Not long ago I was wide awake in bed at night and thought about the life as a vegetarian. I think we all know those moments where instead of falling asleep, the brain begins to form the strangest thoughts. I definitely have that problem. Occasionally, something interesting comes out off it, so I thought I’d share a few of mine with you. So, I’ll start off my second series on the blog called Late Night Thoughts (LNT).
As I said, I laid in bed and realized that there is nothing special about being a vegetarian anymore. I can remember that during my school days it was quite spectacular when someone had a vegetarian diet.
Diets are like (stereotypical) sibling constellations
Somehow this thought occurred to me that the current ‘typical’ diets can be compared to siblings. Vegans are the firstborn, the ambitious, who want to prove them all. Meat eaters are the baby of the family who is allowed to get away with everything. Even if the first-born makes more efforts, they are still complained about, while the nestlings do nothing and still everything they do receives approval from their parents.
And then there are the vegetarians, the sandwich kids. They just do their thing, but don’t really receive attention. Every now and then there parents and siblings forget about them.
But is that really a bad thing? It just means that the vegetarian lifestyle isn’t a big deal anymore. When it comes to getting upset about certain lifestyle choices, vegetarianism has been replaced by veganism. If a few years ago it was normal to hear and say that living a vegetarian lifestyle was unhealthy, this is now being said about the plantbased diet. Doesn’t that also mean that in a few years it might be normal for people to eat a plantbased diet? Do we currently simply have too little information? Or is there too little research, to judge how healthy the dietary part of this lifestyle is?
How I became a vegetarian
To get to the second part of my late night thought, it needs a little bit of an explanation. I’ve been a vegetarian since April and the fact that it took so long is surprising on the one hand and then again also not. What I mean by that is that I find it incredibly cruel that another creature is killed for my pleasure, but I ignored that for quite some time. I love food and the fact that I ‘can’t’ eat something because I don’t like an ingredient, is already a big limitation. For a long time, I couldn’t imagine limiting my meat consumption as well, so I ignored the part about killing the animals and perceived this dead animal only as an end product, meat.
In the end, the climate was the deciding factor. After talking for a long time about reducing my meat consumption because of its harmful effects on the climate, I took heart and simply quit meat all together. To be honest, there have been three relapses, but apart from that I’m fine. By now I can also no longer imagine eating meat for ethical reasons. Only with fish it is still difficult for me to feel compassion (yes, I know, speciesism), which is why the environmental aspect has to serve here.
Is being vegetarian enough?
Now for my other late night thought. Recently, I saw a graph online suggesting that dairy products and butter have a worse carbon footprint than some meats like chicken. I tried to find this graphic again, but couldn’t dig anything up. During my research though, I noticed that even if the values and the order of the most polluting foods are mostly similar, they do vary to some extent.
But why is that? On the one hand, it depends on whether the food was examined globally or locally, i.e. in relation to a country. In addition, the type of rearing or cultivation has an influence. Ultimately, it depends on which parts of the production were considered in the life cycle assessment. But to explain this would be too comprehensive. (If you are interested in a blog post about LCA, please feel free to write a comment.)
Because of these variations, I like this graph (University of Oxford) which presents the CO2 footprint as a spectrum:
Even if milk, etc. are not ‘worse’ in connection to CO2 pollution than meat, according to the IPCC we should also limit our consumption of milk, butter and eggs. Whatever your diet, it is also important to eat seasonally and regionally.
But in addition to CO2 pollution, there are other factors that have an influence. For example, the degree of packaging, but also greenhouse gases, play a role in climate pollution. In this case the statement is correct that milk is ‘worse’ than pork and chicken meat, because it depends on the animal.
But why is the CO2 footprint always given? I don’t want to go into detail here, but I mentioned the LCA earlier. In short, it is carried out and as part of the result the CO2-equivalent impact is usually given. This means that other climate-damaging gases are also taken into account.
The ethical aspect
Apart from the environmental aspects, there are also ethical aspects, why it might not be enough to be vegetarian. On the one hand, the life expectancy of farm animals should be mentioned. Even dairy cows and laying hens do not have a high life expectancy compared to how old cows and hens may actually become.
If we look at dairy cows, we have to ask ourselves why they give milk almost all the time. It is possible because they are regularly impregnated.
Also, in order for us to be able to drink the milk, the mother cows are separated from their calves. But this could also be different and is already being tried out, e.g. in the form of a mother-bound rearing, where calves grow up six to nine months with their mother on the pasture.
However, as long as this is not the standard or no better methods can be found, I would like to reduce my consumption of milk and dairy products.
What about eggs? As long as eggs are not fertilized, no chick can hatch from them. From an ethical point of view it is therefore okay for me to eat eggs as long as the chickens are treated decently. [Edit: and of course as long as no chicks are shredded.] I already only buy organic, but since the standards differ greatly, I would like to pay attention in future to where I buy those organic eggs. Weekly markets, package free and organic food shops are the best places to do this.
Ultimately, it is a personal choice as to which diet you choose. I think to give up meat or limit your meat consumption has some advantages. On the one hand you reduce your climate impact, on the other hand no animal has to die for your pleasure. If you can’t imagine this for yourself, there are of course other important ways to reduce your environmental impact. Diet is just one part of the puzzle.
You can protest, get politically involved, switch to a renewable electricity provider, boycott certain brands (fashion and food), switch to an ethical bank or give up flying (here I wrote about my train trip to Scotland). The list goes on and on. You can also have your data calculated in a carbon footprint calculator. This will allow you to find out in which area you could improve the most.
For my part, I will try to reduce my consumption of milk, dairy products and butter. Not only for the sake of the environment, but also for the animals. Who is with me?
Some interesting articles and further information:
For German speaking readers: