My decision, 7 years ago, to rethink my consumption of animal products and become vegetarian was one of the first steps in the right direction. At the beginning of my training to become a yoga teacher, we were strongly advised to give up smoking, alcohol and meat.
This came at the right time, because for at least 5 years I had already been reducing my consumption of meat (quality versus quantity). I just needed a little nudge to stop for good. I was very grateful for that.
However, this decision produced a lot of bad energy around me and even tears. All of a sudden I was no longer the same and the fear of change became evident. What are you going to become? Are you going to get sick? We will no longer be able to share all the good meals and good times together...
Suddenly I was no longer part of that meat-eating group. And the fears that I would lack the necessary nutrients for my good health are, despite the abundance of information on this subject in the media, still present in the minds of those around me.
My reasons were mainly ethical (the living conditions of animals) and for love and respect. I absolutely did not see myself capable of taking their lives with my own hands. But later, a third reason also appeared: health. The fourth is related to the effects due to industrialisation and intensive animal husbandry.
Large scale impact
The consequences of consuming animal products can be found in all primary and secondary areas of life on earth. Not only do we pollute our air, water and soil with chain reactions that lead to significant economic and social damage. But also, for example, a poor distribution of food.
In theory we could feed at least twice the world's population, but animal husbandry and feeding livestock, among other things, lead to a massive perversity. Almost one billion people are undernourished and two billion more are malnourished. Meanwhile, 1.3 billion people are overweight or obese. That’s a big fallacy!
It is a known fact that methane gas emissions from livestock production are one of the biggest problems to be solved. The statistics on this subject are very diverse. It is estimated that industrial livestock farming is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions (Greenpeace France). Other sources speak of 65% of nitrous oxide (N2O) and 37% of methane (CH4).
Each cow produces between 250 and 500 litres of methane per day! With over 1.4 billion (1,400,000,000,000!) cows on our planet, it is easy to imagine the astronomical amount of methane that our atmosphere has to deal with.
Over-consumption of drinking water
A cow drinks about 60 litres of water a day. In order to produce 1 litre of milk, she needs about 1,000 litres of water. And for 1 kg of meat about 15,000 litres. We have to be fair here, and make a distinction. Because if we use the water footprint calculation, which separates the theoretical water flow into 3 categories, we have a very high water consumption. But it should be pointed out that this calculation is true in regions with little rainfall. In other regions, however, it will be much lower.
GREEN WATER: rainwater stored in the soil and then evaporated/used during plant growth.
BLUE WATER: actual consumption per withdrawal (watering, irrigation, cleaning). This is water "from the tap" or from wells and/or boreholes.
GREY WATER: water necessary to dilute the pollutants and obtain a quality that complies with the regulations.
The important figure is therefore the amount of blue and grey water needed, especially to treat polluted water, if it is treated.
Pollution of soil, rivers and oceans
All these cows produce huge amounts of waste; 130 times more than human beings! This ultimately results in pollution of the soil, rivers and at the end of the chain of our oceans.
Utopia of land use
In 2019 the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) calculated that 77% of the agricultural land area (which represents 50% of the living area) was for livestock, meat and dairy, including land used for animal feed production.
This is less than 20% of the world's caloric intake. When we think of the billions of people who are undernourished, there is not a good balance. If the whole world adopted France's average diet, we would have to convert all our habitable land to agriculture, and we would still be 22% short! For the United States, this number is 38%...and for New Zealand 91%!
Misinformation about dairy products
I have been lucky not to have been sensitive to my excessive consumption of dairy products. Unfortunately, for decades there has been misleading publicity about it. In fact, dairy products are responsible for many of the diseases of our time. From the most benign to the most serious. But since, in France alone, the dairy industry represents a turnover of about 30 billion euros, with more than 250,000 jobs, we can easily understand what's at stake economically!
Dairy products are not essential for our health - on the contrary. They contain pesticides and heavy metals. But also growth hormones and trans-fatty acids, which are partly responsible for breast cancer, coronary heart disease, and pro-inflammatory effects. In fact, there is a correlation between dairy consumption and the development of certain cancers, such as prostate, pancreas, colon, stomach, etc. It can also cause ulcers, allergies, chronic fatigue and diabetes.
Moreover, cow’s milk is indigestible, because it is intended to meet the needs of the calf and our digestive system isn’t adapted to it. And between you and me, separating a calf from its mother just after birth to obtain milk is not very ethical either. Neither for the cow nor for the calf.
75% of human beings are even lactose intolerant! It also generates bad cholesterol and scientific studies have shown that instead of strengthening bones with its calcium, dairy products leak calcium from the bones.
Vegetarianism wasn't enough for me
For these reasons I have recently changed to a completely plant based diet. Because not just meat, but the consumption of all dairy products has a huge impact on the planet and its inhabitants. And above all, as we have seen, on our health.
We tend to want to minimise the problem, because it implies a very big and difficult change in our eating habits. For me too for a long time. I am very aware of how difficult it is to give up what we have enjoyed for decades or even a lifetime, and that is one of the reasons why I wanted to write this article.
It is really not an easy path, because I love cheese and cream. But it is a necessary step and I have to be consistent, because we all bear a part of the responsibility! On the other hand, I will continue to eat honey and make exceptions for eggs from hens that have a good life and a respectful end of life.
Change = survival
There have been quite a few articles on this subject for quite some time now. But it is absolutely necessary to repeat and remind people of the need for change. It took me a while to make the transition myself.
I'm just one more voice resonating in the great auditorium of planet Earth. But I think that the more we talk about it and above all set an example around us, the more it will snowball and move things ahead.
It is very important to communicate our convictions and knowledge. Without wanting to preach or point fingers of course, because each individual is at a different level of development and accepting new habits is difficult. But with awareness, love and patience we can do it.
For example, I have been noticing for a very long time the resistance of some of my family members, friends and work colleagues. However, I am now noticing a progressive awareness. I know that changing one's lifestyle or habits is a great personal challenge. It's like quitting smoking. Even if you've become aware of the dangers involved, how many people really manage to take action?
I think we have a lot of addictions, or to use the more generic term from the WHO, " dependencies ". Which refers to both physical and psychological aspects, and that by taking small steps we can change them.
The Growing Impact
For years I have been going from one shock to the next. Every publication, report or documentary about consuming animal products and its impact on the environment, makes me angry, sad and powerless all at once. For decades now, warnings have been given in the various fields, but unfortunately things are not moving fast enough.
The world's population keeps growing. Sources of healthy food (without pesticides or herbicides) and drinking water are becoming increasingly scarce. The impoverishment of our soils and the pollution of the air and seas is not decreasing, on the contrary.
In 10 years, if we don’t change something, the virgin forest in the Amazon will no longer exist. It will have made way for cattle breeding and the cultivation of soybeans (GMOs!) for animal feed.
This will lead to the disappearance of indigenous peoples, as well as rare and vital animal and plant species, who could have been very beneficial for the well-being of the human race.
Finding no support from the authorities and with a blatant denial from the government in the face of deforestation and fires in the Amazon, armed mafia groups are getting rid of all those (more than 1100 people in 20 years!) who are simply asking to stop this massacre of their heritage. But it is more than that, it is the heritage of all of us on Earth.
"We observe with the current crisis, due to this virus, that our world is much smaller and more fragile than we thought, and that we all depend on each other."
As in many other sectors, the agricultural and intensive breeding lobbies are profit-driven and therefore financially very powerful. They stop at nothing to achieve their goals. Intimidation, slander, lawsuits and even liquidation of inconvenient individuals. But if no one dares to step up, act and raise their voice, nothing will ever change. And we will all suffer the consequences.
Adult and responsible
As Olivier De Schutter, former UN Special Rapporteur, said as early as 2014: "...we must rally today for a reappropriation of the food system by citizens. They are expropriated from this system, they have little means to influence it. Decisions are taken in favour of the lobbies, not the people. The only obstacle, in fact, is not technical. It is of a political nature."
In the United Kingdom, around 1.3% of workers have an activity related to agricultural work. In France 1.8%... We need to support local and especially organic production in small agricultural businesses. Even in a city like Paris, there are shops in every district selling only local fruit and vegetables.
Ignoring the facts
Some people don't believe in numbers, statistics or any other research, because admitting to the facts would imply stepping up and taking action. And even getting out of one's comfort zone. It's so much easier to stick with Main Stream.
Otherwise, it would mean making sacrifices and everything you thought was good so far would turns out to be bad. And yet each one of us has an impact on the planet and our society in all areas.
Others, however, know the facts. But they prefer to stick their heads in the sand anyway. Ignore all the information out of fear of the truth and the psychological effect it would have on them in accepting change.
Food is not merely satisfying our primary needs or desires. What we eat, the way we eat, the social aspect... All of this is very important for a good absorption of food by our organism. Both from a physiological and psychological point of view. Here too, we can lie to ourselves and tell ourselves stories. Because our mind is very good at ignoring the obvious and making ourselves believe that it is necessary to eat certain foods.
We all share in the responsibility. Actively through our purchasing power or support for local projects, but also passively by signing petitions or other forms of peaceful action, and sharing. It is essential to commit to this necessary change for our future and that of our children and future generations. There will always be different opinions on this. It's up to you to make up your own mind by doing your own research.
Each one of us only wants to live happily on our beautiful Earth, which will survive, because she does not need us to exist. I am very happy to observe a great mobilisation and awareness all over the planet. Together, we will succeed.
- The encyclopedia of world problems and human potential: Human consumption of animals
- Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth
- UN urges global move to meat and dairy-free diet in order to save the world from the worst impacts of climate change