Climate Change: Do we need to cut down our meat consumption?
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I was invited to attend the United Nations 16th Climate Change Conference of Youth which took place in Glasgow, Scotland during the last week of October this year. As the only delegate invited from South Africa, I was obliged to attend.
One of the key aspects of the conference was that all food provided to delegates at the venue was plant-based.
What is plant-based you ask? According to Harvard Health, “plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns focus on foods primarily from plants.
This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. It doesn't mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy.”
One of the workshops at the conference took a deep look into how our current food systems and consumption contribute negatively to climate change.
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The impact of livestock on emissions varies between countries. Globally, the United Nations estimates that animal agriculture makes up more than 14% of all man-made greenhouse gases. This includes methane. So how much meat do South Africans eat? Turns out, a lot.
According to Knorr's 2021 Plate of the Nation study conducted by Nielson, 90% of South Africans are meat-eaters, a 6% increase from the previous year. The Plate of the Nation study aims to assist with
moving South Africa toward a healthier lifestyle by providing stakeholders with the relevant information needed to guide policy and decision making. It also made for pretty interesting reading. Knorr said that it used a sample size that best reflected the demographics of this country with surveys done across all nine provinces incorporating different age groups, genders, backgrounds and ethnicities.
South Africans seem not to be bothered by the increase in meat prices with 46% eating more meat every day, 46% eating meat two to three times per week in total, 7% indulging once a week and only 1% who ate meat two to three times per month.
Nielsen South Africa, Consumer Insights Director Kim Reddy said that "we eat double the amount of meat than we should with South Africans eating, on average, two meals per day." The study also
revealed that the average local diet lacks vegetables but not meat or starch.
ProVeg (a Pro Vegetarian Group) said that “on average, each South African eats more than 58kg of meat every year, compared with around 40kg in 1994.” That is equivalent to eating three and a half viennas every single day.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) reported that “methane is a powerful greenhouses gas with 100-year global warming potential 28-34 times that of CO2. Measured over a 20-year period, that ratio grows to 84-86 times.”
According to Our World in Data, beef is the worst climate polluter contributing 49.89 kg of CO2 per 100g of protein produced compared to soybeans which contribute only 1.98 kg of CO2 per 100g.
If we want to make a positive difference in the fight against climate change, we need to significantly reduce our meat consumption, starting with red meat. Swap out your beef patty for a chicken fillet, it's better for you and the planet.
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