You cut meat and fish to save the planet. Should everyone?
Burgers and fish and chips had a tough spring. In March, Netflix launched Seaspiracy, a controversial The Netflix doc-drama criticizes the commercial fishing industry. Within days, it was among the top 10 movies on the platform, garnering praise from celebrities like musician Bryan Adams and professional cyclist Chris Froome.
A few weeks later, the recipe publishing giant Epicurious ad he was giving up beef because of environmental concerns. Shortly after, Eleven Madison Park – one of the top ranked restaurants in the world – mentionned that it no longer serves meat or fish.
With each announcement, the army of Internet critics and commentators have jumped at the chance to attack someone else’s dinner party. Yet beneath the noise lies an uncomfortable truth: we need to change what we eat.
Cattle emit roughly the same amount of emissions as 910 million cars each year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Last week, the UN reported that about a third of the world’s fish populations are overexploited.
But will mashing the beef and smacking the seafood help?
“I don’t think it will cause a cultural change,” said Silvia Secchi, professor of geography and sustainability science at the University of Iowa who studies the environmental impact of food and agriculture. . “It could cause culture wars, (but) I don’t think it’s very serious in terms of solving the fundamental issues we face.”
The problems with the way we produce food are varied, she explained, but in North America, they mostly lie in the factory farms and globalized supply chains that provide most of the continent’s food. Industrialized agriculture – be it cattle, chickens or corn – concentrates the negative impact of food production in relatively small areas.
For example, the intensive cultivation of a handful of crops like corn or soybeans requires pesticides and fertilizers; both degrade soil health and biodiversity. Raising thousands of pigs or chickens in confined barns can lead to contamination of nearby environments with manure and antibiotics and is associated with lower animal welfare, she noted.
We need to change what we eat. But will mashing the beef and smacking the seafood help? @ProfSecchi @dyhiapadilla
These problems don’t end on the farm either: most food production, processing and distribution in North America relies on migrant and temporary workers who take on low-paying, dangerous, and grueling jobs for pay. minimal. And about two-thirds of the 35.5 million tonnes of food waste generated in Canada each year is thrown away before it reaches supermarket shelves, according to to the Second Harvest food rescue organization.
“We need to think more holistically and systematically about the links between the way we grow our food and the way we consume it,” Secchi explained. It is essential to help farmers use agroecological or regenerative techniques – a series of practices that integrate animal husbandry into crops and pastures to promote soil health and carbon sequestration. This will likely make food production, especially meat, more expensive, she acknowledged, but it’s not necessarily bad if it reduces the amount we eat.
“Eating beef sparingly is what we have to do,” she said.
Yet some people believe that no level of meat consumption is sustainable.
“The entire animal industry is not sustainable at all levels, not just ecologically, but morally – for humans, for workers, for health, for everyone,” said Jason Scorse, professor. food and environmental studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “The question is: How do we accelerate into a new … protein system?” ”
The solution, he said, is to make “meat” from plants – or to grow it in vats. Meat grown in the laboratory is becoming more and more importantSingapore approved the first lab-grown meat for commercial sale last year.
Alternative meats – meat-like products that are produced from plant protein or grown in the lab – are growing in popularity. Driven by demand from consumers who have decided to cut meat from their diets and the efforts of companies like McDonald’s and Maple Leaf Foods to reduce their environmental footprint, the alternative meat market is expected to grow to $ 23.1 billion. by 2023.
This change can’t come fast enough, said Scorse.
“If we get this economically viable within, say, 10 years, we could be producing perfectly clean, bacteria-free cuts of beef and pork in breweries. If it can become competitive, it’s over for industrial agriculture, ”he said, arguing that regenerative and agroecological farming techniques will never be able to produce enough food to feed the world at an affordable price. .
Yet Secchi is skeptical of Scorse’s utopian view.
“These other products that people make are highly processed foods, whether it’s lab-grown meat or fake meat,” she said. “It’s another industrial product … The way to reduce our environmental footprint is to eat better, and that includes a little meat, in my opinion, for those who want to eat it.”
The same could be said for seafood, noted Dyhia Belhabib, a fisheries scientist specializing in illegal fishing, conservation and food security. For years, environmentalists, including directors of Seaspiracy, argued that all fishing should cease. This prospect, she explained, is deeply problematic.
“It’s basically like saying something really racist about someone or a group of people,” she said. “For me it’s the same, because it’s not just about stereotyping fish or fishing issues, but also (stereotyping) entire coastal communities and their cultural traditions … which then leads to discriminatory approaches. ”
There are certainly problems in the global fishery, she said. Industrial fishing fleets, for example, are the source of overfishing around the world. Bottom trawling – a common practice among the world’s industrial fleets – emits about as much CO2 as the world’s farms combined, according to a groundbreaking study released earlier this year.
To fail to distinguish these harmful practices from the thousands of sustainable and smaller-scale fisheries around the world – many of which are culturally and economically important and essential for many of the world’s poorest people to meet their nutritional needs – is a “vision. dangerous and discriminatory, ”she said. mentionned.
A similar argument could be made for agriculture, Secchi noted. Livestock are at the heart of many sustainable farming systems and are culturally important to millions of people around the world. The key is to implement laws that ensure that it is produced (or fished), processed, distributed and consumed in a sustainable manner – and to ensure that wages are high enough so that everyone can afford healthy and healthy food. culturally relevant.
Simplifying that complexity into a black-and-white view where the people who eat meat or seafood are bad – and those who don’t are good – won’t save the planet, the researchers agree.
“To oversimplify a problem always comes from a place of ignorance,” Belhabib said – even though the effort is loaded with good intentions meant to save the planet.
“(Even) good intentions have led to disasters,” she said.