With the amazon on fire and tv-docs battling over which lifestyle is the more healthy and sustainable option, the discussion on meat vs. plant-based has never been more heated! It was therefore surprising and liberating to find a civilized discussion between two opponents on TheGaiaHood a few weeks back, where arguments were firm but respectful from both sides of this complex discussion. We didn’t want you to miss out, so we gave our two ladies, Emma Robertson Chia and Rene Wright the boxing gloves back on! Now, you can make your own decision on who’s bad and who’s good, when they go head to head, Meat vs. Plant-based:
What are your views on ruminant animals and the impact it has on the environment?
EMMA – PLANT-BASED
It is fair to say that ruminant animals have been shown to contribute positive effects on the environment, when managed carefully by farmers intent on sustainably maintaining the symbiotic relationship between nature and animals, and not as commodities from which to gain profit. However, they make up a microscopic proportion of all animals farmed. Most meat produced comes from factory farms where animals have never seen daylight and are kept on concrete floors in unimaginably close proximity to one another, all in the name of profit. A five year study was carried out by Oxford University, published in ‘Nature’, on the ‘Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits’. It’s considered the most respected and comprehensive study ever done. It studied 40,000 farms in 119 countries, covering 40 food products that represent 90% of all food eaten. It claims, ‘The potential contribution of grazing ruminants to soil carbon sequestration is small, time-limited, reversible and substantially outweighed by the greenhouse gas emissions they generate. The ambitious claims made by advocates of grass-fed livestock about grazing, as a significant mitigation opportunity are thus unfounded.’
Ruminants use a QUATRE of the earth’s usable surface. According to the study, livestock produces only 18% of calories and 37% of protein but uses 83% of land, produces 58% of the greenhouse gas, 57% of the water pollution, 56% of air pollution and 33% of freshwater withdrawals.
Numerous highly respected scientific studies, come to the same conclusion. Even those saying that IF the claims were true about carbon sequestration, it would still not be possible as greater numbers of cattle would be needed, resulting in devastating land-use change and emissions. These and other studies have lead the UN to urge a global move towards a meat and dairy free diet. Even our favourite little activist, Greta Thunburg, has gone vegan based on all the scientific evidence.
The need to take over a quatre of our usable land has led to our precious rainforests across the world being cut to make way for yet more ranches and vast fields to grow soy….to feed those animals. Intensive farming is the major cause of desertification/top soil erosion, which in turn is a major contributor to global warming.
Waste run-off enters the world’s rivers and waterways, making its way to the sea where it is the largest contributor to the acidification of the water and the thriving toxic algae blooms (known to kill people within seconds of going close). Whole communities, dependent on the health of their rivers and seas, find their own health and livelihoods washed away.
Ruminant animals need a huge amount of water to be reared (99% more than crops). An estimated 3,300litres for every hamburger..! In a world where whole countries are on the brink of running out of water completely, this is reckless. (Even rainy old England is estimated to run out of water in the next 25 years!)
RENE – MEAT
Ultimately, ruminant animals will be the saviour of our planet (as they have been in the past)! Desertification and global warming is the real problem when it comes to environmental issues, in terms of climate change! If you change the landscape, you change the ecosystem, therefore you change the climate. The more barren land there is (such as deserts), the higher the earth’s temperature becomes and this then has a knock-on effect for everything and everyone on the planet. This has been the major cause of the earth’s temperature rising over the years.
Ruminant animals repair the grasslands by grazing, fertilizing the grass and creating carbon sinks which sequester carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil where it belongs, as has been the case for hundreds of years, which will repair desertification. Dr Allan Savory has an amazing TED talk on this subject called ‘How to fight desertification and reverse climate change’. He has set up a foundation called The Savory Institute, which you can follow on Instagram or Facebook – a truly remarkable man.
Also, regenerative grazing of cattle can produce a 30-40% improvement in soil carbon compared to where there was no grazing at all. More intensive grazing has proven better for soil health than less intensive. This means that methane production from grazing animals is equalised through the amount of carbon sequestered by the carbon sinks in the soil. Cow burps and farts (methane production) are misunderstood when it comes to carbon sinks.
What, in your view, creates the highest percentage of carbon emissions?
The burning of fossil fuels. But animal agriculture is up there contributing about 18% of total emissions according to the Oxford University research mentioned above. More than all the planes, trains, trucks, cars combined.
Transportation (burning fossil fuels) is responsible for 28.5% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG)
Electricity is responsible for 28.4% of GHG
The industry is responsible for 21.6% of GHG
Ag crops are responsible for 4.7% of GHG
Ag livestock is responsible for 3.9% of GHG
Within the livestock category, beef production is responsible for only 2% of GHG
As you can see this is far lower than the 18-51% range many plant-based advocates report. The largest source of GHG emissions in the US come from energy and transportation. I believe that the government and corporations are using the move to plant-based diets to cleverly distract us from the real issue – as the media does with ‘false news’. There is an agenda here and the meat industry is the scapegoat.
What percentage of grain does livestock consume compared with human consumption of grains?
It is said that we can feed the world with 40 million tons of food, yet 760 million tons are grown purely to feed animals. This is when countless millions around the world are starving. Most of the grain is grown in developing countries where those growing it, have no food of their own. Yet they sell it (at very low prices) to developing countries to feed their animals…so that we can enjoy a steak! Surely that is morally wrong in anyone’s book!
Not many people are aware of the fact that ALL cattle (if we’re talking about red meat consumption) start their lives on being grass-fed, up until they are 12-14 months and are finished (for 4-6 months) on a feedlot. So the percentages that are given by the plant-based/vegan community are incorrect because livestock is only fed around 13% grains (a lot lower than what is stated by plant-based communities). 90% of what cattle eat is forage and plant leftovers (crop residue), that people can’t eat. Which in turn is transformed into fertilizer and micro-organisms which feeds the soil. As well as a good source of protein from meat.
In your view, would it be better to use meat for consumption at the end of an animals life, or would it be better to phase out livestock as a food source completely?
I believe the basic act of killing, whether at the beginning or the end of life is wrong. In a world where we have the choice, why choose to be cruel? As a vegan, I’m obviously going to say, phase out meat consumption altogether – considering we can live a perfectly healthy life on a plant-based diet. I do however realise that it is highly unlikely for the whole world to turn totally vegan. The wealthier in society are always going to feel entitled to eat what they want and certain societies have long-standing traditions that they will not wish to give up or religious beliefs that don’t allow them to.
With the gradual phasing out of livestock, those few remaining would be taken care of by the natural eco-system’s own checks and balances. We are not burdened by the emissions from decaying animals from other animal species…
We need ruminants to improve our soil conditions and if we decided it is inhumane to consume these animals, we would have a real problem on our hands. If we left animals to die naturally, we would not be able to keep up with the effects that decomposing animals would have on the environment. We are ultimately the ‘scavengers’ who ‘clean up’ the environment, the way wolves, hyenas or vultures do in the wild. There is a way that we can do this and live in harmony with nature.
Can humans survive without the nutrients from meat/Can humans survive on a purely plant-based diet?
Absolutely! Take top athletes these days far surpassing their previous performances after going vegan! Lewis Hamilton for one. However, his decision was not purely for performance reasons but for environmental. We only need to watch the scary Neflix films like ‘Cowspiracy’ and ‘What the Health’ to get an idea of the devastating effects cheap meat has on our health. But this is not a new fad, different cultures have been eating plant-based diets for centuries. 40% of Indians eat plant-based diets, Ethiopians, middle Eastern countries still all largely eat a plant-based diet.
One can get all one needs from nuts, beans, leafy green veggies etc in terms of protein and calcium. All the nutrients that we get from animals originally came from the plants that they ate. A common misconception is that a plant-based diet causes a B12 deficiency because B12 is only found in meat. While this is true to some extent, most farm animals actually do not contain B12 naturally and are injected with the vitamin by farmers. One can get B12 from supplements or fortified plant milk and cereals, Marmite and nutritional yeast.
No, I don’t believe they can. Not from a vegan standpoint. Vitamin B12 is essential for human health and the only available source, which humans can absorb and assimilate, is from animal protein. Not to mention Iron, the absorption of Vitamin D and certain Omega’s, which the uptake by the body is far more responsive to from animal products. There is a reason that there is no history of a vegan culture in the history of man. Vegetarian, yes! But NOT vegan. Dr Natasha McBride who is a PhD and is the founder of the GAPS (Gut and Psychological Syndrome) protocol recently stated in her podcast that she has had interviews with people who were once strict vegans, where they admit that while they were on a Vegan diet, in an almost unconscious, zombie-like state would eat meat. In one particular case, a man could smell a chicken roasting as he walked past a shop and he entered the shop, in a semi-conscious state and bought the chicken and devoured the whole chicken in one sitting – as if he had been starving himself. She said she has encountered many people with the same story and they will not admit to it while on the vegan lifestyle because of the shame and guilt they feel for what they have done. Many of which, have given up everything for their vegan lifestyle, so to admit to doing this would destroy their credibility. It’s like it’s their dirty little secret. This is definitely more the case in people who have been vegan long term because a vegan diet has been compared to a form of fasting or cleansing, which is the reason why people feel so good on it at first until they start to notice signs of malnourishment.
Also, animals convert plant protein into a source of protein that is easily assimilated by humans, which we have been doing for 10,000 + years!
What is your stance on factory farming or feedlots?
All methods of intensive farming should be abolished! As I mentioned, their effect on the environment is quite catastrophic and for those humans living in close proximity to the farms, the impact on their health is devastating. The world has got used to cheap meat from the likes of McDonalds and KFC. It’s now expected to be part of almost every meal. No longer is there the appreciation and respect for the animal that gave up its life or the feeling that the whole animal should be used, nothing wasted. Meat has become simply a product and consumers have completely disregarded the fact that that piece of meat was once a living, breathing, feeling creature, just like us and the companion animals we call ‘pets’.
We kill TRILLIONS of animals every year and countless billions die before they even get to slaughter, because of abuse, disease, being trampled, or ground up alive, as in the case of day-old male chicks. Just to put that into perspective, if we call a life a second in time: 1 million seconds = 12 days, one billion seconds = 31.7 years and one trillion seconds = 31,709.8 years. So trillions of animals are a LOT!!! Whatever your beliefs regarding eating meat, we must all agree to eat a LOT less!
I do not agree with feedlots or animal abuse in any form! I do not support factory farming in any way, just as I do not support mass industrial crop farming either! Both are destructive to our planet and there are so many incredible farmers and people in the food industry paving the way to more regenerative farming methods, which benefit the animals as well as humans and the environment. Highly processed food is the main culprit for our deteriorating health, as well as the deterioration of the health of our planet for massive profits!
Would you say that there is a place for Sustainable Farming from a vegan or meat-eaters point of view?
Absolutely. The planet needs that ‘new’/old approach to farming where there is maximum diversity of crops and animals, that produce healthy eco-systems and a living soil that is able to hold rainwater effectively. Where customers are within the community. Watching the film ‘The Biggest Little Farm’ reaffirmed these views. To see the amazing balance that eventually came about between crops and animals was wonderful to see. But I believe that balance was primarily achieved by the presence of wild animals and insects and diverse crops and plants…not because of the livestock. But yes, I believe, this is the direction that all farming should move in.
The issue is though, that this farm took a minimum of 7 years to reach a level of ‘balance’. When we only have about 8 years or less to do something drastic to save the world, having a few passionate dedicated farmers to pursue a similar path, will not really help. In the long term, yes. But for now, we have to take drastic measures to significantly cut ‘cheap’ meat and the intensely farmed crops needed to feed them, for our very survival.
Definitely! There are many amazing people working together, mostly in regenerative farming practices, but also through supporting small farms in their vicinity. Transporting fresh food products around the world has more of an impact on the environment than the actual production of the food. This is something we have far more control over than deciding whether to eat meat or not.
What is your view of the movie ‘Game Changers’ and encouraging people to move to a plant-based diet to improve performance?
I am yet to watch it, but have seen the trailers and read about it. Obviously, I am going to agree that one can increase your fitness levels from following a plant-based diet. Elephants, gorillas, rhinos etc all seem pretty powerful to me…!
I understand there has been criticism that people haven’t stuck to their proclaimed vegan diets, but I believe we shouldn’t label people. The point is that we try our very best to do what’s right and if we fall off the wagon once in a while, we should’nt be judged. For those becoming vegan from a standpoint other than the moral one, it can sometimes seem hard. In the same way we try our best to reduce waste and plastic, we are not always perfect, but it doesn’t mean we are any less committed to the cause.
I think it’s a joke! I have been following it for some time now and it is quite shocking how many athletes that featured in the movie are no longer vegan or plant-based due to injury or having to retire from the sport completely. Here’s the biggest joke! I watched a recent youtube video on what Arnold Schwarzenegger keeps in his fridge. In this interview, he places a whole raw egg into his smoothie every day (shell and all) and says his favourite food to cook and eat is Steak!! This is the man who stated in the movie that ‘Oxen are so strong and what do they eat? Grass! They get their protein from eating plants! Well, Arnie, if we had 3 stomachs like an Ox or cow, we would also be able to convert grass or plants into protein, but we’re not designed the same way! I think you always need to follow the money when it comes to people in politics pushing a product.
Do you believe that meat causes cancer and heart disease?
Yes…and diabetes. Countless studies have been published highlighting this. Some suggesting that eating red meat increases the risk by 1000%. It has not always filtered down through Government policy as the meat, dairy and pharmaceutical industries fund a lot of what the health ministries do. But the UN and recently the NZ Government have put out advisories for people to follow a more plant-based diet. Quite a big deal coming from a country whose GDP is so closely tied to the meat industry!
There is no evidence or proof from ANY scientific, peer-reviewed studies, that meat causes cancer or heart disease. They use words such as ‘it is thought to’ or, ‘it is believed’, but there is no hard evidence to support their beliefs. And many of these studies where they are trying to prove that meat or dairy causes colorectal cancer or heart disease are funded by big pharma or by companies such as Monsanto (who produce GMO grains and roundup/glyphosate herbicides), or nestle.
Do you believe that GM grains and roundup/glyphosate cause cancer?
YES! Well, they have pretty much-proved glyphosate does. As for GM, there are different schools of thought…although I am one to think that anything unnatural probably has unforeseen side effects. I believe that both these are the contributing factors to gluten intolerance. Wheat was genetically modified in the US back in the 1950s before there was proper regulation. It was modified in order to increase yield. The yield ended up producing 10 times the wheat! Obviously, every country around the world wanted this magic wheat to feed their growing populations. As a result, 90plus% of wheat world-wide originates from this early GM wheat. Wheat who’s protein was modified into something that is either impossible or very difficult for humans to process properly.
Yes, I do! There is now plenty of evidence that this is the case and the rise in food intolerances and allergies is proof that there is something fundamentally wrong with our food supply. Mostly, it comes from major corporations who produce ultra-processed food for massive profits.
Do you think we are naturally frugivores, omnivores or carnivores?
I think we are naturally frugivores or herbivores. Although we have been taught to think that the human-animal is omnivorous, studies have proven that our biological features, be it our intestine length or our jaw structure, are much more closely related to that of herbivorous animals than omnivorous animals. Our canines are too small to ever have ripped meat. Carnivores have short intestines to expel meat faster. The fact that meat sits and ferments in our long intestines, is a contributing factor to a lot of the modern diseases. Cholesterol and saturated fats are only found in animal products. Only herbivorous animals experience health implications by consuming cholesterol and saturated fats, while omnivores and carnivores do not develop atherosclerotic plaques. As babies, if we are given a little chick, we don’t have the instinct to bite its head off, rather we want to play and nurture it. Raw meat and offal generally give us the gut reaction of repulsion. We have been so indoctrinated by society to only see the end product of what’s on our plates. If we saw where our food actually comes from, we would most likely be disgusted by it. eg chicken nuggets made out of butt holes and eyeballs…!
I think that humans are definitely omnivores and at one point were more carnivore than an omnivore. Humans can survive on meat alone (including the organs of the animal) for years, but not on plants. The evolution of the human race is proof of this. The pH of a humans stomach (1.5) is more acidic than a dog or cat (2), who are carnivores. It is even more acidic than the stomach of a lion (2.5). I think this is evidence that we are meant to eat meat. Humans also have ridged molars rather than flat molars (such as a gorilla) and a small colon compared to frugivores or ruminants, who have a large colon. Humans have putrefactive bacteria in their gut compared with ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats,) or gorillas, who have fermentative bacteria. There is more than enough evidence that humans are omnivores and there has recently been a large movement towards a carnivore diet to heal autoimmune diseases, gut sensitivities and allergies with just meat and eggs.
What impact does veganism or meat-eating have on the planet, in terms of giving up one thing to replace it with another?
Either or is going to have an impact, because our population is just too big. But, without the production of meat, vast expanses of land could be utilized for re-wilding, more diversified crops and human habitation. The improvements to water, air quality, deforestation etc would be enormous. The incredibly high rates of suicide and depression among slaughterhouse workers (who are often refugees or immigrants unable to find jobs) would stop. Those whole communities devastated by poisoned rivers would be able to rebuild.
Our daily lives, however, might initially be impacted if meat production stopped . We have used meat products for so long that they have filtered into so many things that we are not even aware of. Animals bones, fat derivatives etc are used in so many unlikely products: refined sugar (bone char used as a filter to make the sugar white), lipstick, shampoo, toothpaste, plastic bags (as the ‘slip agent’ to stop them sticking together), beer & wine (bladder membranes for filtering), perfumes, sweets & deserts, glues…condoms. But they can all easily be replaced by plant derivatives. An obvious loss would be leather. But mushroom leather looks unbelievably similar to real leather with a beautiful natural texture, better antibacterial and weatherproofing qualities …and superior strength. Faux leathers can be made from so many things like pineapple husks, apple skins, leaves…all eco-friendly waste products. Cork is also widely used in shoe-making. Not much leather is used in sports shoes these days anyway, but many big brands are already taking ocean plastic to make their new ranges. A marketing gimmick for sure, but in a world where we can’t magically click our fingers and have all the existing plastic disappear, recycling in this way is a positive step.
But admittedly, if the world turned vegan, it wouldn’t be a perfect quick-fix solution either. Almonds require a lot of water to produce enough to make almond milk (but still significantly less than cow’s milk). An increased demand for avocados, cashews, peppers etc would see more instances of slavery. Until the likes of glyphosate are banned, an increase in pesticides would also have it’s own problems.
Basically, our western diet, with its present need for intensive farming methods, is unsustainable and immoral.
If everyone in the world switched to a plant-based diet and especially if they became vegan, considering that vegans won’t wear or use any products from animals, as well as consuming them – this would have such a massive impact on the environment. Just from the perspective of having to replace something like leather with plastic. There is no other replacement for animal-derived products, besides plastic. This is especially evident when it comes to producing seats in a car, for example. Choosing plastic or vinyl/cloth over leather (which is a by-product of the meat industry), has more of an impact on the environment than using the whole animal for human consumption. These are facts that many people haven’t considered in the grand scheme of things. So many of the products we use come from the animal by-products.
Do you think it is logical for the human species to give up meat and replace it with Impossible meat or Beyond Meat products? What impact would this have on the planet from a meat-eating or plant-based diet?
I think it is only logical to grow food that enables us to feed everyone on this planet, rather than grow food to feed animals to feed just a small percentage of the world population.
I don’t think Impossible, or Beyond, or any of the processed brands coming on the market thick and fast, are a great food source. Eating unprocessed foods is always going to be the best option. However, in a world where McDonalds and KFC rule, we have to find an alternative to ‘cheap meat’…and fast. Even though these products are not perfect, they are still significantly better than ‘cheap meat’ with all its hormones, antibiotics, medicines, puss, etc…., they will soon become cheaper than ‘cheap meat’, providing a valid food source for low-income families and have significantly less of an environmental impact. People don’t want to give up meat, so they had to come up with something that tastes as near to it as possible…and it is quite amazing.
Without meat we could free up 75% of global farmland…equivalent to the whole of the US, China, the European Union AND Australia COMBINED and still feed the projected 10.5 billion population in 2050! How amazing is that! Land that we could re-wild to ensure the safety and diversity of wildlife and provide extra space for the ever-expanding population.
Because 90% of what cattle eat is not edible by humans, they actually ‘upcycle’ nutrient-poor food we can’t ea,t on land we can’t crop, into a source of protein that is nutrient-dense. To be able to feed a growing population, we need to utilize brittle, rocky, steep areas that can’t grow crops like corn, wheat or soy. Contrary to mainstream belief, eliminating beef or animal protein will not ‘free up’ tons of extra food for fighting hunger, as the majority of animal feed is inedible by humans.
Not all agricultural land can be cropped. More than 40% of the land in the US is pasture and rangeland that is too rocky, steep or arid to support cultivated agriculture, yet can support cattle and other roaming animals.
Cereals, fruit and vegetables make up the largest majority of food waste right now, not meat.
Meat is still the most superior source of protein. Animal flesh is a more nutrient-dense, bioavailable, complete protein and happens to have fewer calories per gram than plants.
Here’s an interesting fact. If you have a pet dog or cat, (and there are more pets in the world than cattle), which rely on meat for their diet. How are you going to feed your pets if we can’t produce food from animals? They are domesticated, which means they cannot hunt or find their own food. If you didn’t have a pet, you would be saving the planet far more than by giving up meat yourself. That is if you believe that raising livestock is the reason for the state of our planet.
And, I think that there are massive profits to be made from Impossible Meat or Beyond Meat products. It is still an overly processed food, with minimal health benefits and since it has been listed on the stock exchange, has increased in profits considerably. Many of the investors in Impossible Meat are millionaires and big players in the financial industry and know a good thing when they see it. They have jumped on an opportunity to make millions through using people’s emotions to control what they eat and therefore reaping the benefits for themselves, by creating massive profits and lining their pockets. Food has become very political and is not as simple as it should be, or used to be. It is now a money-making racket, rather than simply feeding humans a nutrient-dense diet. In my opinion, it is the reason we are all so sick. Modern-day diseases and obesity began at the same time as the industrial revolution in the 1950s.
So, no. It is not logical in any way to give up meat or replace it with plant alternatives. There is too much at stake. Let’s tackle where the real problems are! Burning of fossil fuels (through transport) and the desertification of land.
A great source of information is www.sustainabledish.com if you’re interested in hard facts!