Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Eat steak and save the planet


WHEN was the last time you ate meat? Or an egg? Or cheese, or butter, or milk? Not long ago, probably. Despite breathless sensationalist media coverage, the vegan movement (or, to call it by its trendy new name, ‘going plant-based’) has still captured only a tiny proportion of the population. Just 4 per cent have made the plunge and given up animal food products. Almost half Britain’s vegans are under the age of 34.

Despite the underwhelming numbers, the vigour and vitriol with which the vegan movement preaches its gospel continues unabated. Going vegan, according to Greenpeace and countless other environmental groups, is vital to ‘save the planet’. Veganism’s proponents point to methane emissions from cattle farming and other greenhouse gases involved in meat supply chains. While bovine flatulence does indeed emit methane in substantial quantities, environmentalists make a huge logical jump to demonise anyone who dares to eat a steak in 2023 as a wilful planet-burner.

As with almost everything the environmental movement conjures up, this narrative is at best a woeful over-simplification and at worst a deliberate attempt to shame and mislead people into making choices which are worse for both them and the environment.

Removing meat, eggs and cheese from your diet means you will have to find other sources of protein. There are very few protein sources in nature which do not come from animals. For the sake of sanity, there are only so many beans and lentils one can eat. Where, then, do the hordes of plant-based teenagers look for their non-animal protein?

The answer comes almost exclusively from a single product: soy. Tofu, tempeh and other bland meat substitutes are made from soybeans. Meanwhile, soya ‘milk’ is a leading milk substitute. Soy tastes nothing like meat or milk, but vegans’ protein choices are severely limited. According to the Sustainable Food Trust, Brits eat around two million tonnes of soy each year.

Soy is significant because its impact on the environment is far worse than that of any dairy farmer. Since the soil used to grow soy is often not protected by vegetation, soy production causes soil erosion, destroying topsoil, which is disastrous for plant growth. Soy also takes up a lot of land, which fuels deforestation and hurts natural ecosystems, and a lot of water, which leads to droughts. Perhaps worst of all, communities in some of the poorest parts of the world who rely on their natural surroundings to survive are displaced by large Western companies barging in to manufacture soy to sell to vegans in Europe and America.

Other non-soy-based alternatives to milk do not fare any better. Oat milk, for example, often contains glyphosate, a herbicide which the same environmentalists who urge us to go vegan assure us is also killing the planet. Meanwhile, producing almond milk requires so much pollination it kills around a third of US bees each season.

Even if plant-based foods tasted great and were a miracle cure for the ailments of the natural world, it would still be well within our rights to eat meat and drink milk to our heart’s content, however much the environmentalist movement might object. The fact that those products are destroying the planet in ways that meat and dairy production never has makes the vegan movement not only wrong, but actively harmful.

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Jason Reed
Jason Reed
Jason Reed is a writer and broadcaster on politics and policy.

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