Cowspiracy and the Myth of Sustainability

So I just finished watching the documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. The documentary makes excellent points on how damaging to the environment raising animals for food and products is, and also the silence on the issue of many so-called environmental groups such as Greenpeace. I would definitely recommend watching the film; it may make most people uncomfortable since it targets a very personal issue of what we choose to put into our mouths every day.

Worldwide meat consumption sits at an average of 41.90 kg per person per year. In South Africa, the average is 58.6 kg per person per year. This is about half of the United States which has the highest meat consumption on the planet of 120.2 kg per person per year. That is a lot of meat. However, the problem is not only current consumption but future consumption, especially for developing countries which eat more meat as they get richer. All of this places a serious strain on an already overburdened planet. There are billions more livestock on the planet than people. All of these animals need to be fed and watered before entering the food chain. They need space. Obviously, you cannot keep up the current consumption in an ethical manner vis à viz free range meat.

There is room for people to eat less meat or give it up altogether. Preferably the latter. As the documentary mentions, giving up meat one day a week (the ‘meatless Mondays’ initiative) is not going to cut it. You cannot pillage the planet for six days a week, rest for one of those days, and then pretend that everything is going to be fine. Changing one’s lifestyle is not easy but it can be done. The main problem is that many cultures, including the ones in this country, are heavily meat orientated. The popularity around Banting stems from people’s comfort around consuming animal products while wilfully ignorant of their environmental consequences. If people can change their lifestyles to eat more animal fat, they can change them to consume less animal products. The main problem then is one of attitude. You see that in simple things such as restaurant menus, with their sparse offerings of vegetarian options and non-existent vegan offerings while meat courses are plentiful. This is not due to ignorance, as many restaurants started offering Banting friendly options very readily. Much social interactions occurs around food, yet vegetarians and vegans are expected to compromise or do without while those same meat eaters would moan and object if the true cost of their diets are factored into the price of meat and animal products.

The main take-home message of the film is that we need to wean ourselves off of our dependence on meat and animal products, not only for the planet but also the very survival of our species. Sustainability is not about how we package our lifestyle choices; its is about making a real change for the betterment of our planet.

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