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Thursday, 26 May 2022

Reasons to reduce your meat intake

Less meat, more of everything else! Here are some ways to reduce your meat intake.

Australians are the sixth biggest consumers of meat after South American countries and the USA (OECD 2018). We consume around 95 kilograms of meat per year, which is a whopping three times the amount recommended by the Australian Dietary Guidelines (and three times the global average).

‘Why should I give up meat? Our Sunday family roast is the highlight of the week, I don’t want to lose that’ – we hear you! This is by no means a call to banish all meat and turn to the vegan lifestyle (although it does have its benefits), but we can’t ignore the fact that eating excessive quantities of meat is bad for our health and the planet.

It’s no secret that raising animals for food generates an enormous amount of greenhouse gas emissions, but it goes far beyond that.

Did you know…

  • Raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, trains, ships and planes in the world combined (UNFAO 2006)
  • The beef industry is particularly greenhouse gas-intensive because cattle are ruminant animals (have four stomach compartments) and produce significant amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas twenty one times as intensive as carbon dioxide
  • A significant proportion of the greenhouse gas effect from beef production comes from the loss of trees because crops are grown and harvested to feed the cattle
  • In South America, approximately 70% of former forests have been converted into grazing land (Sustainable Table, 2018)
  • Agriculture is the second biggest contributor to greenhouse gases in the world (after the energy sector)
  • Livestock accounts for between 14.5 and 18% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions worldwide
  • Large amounts of energy and water go into cattle farming – it takes approximately 3,000 litres of water to make one steak, which is the equivalent of two months’ worth of showers
  • To produce one kilogram of protein from red meat compared to red kidney beans requires 18 times more land, 10 times more water, nine times for fuel, 12 times more fertiliser and 10 times more pesticide
  • To produce the meat in a standard burger, as much greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere as driving a car 60 kilometres (Scientific American, 2015)
  • The food we choose to eat contributes more to our eco-footprint than our transport and home energy use combined, with meat, eggs and dairy products the biggest contributors
  • The average Australian’s eco-footprint is seven hectares, which is the 11th largest in the world - by reducing our meat intake we can reduce our eco-footprint

Whew, that’s a lot, right?

So what can we do?

We’ve said it before but we’ll say it again, small steps are better than no steps at all. Initiatives like Meat Free Mondays are encouraging people to reduce but not eliminate meat, which is a great way to do your bit without moving heaven and earth.

Another step in the right direction is the meat reducer lifestyle – where someone actively reduces the amount of meat they consume on a regular basis. Another player in the conscious-diet game are Climatarians - people who tailor their diets according to what is least harmful to the environment, commonly cutting out foods with a high carbon footprint. (Climatarian: Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary, 2022)

Not wanting to be left in the shadows, it seems that plenty of Australians are already embracing the lifestyle, according to research conducted by the University of Adelaide in 2021. This study into the food choices of Australians found that:

  • 1.7% of Australians follow a vegan diet
  • 4% call themselves vegetarians
  • 18.7% identify as ‘meat reducers’

Switching a steak to tofu may be too drastic for some, which is why the flexibility of a meat reducer diet is proving to be popular for many Australians! It’s a more sustainable and healthy way of eating but doesn’t cut out entire food groups.

Bonus round: While meat reduction might be the latest fad diet down under, the approach is well known in the Mediterranean and Blue Zones of the world, where life expectancy hits triple digits. In these zones, meat is consumed 1-2 times a week and is viewed as an important but occasional part of a diet.

Interested in Nutrition?

Discover more about how the food we eat affects the environment through Food and the Environment: from farm to fork, one of our Nutrition Short Course offerings.

The nutrition course was all about circling back to the science. It wasn’t fluffy. It was full of excellent case studies and amazing resources.

- Nikki Auckland