Meat matters – don’t COP out

We have a problem.  It just tastes so good. But our longstanding love affair with meat plays an astonishingly major role in climate change.

And yet, while leaders and delegates from at least 190 nations are gathering in Paris for COP 21, ostensibly to slow climate change, food production does not appear prominently on the climate talks’ agenda. Why not? We’re not sure: Globally, food systems are responsible for up to 30% of all human driven greenhouse gases. Half of that is attributable to meat production.

That’s the same proportion as direct emissions from cars, planes, trains and ships combined.

“Reducing global meat consumption will be critical to keeping global warming below the ‘danger level’ of two degrees Celsius, the main goal of the upcoming climate negotiations in Paris,” says one of the authors of Chatham House’s report on meat, Changing Climate, Changing Diets which we reported in brief on last week.

It’s not just climate issues either. Halving of global consumption of grain-fed meat would enable two billion more people in the world to have enough to eat by feeding what we feed livestock to people instead.

Is meat a taxing issue?

Most news outlets headlined on the proposal in the Chatham House report for a tax on meat on the basis that it could lead to a 14% reduction in consumption. But dig a little deeper and the report highlights a number of much more interesting complementary ideas about shifting our dietary desires.

While we are eating 20% less meat when we eat out than we were back in 2001, we think a change of focus could see a whole new approach to eating habits.

There are a range of reasons for eating less meat, be they health or environment inspired, but the most important thing, as with all food, is that it’s good and delicious.

What do you look for on a menu?

The authors of the Chatham House report reckon how options are presented on a menu can have a significant effect on your dining choices. And we agree. Wouldn’t you be more likely to choose a healthier, perhaps non-meat dish if it was mixed in with the other dishes, rather than marked as different?

High profile chefs like Alain Ducasse and Bruno Loubet of Grain Store have been leading the way, removing meat and beef from their menus respectively. They are not alone, but there is much more that can be done. Tim Bouget of ODE-truefood, three time winner of the Sustainable Restaurant of the Year Award, believes many chefs are ducking their important role by failing to provide their customers with desirable alternatives, other than the ubiquitous goats’ cheese tart and mushroom risotto. You can read his blog here.

We’re absolutely not advocating a wholesale conversion to vegetarianism or veganism. Instead, we believe it’s about changes that modify our relationships with meat. To coin a phrase, small changes can make a big difference. We believe in the principle of eating less and better quality.

But what does that mean in reality?

Eating Less?

Research shows that going meat-free for one day a week can have a significant impact. A report by Johns Hopkins University concludes that if UN member countries did this, they would reduce carbon emissions by up to 2% per year. Just opting out for one meal a day would be significant.

Simon Crannage, Executive Chef at Samuel’s at Swinton Park, has found that by making the non-meat dishes (or just dishes as he likes to call them – case in point) sound, look and taste really delicious, his customers will choose them and not notice that there are fewer meat dishes on offer. Read his blog here.

Eating Better?

When we talk about ‘better’, we mean meat that’s produced extensively rather than intensively. So the animals graze outdoors and experience better welfare conditions. There’s less use of antibiotics and importantly, grazing sheep and cattle on permanent pasture can play a positive role in storing carbon in the soil and even boost biodiversity in areas like the flower rich, chalk grassland of the South Downs National Park.

There is no question that demand for healthier, better food is there and a revolution in eating habits is threatening to break out. What we need from the climate talks in France is the spark. A world leader perhaps to tweak Michael Pollan’s mantra and utter: “Let them eat mostly plants!”

So next time you eat out, take a look at the menu, see where the meat’s from and if you’re not satisfied with its provenance, or just like the look of one of the other dishes, make the switch.

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