Thursday, 6 March 2008

I’ll Have Mine Medium Rare, Please - Sod The Greenhouse Gases!

Photo: paige-eliz

I love a good steak. For me, tucking into a medium rare fillet steak is one of the great pleasures in life. It’s not that I don’t like cows and think they ought to be slaughtered and end up on my plate, it’s just that when they're chopped up and pieces of them are fried, they taste so damned good. Especially with dauphinoise potatoes, or rice and béarnaise sauce. Oh cripes, I’m starting to salivate just thinking about it and it's only 8 am!

BUT… and here comes the voice of the little guy who sits on my shoulder and reminds me of the bad things I’m doing… aside from the question of whether or not it’s cruel to keep animals that a bred purely for slaughter and whether or not they’re transported and slaughtered in a humane way, there’s the fact that meat production is one of the main contributors to our present environmental problems.

On average, one meat based meal is equal to chopping down 55 square feet of rain forest. Now I for one sure as heck wouldn’t go to ANY forest and chop down even one tree unless I knew for sure it was going to be replaced but even though I know how important the rain forest is to life on this planet, I’ll still happily devour a good steak. Talk about conflicting values! And if the tree issue still doesn’t grab you and make you think, let’s put it another way: producing 1kg of meat - just one measly kilo - generates the same amount of carbon as a three hour drive in a petrol fuelled car.

Then there’s the issue regarding land usage. A massive 80% of available agricultural land is used to grow food for livestock. Just think how much food could otherwise be grown! There are people starving in this world, people who could be fed by grains and pulses grown on some of that land but instead I’m stuffing my face with fillet steaks and other meat products. I should be ashamed of myself.

And did you know that in the US alone, farmed animals produce 130 times more excrement
than the whole of the human population? That’s a lot of dung and the run off from it often ends up polluting the waterways. Yuk!! I doubt it’s any better here, although I haven’t been able to find any facts relating to it.

Cattle are the worse offenders; they omit methane every time they belch and apparently that’s something they do a lot! All ruminants do the same - that includes sheep and goats - but cattle are the worse offenders because a) they are larger and therefore produce more gas in their ruman (one of their four stomaches) and b) there are far more of them. Also, being extremely thick they're not clued up on social etiquette so never hold their hooves to their mouths before having a good burp.

According to a Swedish study carried out five years ago, raising cattle on grass instead of the feed that's used now would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% but our government has done nothing to try to change the way cattle’s raised here. Surprise, surprise! Not that a 40% reduction would mean no more cause for concern but at least the situation would be better than it is now.

There’s absolutely no doubt that eating beef is a HUGE contributor to my carbon footprint so I’ve decided I need to do something about it. I’m not going to give up steak entirely but I’m going to severely limit how much meat we eat in this house. A few sausages maybe, but no bacon, no more chops (well... maybe the odd one chucked on the barbie... they're so darned tasty), no more joints, and I’ll try quorn mince instead of beef mince. As for the steak, just one a fortnight at the most. It’s not perfect but it’s better than nothing at all.

Finally, just to give you something extra to think about, did you know that when we eat meat alongside food containing starch (i.e. potatoes, rice, pasta) the meat ferments and putrefies in the bowel?

Sharon J xx


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Richard said...

Everything has a downside. Turn over that agricultural land the cows are on and it'll be used for intensive cereal farming and that harms just as much. There won't be as much natural fertiliser available so artificial or fish based ones will be used. The Danes have managed to kill off most of north sea through over fishing sandeels for fertiliser. The run off will pollute the waterways even more. There's no happy medium but there should be. And quorn mince is vile stuff!

happyhippychick said...

Since I eat my steak 'blue' does this make me ever so slightly greener than you please? ;)

Vicus Scurra said...

Nonsense Richard.
Organic farming works.
Lentils and world peace.

Sharon J said...

The thing is, Richard, we’re not just talking about the land that cattle are ON but the amount of land that’s already being intensively farmed in order to produce the feed they need. That land could surely be used for human food produce instead?

As for fertiliser, why not farm organically? That way green manure would be used instead. Okay, so that has to be grown too but even so, there would still be more food produced for human consumption than there is today. Also, green manure can be grown during periods where the soil would otherwise be bare, and doesn’t deplete it in the same way that grains etc do. It’s also been proven that although organic farming produces slightly lower yields than ‘traditional’ farming methods in industrialised countries, in the so-called third world countries it produces much more. And even here we’d still have more food because at the moment, nothing that’s grown on those fields used for animal fodder is helping solve the hunger problem on a global basis.

But I guess for most it’s a matter of “Sod you, Jack…”

Personally I’d like to see a reduction in livestock farming rather than a complete ban. The price of a steak would sky rocket of course, but if people want that luxury then they’d just have to pay for it (me included). Unfair that only the wealthy will be able to afford it? Sure, but apart from a total ban (and yes, I’m being selfish here because I would still like a steak now and then) I don’t have a better solution. If you have one, please let me know.

I’ve yet to try Quorn but I’ve heard it’s better than soya mince, which I have tried and didn’t like. I’ll get a bag anyway and see how I feel about it.

Rae. Ermmm…. How would that work, exactly?

Vicus. Thank you. It’s nice to know somebody understands this :)

Chris said...

Hi! Interesting piece Sharon!

Steak flavoured jevity coming onto a menu near me soon!

thanks again for your email! I have used a quote from it in my comments section!


Sharon J said...

Steak flavoured jevity? Please elaborate.

happyhippychick said...

It takes less energy to cook?

What I would really like is to have a small holding and run as near as self sufficiently as possible - with my own small amount of stock (would have to have someone else kill them to start with though) and eat only what I can produce

I'm definitely making a concerted effort to cut back on meat these days, much as I love it as I don't like the idea off all the intensive farming - once I get this allotment of the ground I shall be stuffing myself on my own veggies and even less meat (as long as I managae to successfully produce anything... otherwise it'll be nettle soups all round)

Sharon J said...

Ahh... right. Well yes, in that case you are a bit greener :)

I don't think I could slaughter animals I'd raised myself, either. It would be lovely to have some chickens for the eggs, though, if nothing else. And a pig. They keep pigs as pets in the home in Norway.

I'm sure you'll do fine with your veggies. On the subject of nettles, do let a few grow. Butterflies lay their eggs on them.

Richard, if you're reading this, can you please get an allotment when you move up here and share your fruit and veg with me? I'll come and sit down there with you to keep you company.

Richard said...

I understand it alright and Vicus, you've got me wrong, I'm all for it but as I said before, for each argument in favour, there's an equal argument that counters and should be carefully heeded before blindly running in. All farming is ultimately damaging whether it be organic or high intensive. Any change of land use alters the local ecology so it has to be done thoughtfully and with consideration for that immediate environment. Organic farmers are still after yield and can be just as unscrupulous as any other. The pressures are higher as they usually need more land to provide an equal yield and land-use is emotive. So whether the fertiliser you apply is natural or artificial there's still adulteration of the soil by nitrates that will affect the groundwater then the rivers then the insect life and the birds which will allow the crop eating critters to flourish without hindrance. A nice bit of food chain tinkering that oftentimes we don't realise we've done until it's too late and it goes all chaotic in true butterfly wing stylee.

Where's this fertile third world land? On slashed out rainforest probably that's great for a couple of years but so damaged afterwards that it's good for nothing, not even re-colonisation by the natural flora and fauna. We can't just shout "organic" and look smug with ourselves. Vicus, you've mentioned before those organic supermarkets in the US. Great, but if everyone goes organic on a huge scale the same problems will result as we've got now and we'll still all be wringing our hands about the damage we're doing. Transition has to be done carefully.

We've become over-indulgent - look at us, we're fat. Cut down on waste and use what we have properly. Encourage local consumption and eat in season. You can still farm exotic crops here, no need to import more than necessary. Farmers are encouraged to set aside land and claim subsidy as result of over production in the 60 and 70s. Now we're underproducing. That land could easily be under clover in rotation in the traditional manner. Why isn't it? Set it aside for too long and someone will want to build a town on it.

We could all start something positive happening though, I'll be flinging a few thoughts and ideas about on my own pages later.

As for the methane, 6 billion people living on pulses doesn't bear thinking about. And yes, Sharon I will apply for one as soon as I get up there. And Vicus, it will be organic.

Sharon J said...

I agree that we shouldn’t just rush into things but too much hesitation can lead to procrastination and things never really change.

“The pressures are higher as they usually need more land to provide an equal yield and land-use is emotive”

If we concentrated less on livestock there would be more land available for organic arable farming. As for nitrate, whether it comes from green manure, dung or synthetic fertilisers, it’s going to be there anyway. It seems the only way we can solve that problem is to give up arable farming entirely and that just wouldn’t work, would it?

As for the fertile third world land, there is some out there, just not enough to feed everybody and, as you know, a lot of it is used to grow produce that’s sent to the West and, not least, opium poppies and the likes. Farmers grow opium because it gives them a better income than food crops but if they could increase their yields through organic farming then maybe that would change.

If it really is a matter of choosing between two evils then surely it’s better to choose the lesser of them and that surely means we should choose organic farming over traditional methods?

“We've become over-indulgent - look at us, we're fat.”

Again, I agree. And that’s exactly why I’m saying that we should concentrate more on arable farming and less on livestock. It’s because we’re so concerned with satisfying our wants rather than our needs that such a huge percentage of land is being used to produce very little food.

The fact that farmers are being produced to NOT produce food is one that I really have trouble understanding. I’ve never understood how there could be such a thing as over-production in a world where around 13% of the population are starving and a whole lot more are undernourished. Yes, I know transporting food to other countries will increase the carbon problem but if we did as you mentioned and generally bought more local produce etc, I’m sure the difference would be minimal, if any at all.

And Richard dear, pulses aren’t the only things that can be grown, y’know ;-)

beanpole said...

do you know if humans produce methane when they burp?

Sharon J said...

Good question, Beanpole.

I have to admit that I didn't know the answer but I've looked it up and apparently about 1/3 of humans produce methane although it isn't clear why. Usually, those who produce methane also have stools that float.

So there you go - now we both know :)

Anonymous said...

We (ha ha) 'downshifted' into smallholding (have never worked harder), partially because we didn't like the way animals are intensively ergo insensitively, reared for meat. So now we have our own pork, bacon, sausages, lamb, chicken etc; & a goose for the Christmas table.

And whilst the first time you take an animal to slaughter or kill your first chicken is deeply discomfiting - & something to be honest I've never really been able to get used to - at least you have the cold comfort that the animal had the best possible quality & quantity of life (we manage our farm organically, & practise the highest welfare standards & principals, that we can).

Basically our philosophy is: if you can't stomach taking full responsibility for what goes on your plate, don't put it in your stomach!

Sharon J said...

Littleffarmdairy. I've lived on a small working farm myself and been close friends with several live-stock farmers in my time so I do have an idea of what goes on and how hard they work. In fact, the animals for slaughter were actually slaughtered in my cellar! (This was in Norway - not sure whether that's legal here).

If I could be sure that the meat I buy was from a reliable organic source where the animals were treated with respect, then I wouldn't feel quite as bad about eating it although beef would still cause me some problems regarding land usage.

I'll definitely start buying my pork from the local (15 minute drive) farm shop though as the pigs are raised there on the farm and always appear very happy indeed :)

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