Environmental benefits of vegetarianism

Cattle

Cattle

In a new series of posts, readers of thegreenveggie from around the world discuss their reasons for choosing a meat-free lifestyle. In this post Molly Mizusawa, a 17-year-old student from the USA, talks about the environmental benefits of a vegetarian diet.

Molly stopped eating meat at the age of 12. “I had always been a lover of animals and thought the idea of slaughter to be barbaric,” she said, “but I had not seriously contemplated the benefits of vegetarianism.

“I was very young and only thought that if I chose not to eat meat, I would be sparing at least one chicken, cow or pig. But then I realised the advantages of vegetarianism stretch much further than the suffering of a single chick,” she added.

Rainforest

Molly discovered land used for rearing livestock currently takes up 30 per cent of the planet’s surface. This land, which is cleared at a rate of 2,100 feet per minute, often comes from the rainforest and is a primary threat of extinction for many species.

Molly also found that the meat industry contributes significantly towards the problem of  global warming, as breeding livestock produces three major greenhouse gases: methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide.

Global warming

She said: “If each American family could substitute one meal of chicken a week for a vegetarian option, the amount of carbon dioxide saved would be the same as taking 500,000 cars off the roads. A small effort can have a large impact.”

Molly also considered the efficiency of a meat-free diet. “The practice of raising animals for slaughter is not only inhumane, but is also wasteful,” she said. “To produce a single pound of beef, a cow needs 16 pounds of grain, which could feed 10 people for a day.”

Animal welfare

Molly said it was environmental factors which finally persuaded her to give up meat. “The animal welfare arguments were enough to sway me towards vegetarianism, but the environmental factors enhance my dedication,” she added.

“When I told my parents I didn’t want to eat meat anymore, I had no idea how much of an impact I would have on the world. Vegetarianism requires dedication, but if each person plays their part, then we can help save the world and the people in it.”

Photo: Brendan Murphy

Vegetarian barbecues

Vegetarian barbeque

Barbecue

After a very long slog, I finally finished my exams last week, which I thought called for a celebration! And what better way to celebrate than with a nice, sunny barbecue? Although I admit, the sunny part was slightly ambitious for Wales…

I love eating outside and was feeling the need to get my fix of Vitamin D after too many days spent shut away in my study with my head buried in a textbook! So armed with bean burgers, halloumi and plenty of cider, I set out to meet my friends.

Bean burgers

But unfortunately, it seems that barbecues are just another of those times when it’s not socially acceptable to be a vegetarian. As far as I can work out, there are three such occasions: 1. Christmas dinner, 2. Full English breakfasts, 3. Barbecues.

Your normally understanding friends are likely to do one of the following:

a) Look bemused and ask: “But what DO vegetarians eat at barbecues?”

b) Argue that beef burgers are far superior to bean burgers and swear that the smell of sausages will convert you.

c) Try to make a joke out of the whole thing by saying something like: “Well, for every cow you don’t eat, I’m going to eat two..!” (Yes, I really have heard that one.)

Vegetable kebabs

All in all, barbecues are a trying time for vegetarians. Even if you manage to persuade your friends that actually, vegetable kebabs are very tasty and that the smell of burgers probably won’t stop you being veggie after 10 years, you still have to deal with the barbecue itself.

There are a number of pitfalls here. If you’re the only veggie present and your host has provided you with a separate barbecue, you instantly feel like you’ve caused trouble and then you look like a loner with their own “special” food.

Worse still, you have to cook your food alongside all the meat and however hard your friends try to keep their burgers away, someone will inevitably say: “Sorry, I think I just got meat juice on your veggie sausages.” This is far from ideal.

But despite all this, I still love barbeques. As soon as the sun comes out, I just want to head to the beach, crack open a nice cool beer and enjoy the long summer evenings.

Photo: Spiros K

Pancake day

Pancakes

Pancakes

Lent is supposed to be a time of abstinence. A time when we give up luxury and over-indulgence for a simpler, more meagre way of life.

Unfortunately, instead of encouraging me to empty my cupboards of all sugary and fatty foods, Shrove Tuesday just reminds me of how much I like pancakes..!

Every year, when tucking into sugar-sprinkled, lemon-drizzled pancakes, I ponder why I only make them on this one, isolated day of the calendar.

The Americans enjoy piles of syrup-coated pancakes for breakfast. The French tuck into freshly made crepes on the streets on Paris. So this Lent, I plan to give up not eating pancakes…

Here are a few of my favourite pancake fillings:

1. Raspberries and blueberries

Feel better about yourself by offsetting the fat and grease with some healthy, fresh fruit! Just sprinkle the berries over the pancake and dust with icing sugar.

2. Banana and honey

A naturally sweet combination. Fold chopped banana into the pancake and drizzle with some runny honey. Tasty with a spoon of Greek yoghurt.

3. Pear and chocolate

Caramelise the pear in red wine and sugar and fold into the pancake before grating dark chocolate over the top. Deliciously self-indulgent.

4. Strawberries and maple syrup

Sweet and fruity. Chop fresh strawberries on to the pancake and drizzle with maple syrup. Enjoy with a spoon of vanilla ice cream.

5. Lemon and sugar

The original and the best. It just can’t be beaten. And believe me, I’ve experimented. I’ve gone through the crazy days of banana and nutella, but I always come crawling back to the old favourite. Although controversially, I do quite like to add a squeeze of orange to the lemon juice.

Photo: Jessica Spengler

Healthy eating

Change 4 Life

Change 4 Life

The UK government today announced new measures to encourage families to eat more healthily.

The measures are part of the government’s Change 4 Life public health campaign and are designed to prove that it is possible to eat healthily on a budget.

Fruit and vegetables

Four million recipe leaflets will be posted to families across the country and discounts on products including fruit, vegetables and fish will be available at major supermarkets.

Celebrity Chef Ainsley Harriott has also helped to put together a cookbook, promoting healthy recipes that can be made for under £5. Some of these recipes are vegetarian, but I think the government could do much more to promote a vegetarian diet.

Let’s get one thing straight. I am certainly not saying that I think people should be pushed into becoming vegetarian. I completely believe it is a matter of personal choice. However, I do believe a vegetarian diet can be cheaper, healthier and better for the environment.

Cheaper

Firstly, a vegetarian diet is much cheaper. Some friends at university used to claim they couldn’t afford to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. Yet when you compare the price of fruit and veg to the price of meat, frozen foods and ready meals, it is much cheaper to cook with fresh ingredients.

One of these friends used to eat pizza several times a week, but, bearing in mind a pizza costs at least £3.50, it works out much cheaper to throw together something simple, like veggie pasta, chilli or curry – all of which can be cooked in 10 to 15 minutes.

Healthier

Secondly, a vegetarian diet can be much healthier. Many people argue that vegetarians do not get enough protein, but in fact, I think many vegetarians eat more healthily, simply because they need to be more conscious of how to maintain a balanced diet.

For example, pulses are great value for money and are often overlooked by meat eaters. A tin of chickpeas / lentils / mixed beans costs about 40 pence and can be used in many different dishes. These are high in protein, low in fat and very versatile.

This also makes vegetarians more imaginative and experimental in the kitchen. Many vegetarians like to try out recipes from countries around the world, such as India, Morocco and Japan, whereas their meat-eating counterparts are more likely to stick to the traditional British meat and two veg.

Sustainability

What is more, it is not natural to eat meat everyday. This has become a luxury since meat became easily available. Even in the recent past, people only ate meat two or three times a week, due to cost and availability.

Encouraging people to eat more vegetarian food would also help to reduce carbon emissions. This was tried in Belgium in 2009, when people were encouraged to go veggie for one day a week in response to a UN announcement that livestock breeding is responsible for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.

All in all, a vegetarian diet is cheaper, healthier and more sustainable. So maybe the government should be encouraging more people to Change 4 Life by reducing their meat consumption.

A vegetarian at Christmas

Christmas tree

Christmas tree

Why is it that vegetarians are still ostracised at Christmas? People who are normally perfectly accepting suddenly start raising eyebrows and incredulously asking : “But how do you LIVE without pigs in blankets?” You become the eccentric colleague. The hippy friend.

I’ve had some interesting vegetarian Christmas meals over the years. The first year I turned veggie, my poor Grandma was horrified. I remember her saying: “So, you’ll just have one slice of turkey?” and when I politely declined: “Well, you WILL have some nice gravy on those potatoes, won’t you?” Funnily enough, I wasn’t keen.

A vegetarian in France

Then, there was the year in France. Which was my own fault really, because France just doesn’t DO vegetarianism. I was living in a youth hostel, and generally cooked for myself, but decided to join in with the festivities in the canteen after the chef persuaded me she’d rustle up something veggie.

As my friends were heartily tucking into salmon, turkey and foie gras, I was given a slightly soggy omelette, with a couple of token green beans on the side. But I was grateful to these militant carnivores for making the effort!

Soggy nutroast

This year didn’t go much better. Last week, I went out for a Christmas meal with some friends. The veggie option on the menu looked like a solid, if slightly uninspired, choice. Nut roast – can’t really go wrong. Or so I thought.

Unfortunately, the kitchen seemed to have been so busy with the turkey, they’d decided to buy in a frozen nut roast, and then not really bothered to cook it properly, so it was still frozen in the middle. Then they tried to cover up the dreary greyish presentation with some congealed vegetarian gravy. Yum.

The work Christmas meal

The work Christmas meal was slightly better. The leek and potato soup was actually a delicious starter, but then they forgot my main course, and everyone else had finished their turkey by the time my meal was brought out of the kitchen by a rather fraught waitress.

But I have high hopes for tomorrow. My Mum’s making a chestnut roast with all the trimmings, which sounds delicious. So tell all those carnivores, life goes on without pigs in blankets! Merry Christmas!

Photo: Joe Buckingham

Comment: French government’s banning of vegetarianism in schools is stubborn and narrow-minded

French flag

French government bans vegetarianism in school canteens

I can’t believe the French government is actually banning vegetarianism in schools. This is completely outrageous.

Link to the Guardian article

Lack of understanding

The arguments of the Direction Générale de l’Alimentation typify the widespread lack of understanding of so many who think vegetarians can not maintain a healthy diet. If I hear one more person say: “you’re vegetarian? but you look too healthy,” I think I may hit the offending party around the head with a carrot!

It is a complete myth that vegetarians can not get enough protein to follow a balanced diet. In fact, it has been proved a vegetarian diet can meet the daily protein requirements of any individual. By setting rules which insist that school meals must include meat or fish every day, the French government is refusing to acknowledge that other sources of protein are available.

Contrast

France’s new policy provides an interesting contrast to Belgium’s innovative introduction of vegetarian days in 2009. Civil servants were required to go without meat for one day per week to raise awareness about environmental concerns, after the UN announced that the rearing of livestock for meat is responsible for nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Stubborn

While I fully support France’s enthusiasm for fresh, local produce and its disdain for fast food, I resent its stubborn desire to cling to traditional meat dishes and its absolute refusal to consider trying anything new.

I lived in France for a year and really struggled as a vegetarian. When I told people I did not eat meat, their reactions ranged from shock and disbelief, to complete horror and sometimes genuine offence. I lost count of the number of times I ordered a vegetarian quiche, only to find lardons (little pieces of bacon) inside. On another occasion, I ordered a “vegetarian” soup, and then discovered I was expected to “eat around” the lumps of chicken!

Culture

I understand that meat is an important part of French cuisine and culture, but I think the French government should be more tolerant and respect people’s freedom to make their own decisions about their diet.

Photo: Joff Hopkins via Flickr