, meat is at the centre of each meal. In fact, its significance is so great that South Africans even have a day dedicated to their favourite national pastime: the braai. Now, I know that a braai typically represents a whole lot of things, namely a place for family and friends to gather, enjoy a tipple and cook food, but let’s be honest. It’s mostly about the meat. In fact, the very word comes from the Afrikaans word for grilled meat (braaivleis). It is no secret that eating meat has a definite ritual significance in both traditional and modern South African culture, and that animal agriculture is a booming business. In fact, livestock makes up the biggest part of South Africa’s agriculture and the farming of livestock contributes greatly to the economy, creating thousands of jobs each year.
So, what’s the problem?
Where do we start? It has becoming increasingly obvious over the years that the number of organic consumers and natural health advocates is on the rise. Climate Hawks are investigating more thoroughly the fundamental causes of the undeniable fact that our planet is warming. Global warming is real and we have reached a stage during our time on this planet where we simply can’t stand in the face of the deniers and let them… well… deny. The facts are real and this is one of the most sobering of the lot: the major cause of man-made global warming is, without a shadow of doubt, the world’s industrial food and farming systems, otherwise known as Confined (or Concentrated) Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), a term coined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In a nutshell, modern livestock agriculture is burning up our planet.
Let’s look at the facts:
We know that food and climate change are inseparably linked and that our diets are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. But just how much? According to a 2015 article in The Guardian entitled “Eating less meat isn’t just good for you, it could save the planet”, University of Oxford PhD graduate and honorary health doctor, Adam Briggs, explains that agricultural emissions are thought to account for around 30% of global emissions with livestock responsible for half of these. Not only that. Food production is responsible for 70% of all human water use. Producing just 1kg of beef requires 15,000 litres of water, 30kg of greenhouse gas emissions and five square meters of land. Rearing livestock accounts for 45% of the planet’s land surface and animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction.
This can be attributed to the nearly 65 billion animals worldwide, including cows, chickens and pigs, that are crammed into CAFOs and emit more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the entire global transportation industry. The methane released from billions of imprisoned animals on factory farms is 70 times more damaging per ton to the earth’s atmosphere than CO2. To put into perspective just how much methane is circulating, a study in the 2014 documentary film, Cowspiracy revealed that every minute, seven million pounds of excrement are produced by animals raised for food in the United States alone. And these factory farms are not just a disaster for the planet – they are also huge health hazards for us. Think about it. The intensive and reckless use of growth hormones and antibiotics as well as pesticides and fertilizers are not only consumed by those with carnivorous preferences, they also find their way into the waterways, effecting everyone.
What can we do?
Coming from one of the most carnivorous nations on the planet, it is unlikely to assume that everyone who comes across these facts is going to be motivated to ditch the dairy and adopt an eco-friendly vegan lifestyle. It is also not a viable option for most, considering the increasing costs of living a healthy lifestyle. But there are some measures that can be taken to make a difference and at this stage of the planet’s peril, every little bit of effort counts. Boycotting food products from factory farms in exchange for more environmentally-friendly alternatives is already a huge step in the right direction. A few more considerations are:
Eat LESS meat. If you really can’t give up the stuff, try going meat-free for just one day a week (#meatfreemondays) or simply consider making meat less of a staple in your diet. Beans and legumes are healthy alternatives to meat protein and the many delicious varieties of veggies burgers no the market that no longer resemble sorry imitations of meat are endless.
Buy local. This is a great way to minimise the environmental impact of your food. Socially responsible, small-scale farms that produce healthy meat, eggs and dairy products using humane methods and are focused on local markets. No need to get your beef hauled from the other side of the world. Just ask at your local butcher shop and support the local industries that are doing good.
Go organic. Organic livestock that have access to the outdoors are rarely supplemented with antibiotics or growth hormones. Be anti-antibiotics and check labels. Educate yourself on what you’re consuming. The negative impacts of factory farming will soon put you off for life once you understand what is going into the meat they’re churning out.
With the population of the planet predicted to reach up to nine billion by mid-century, we simply cannot afford to be reckless. Supporting unhealthy and environmentally disastrous farming systems simply has to stop and we, as consumers, owe it to the earth to start making more healthy, sustainable food choices. The wealth of information available to us now, means that we have no excuse. Educate yourself, pay it forward and pop a few healthier alternatives onto your next braai.
TEXT © Julie Graham | IMAGES © iStock
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is a groundbreaking feature-length environmental documentary following intrepid filmmaker Kip Andersen as he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today – and investigates why the world’s leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it.
In Racing Extinction, a team of artists and activists exposes the hidden world of extinction with never-before-seen images that will change the way we see the planet. Two worlds drive extinction across the globe, potentially resulting in the loss of half of all species. The international wildlife trade creates bogus markets at the expense of creatures that have survived on this planet for millions of years. And the other surrounds us, hiding in plain sight — a world that the oil and gas companies don’t want the rest of us to see.