One in four of us is opting to eat less meat with an additional 14% expressing a desire to reduce meat-eating habits sometime in the future. Predicted to grow by a fifth from 2016, the meat-free market is set to hit £660 million by 2021. With greater awareness and food knowledge, young people are driving the trend towards plant-based or vegan diets with nearly half of all vegans in the UK aged between 15 to 34.
So, why is meat getting such a raw deal and for what reasons are we moving towards a plant-based diet?
Good health and staying healthy is what many of us desire and our perception of a balanced diet is continually evolving. With greater awareness, a plant-based diet may have more health benefits than meat eaters once thought. The health issues attached to eating too much meat and processed meat products are well documented and has been recognised as a contributing factor towards rising obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
There are other health benefits other than those related to avoiding major illness and it is possible to harness all nutrients the body needs via a vegan diet. When it comes to general health people are feeling good when introducing a plant-based diet. Animal products such as meat can be time-consuming and hard for the body to digest, with the potential to cause sluggishness and a lack of energy as the body breaks it down. Vegans report boosted energy, better sleep as well as better, all round wellbeing.
There is growing recognition of the individual contribution we can make to help protect the environment. Turning to a plant-based diet is one way the environmentally conscious believe a difference can be made. Over decades as incomes have increased, we’ve been eating more meat protein.
By 2050, it is predicted diets across the world will include fewer servings of fruit and vegetables. According to a leading report published in Nature; if global diets continue in this way, it would likely lead to an 80% increase in global greenhouse emissions – caused by food production and habitat destruction – due to the clearing of land needed for agriculture around the world.
The impact of livestock farming
The impact of raising animals is compounded by the level of crops required to sustain the industry. Global production of livestock equates to the use of 40% of the world’s land surface. The majority of this land – around 30% of the world’s ice-free surface is dedicated to growing and producing feed for the livestock we eventually consume.
An article by Bryan Welsh in Time magazine suggests “ There may be no other single activity that has a bigger impact on the environment than the raising of livestock”, given the sector also uses one third of the world’s fresh water supply. The impact meat production has on the environment is difficult to dispute with figures showing eating a pound less of meat, could equate to removing a car off the road.
Will eating more vegetables make a difference?
While research assessing the environmental impact of a plant-based diet is a relatively new area, emerging and well respected studies suggest a shift in this direction could generously help reduce greenhouse emissions – one report, in particular, presents a scenario where a country of 320 million people eating a plant-based diet could reduce emissions by 28 per cent.
Our keen interest in food has propelled our understanding and interest in where our food comes from and how it is produced. There has always been concern about the treatment of animals and there is now even more detailed investigation and public information about how livestock and animals are cared for and conditions they are kept in. This has led to a growing number opting out of a system often regarded as supporting animal cruelty.
Another dimension to the animal welfare issue leads back to the health implications of meat. When animals are raised in close quarters they are more likely to become sick and therefore the likelihood of being given antibiotics is increased. Subsequently, as meat products end up in the food chain this in turn, could impact the types and nature of diseases prevalent amongst humans. While some decide to source meat organically and locally, others decide to remove meat and meat products from their diet.
For years the perception of a meat-free diet was that it could make a person weaker. Mainstream thinkers purported the idea living on plants alone could be damaging, would prevent proper growth and wouldn’t give the balance of nutrients needed to function day to day.
This myth has been all but eradicated as time and again we’re hearing about positive results. Famous and successful athletes such as Venus Williams and Lewis Hamilton demonstrate how a plant-based diet can support a sporting career.
Are we on a road to flexitarianism?
Embracing a plant-based diet is unlikely to be an overnight transition. We’re not even close to being a nation of vegans, or for that matter, vegetarians. Many of us are simply choosing to add more vegetables and eat less meat rather than eliminating it completely – it’s known as ‘flexitarianism’. Judging from the numbers and our intentions, we are beginning to recognise and take more seriously the benefits to behold from a predominantly plant based diet – not just for ourselves, but also for the environment.