Squash the Beef evening at Espresso Library
I went to a sold-out evening at Espresso Library on Tuesday: Squash the Beef, organised by the Cambridge Food Security Forum. Squash the beef: a discussion on the global and personal impact of meat was designed to draw attention to the urgent need to reduce meat consumption right now if we are to stand a chance of avoiding runaway climate change and keep within the 2 degrees of warming (ideally 1.5 degrees) agreed at the Paris Summit last December. The three speakers were a very interesting mix: Professor Tim Benton, UK Food Security Champion, gave us the sobering facts: if we are to stand any chance at all of keeping below 2 degrees of warming, we must change the way we eat. Continuing our current pattern of eating will mean that food alone will account for the full 2 degrees of warming by 2050 – to spell things out: all our other causes of climate change (transport, heating, non-food industry etc) will inevitably bring us way above 2 degrees by 2050 if food has already “eaten up” the 2 degrees. At the moment there are more livestock on the planet than humans – to put things very crudely, to keep thing below 2 degrees, we have a choice between halving our meat consumption or halving the global amount of food we produce.
As well as this compelling argument around climate change, there are other good reasons for reducing meat consumption:
- hunger: the grain fed to cattle can feed up to 8 people directly
- health (processed meat is known to be carcinogenic, but also we are in danger of losing antibiotics because of their use in livestock-rearing (70-80% of antibiotics are used by animals, not people, and are needed because of intensive rearing practices)).
- water: water is an overstretched resource and in certain areas it can take 112 litres to produce a gram of beef protein (and we tend to eat 2 or 3 times the amount of protein in the UK that we actually need)
- biodiversity: intensive livestock production is destructive of the environment and reduces biodiversity
So, we urgently need to
- eat less meat and better quality meat when we do it (grass-reared beef is better than intensively corn- or soya-fed beef and also produces less methane)
- talk openly about these issues – Professor Benton talked about how successful the anti-smoking campaign was and recommended saying things like “Eating a steak is like driving a Range Rover” and “Our choice to eat steak is causing deaths”, so that it becomes socially unacceptable to eat the amount of meat we currently do.
Chair Tim Haywood, journalist and owner of Cambridge’s famous Fitzbillie’s, then gave the perspective of a keen meat-eater who doesn’t want to give up meat but reduces meat-related greenhouse gas emissions by
- eating better quality (and usually more expensive) meat (eg beef that has been grass-reared) but less of it
- eating the whole animal (he seeks out the bits a lot of people won’t eat)
- engaging with animal welfare and really understanding where our meat comes from, how it is reared and also slaughtered
He was very funny and I could easily imagine that his argument would carry a lot of weight with keen meat eaters who would never consider giving meat up. We can’t expect everyone to turn vegan, but everyone can reduce the amount of meat they eat.
Alice Kabala, chef at CamYoga, who also has a food blog, Thoughtful Forkfuls spoke very engagingly in a non-preachy way about why she became vegan and what it’s like, before going on to talk about the nutritional side of being vegan and giving us lots of tips and recipes.
There are going to be a number of interesting events in Cambridge dealing with this topic over the next few months – and expect to see much more in the media about it. During the Cambridge Science Festival there is a talk on March 9th “Eating less meat: government policy or your choice, which is unfortunately already sold out*, and on 17th May there is a talk followed by a panel discussion “What IS the deal with meat?”, organised by Cambridge Carbon Footprint as part of the Eat Cambridge Festival.
So watch this space!
*I’ve just been told that there are often a lot of no-shows at Science Festival events, so it’s worth going along early anyway – you may get a place!