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Food, faults and figures : How vegetarianism can be the answer to global warming

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Let’s ignore that we are in a pandemic. Let us also ignore that this pandemic is caused by zoonic virus i.e., by a virus predominantly found in animals. Here we can safely assume that transmission to humans is mostly via consumption. There is something about one’s diet that makes it so interesting. I at times believe that cooking our food is one of the defining characteristics of humans. Sure, there are other species that eat food (dah!) but it is only humans that consciously cook their foods, add flavors and spice there by making it palatable for their taste. In fact, the innate need to have specific food has led to major wars and colonization. Wasn’t it a British quest for sugar and spice, that led them to Asia? The Opium war for tea in China? If these can’t be the examples of human conflicts over food, I don’t think what else can be? Hence next time when you come across a friend who has a sedulous diet and taste, go easy on him, he isn’t waging war. Humans of all the species can be proactive about their food habits specially if the choices they make effects their own inhabitance. Yes, your food habits does make difference to this planet and you could make a difference and it is very simple, I will not preach you what to do , but give you the data to make you aware what food style should we celebrate and what should be frowned upon.

My following proposition is heavily based upon the study done by UCLA’s climate lab. There are many other studies which points to this single thing: MEAT IS BAD FOR THE PLANET. This may surprise many of you, since its vegetarian diet that is heavily associated with clearing forests to make farmlands, etc. In fact, in common arguments its always said, “Vegetarians eat plants, that’s not helping.” Let’s start with basics, global warming is mainly caused by two gases carbon dioxide and methane. Methane is twenty-five times more potent than carbon di oxide, imagine 1 unit of methane produced being equivalent to 25 units of carbon dioxide, hence we need to be more cautious of our methane emissions than our carbon emissions. Ruminant animals like cows and sheep release a lot of methane. Imagine rearing all these cattle for meat. The study mentions that a single serving of grass-fed beef produces around 330g of carbon. This is equivalent of riding a card for 3 miles, which is around 5km. Chicken on the other hand produces 52g of carbon, fish around 40g, whereas lentils produce just around 2g.

Image courtesy :UCLA Climate lab.

Livestock’s causes 14 % of greenhouse gas emissions this is equal to that of transportation, which is also around 14%. Imagine, all the ships, aero plane, cars, bikes and every other imaginable modes of transport being equivalent to meat consumption. Also, not to forget the fertilizers and billions of tons of food grain required to feed the cattle .The message is clear and simple, not everyone of us can afford electrical vehicles, not everyone of us can switch to public transport, but all of us can very well make changes to our diet.

If everyone were to be a vegetarian it would be equivalent of taking off one billion cars off the road.

Image courtesy :UCLA Climate lab.

While, the science is very clear about it, we should all feel happy being in India. In our country we are predominantly having vegetarian diet and thereby, having a lesser footprint. These practices should be appreciated. I have seen many food blogs, social media influencers on various social media and cookery shows, where delicious recipes are shared, a small appeal to them is to reiterate the need for sustainable diet. Although, going vegan is trendy, we need to communicate that this is science based and not a fashion statement. The food culture in India should be cherished and celebrated, especially vegetarian diets. Lately it has been a fashion statement to call vegetarian food as “ghas-phoos”, “is it even eatable?” “there isn’t such thing called veg biriyani”, etc.

This amazes me how one side of the spectrum claims that they have right to eat whatever they want at the same time take shot at the people at other side of the spectrum. In fact, every time you see a meat eater, especially someone who eats it at disproportionately , you should know he is indeed more responsible for global warming than any gas guzzling vehicle , while shaming them wouldn’t help, least we could do is to celebrate the vegetarians. In India I agree that most meat consumed is that of chicken, but it is still not as sustainable as vegetarian diet. One could no doubt argue about more sustainable way of farming, but there is no way we can have a sustainable planet of seven billion meat eaters.

As it is said that we haven’t inherited this earth from the previous generation, but we have on contrary borrowed it from our future generation. We are mere custodian of this planet; we should act responsibly. The very idea of handing down planet as a better place to live in than we inherited may sound to good to be true, but we can always give it a try. We should also highlight the sustainable diet we inherently have followed should be a model for the rest of the work. We are a nation of billion population, what we can do is immense, how we do it will be an exemplary to the world and can be the very solution to the sustenance of this planet. We can always talk of being an inter planetary species and can no doubt be in pursuit of it, but it will yield little to no difference if we don’t mend our ways which is living a sustainable lifestyle.

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