The truth you don't want to hear: why you should reduce meat and fish consumption

There are 3 recurring questions that I have to answer every time it turns out in a speech that I am a vegetarian. 

1) So you eat fish, right?

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I'll tell you right away that I'll never understand why you're asking this question. Yet it is the most frequent one that people have always asked me after my fateful revelation "I don't eat meat". What you need to know is that in the last decades new technologies have allowed humans to remove fish from the ocean on a massive scale to meet the demand of a growing population. Unfortunately, there are many negative environmental consequences to these practices. Just think about one of the best known fish, the Atlantic Cod. Because of industrial fishing, it is one of the many species that has been overfished to the point of near extinction. Moreover, many industrial fishing practices destroy aquatic habitat. An example is fishing dredging. A dredge is a metal basket dragged along the ocean floor by a boat. As you can imagine, dredges cause damages to marine ecosystems and they disturb a wide range of non-targeted organisms. A tip: be wary of fake vegetarians who don't eat a steak or a chicken leg but eat fish. It's a bit like saying: I'm a great advocate of the rule of law, but I rent my apartment under the counter.

2) Why are you a vegetarian?
That's the most interesting question. A person decides not to eat meat for several reasons. We can divide them into two groups: moral reasons and environmental reasons. Note that the intersection between the two groups is not empty.
First of all, vegetarians do not approve of the fact that almost everywhere in the world animals for slaughter are killed making them suffer needlessly. Moreover, the conditions in which these animals are forced to live are deplorable and devoid of any form of respect. The way in which they are mistreated by farmers is horrifying. If you are interested in learning more, you can search the web and you will find videos that might be hard to watch. And here are the numbers: just on land, over 150 million animals are killed for food around the world every day. This is 56 billion land animals killed per year. Let’s now analyze the reasons concerning the environmental impact of being a vegetarian or, if you prefer to use more general terms, we can argue on a reduction of the global consumption of animal by-products. Today there are 7.7 billion people on Earth and we are projected to be 9.6 billion in 2050. The sad truth is that with our current lifestyle, we are too many. And to make matters worse, we are highly inefficient consumers. We buy a lot and we throw away a lot. In wealthy countries, 30 to 40 % of food is wasted by consumers. Nowadays, humans eat about 230m tonnes of animals a year, twice as much as we did 30 years ago. Livestock farming has a huge environmental impact and it ranks as one of the three greatest sources of climate-changing emissions. Meat production is highly inefficient and it is condemning the planet. Livestock farming produces large quantities of methane and nitrous oxide, i.e. greenhouse gases. Methane is a gas emitted during digestion which has an effect on global warming 28 times higher than carbon dioxide while nitrous oxide is a molecule with a global warming potential 265 times higher than carbon dioxide. Frightening, isn't it? Livestock farming represents 18% of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. This is more than all emissions from ships, planes, trucks, cars and all other transport put together. The situation is even worse if we look at the future: according to FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), global demand of livestock products is projected to increase by 70 percent to feed our growing population. Now pay attention: a high-consuming, meat-eating person saves 1.4 tons of CO2 equivalent per year by removing beef from their diet. We save 1.6 tons by going vegetarian and 1.8 by going vegan. This is more than switching to solar power for your home or driving a hybrid car. Only switching to an electric vehicle saves more, which still though, few can afford.

Moreover, the livestock sector is the world’s largest user of agricultural land, through grazing and the use of feed crops. Let’s just look at the numbers: producing one kilogram of beef requires 25 kilograms of grain – to feed the animal – and roughly 15,000 litres of water. 
In addition, forests are razed to the ground in order to make room for pastureland and to grow crops to feed the cattle. It has been estimated that more than 90 percent of all Amazon rainforest land cleared since 1970 is used for grazing livestock. 
So, as Howard Lyman, a popular U.S. activist, once said: «You can’t be an environmentalist and eat animal products, period. Kid yourself if you want, if you want to feed your addiction, so be it. But don’t call yourself an environmentalist. »

3) Don't you ever feel like eating a steak?
There are two truths: the first is that in life you get used to everything and the second is that sometimes even we vegetarians would like to enjoy a pizza with ham. Considering everything that has been said and all the scientific data that we have available, I am not asking you to stop eating meat from tomorrow. I am asking you to think a little bit harder before you go to the supermarket and stock up on meat. Do you really need to eat meat 10 times a week or eat avocado and all those exotic foods that seem to be the current trend? Be objective and try to contain your cravings. The rest will come by itself.

Written by Francesca Ernani

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