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Action needs to take place in the face of the climate crisis, what we eat can make a difference.

Climate change is influenced by different sectors of human activity including what we consume on a daily basis. Food supply chains are responsible for more than a quarter of green-house gas emissions in the world, with an estimate of 13.7 billion metric tons. Whilst meat agriculture, eggs and dairy contribute to 56 to 58 percent of food emissions worldwide. Australia is no different as livestock, dairy production and other animals make up 55% of agriculture emissions.

Dr Adam Cardilini, is an environmental scientist lecturer at Deakin University that has taken a stance against meat industries. He believes that there are ethical, environmental and health issues that surround eating meat. He said, “I don’t agree with the production of animal flesh for human consumption. If we stick to the trends in animal agricultural production around the globe, we will not be able to stop the climate crisis at 2 degrees Celsius.”

A 2019 study stated there is a substantial potential for green-house gas mitigation if we adopt a diet that is healthy or high in plant-based foods and low in animal foods. Animal agriculture contributes to habitual destruction and is considered one of the leading drivers of environmental degradation and biodiversity loss, according to Dr Cardilini.

Research has shown that diets that exclude animal products have a reduction in food green-house gas emissions by 49%, acidification by 50% and eutrophication by 49%. People can contribute individually by changing their diet and their consumption. Evidence shows that a plant-based diet has health benefits and an environmental incentive to transition.

How cheap is a life?

As an advocate of veganism for the planet, it was Dr Cardilini’s pursuit of science and moral conflict that began his journey. He recalled travelling up the coast from Tasmania to Queensland to research European starlings, a non-native bird. There he witnessed confronting truths about the meat and dairy industry. He travelled to dairy farms, where he saw several disfigured cows in pain and distress.

He described two graphic memories. One of the cow’s udders were so full of milk it seemed to drip and “the milk had pushed underneath their skin on their chest, and it was sort of bubbling”. Another instance whilst at a manure pit waiting for starlings. He saw many bobby calf carcasses being thrown into the manure pit among the other dead cows.

“Is this how cheap the life is here for a cow; how can I continue to be a part of this?” he said.

In the world Australia is the most valuable beef exporter in 2019, exporting more than $10 billion dollars’ worth of cow flesh. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated over 660,000 cattle were slaughtered in Australia in April of this year alone.

Dr Cardilini argued that based on behavioural science research, these animals are complex and have intrinsic value and moral worth. He expressed that we have a moral obligation to respect them as individuals. He came to veganism from a rational and emotional place.

“People think veganism is emotional or hysterical or radical, when in fact we’re looking at the evidence and taking in the ponderance of evidence there is,” he said.

“My emotions opened me up to the idea… my scientific side sees many of the benefits that come a long with that, whether they’re environmental, whether they’re for animal welfare or in terms of health,” he states.

Epidemic of the western world

According to Dr Malcolm Mackay, a general practitioner of 35 years, based in Fitzroy said eating an excess of meat is linked to heart disease. One of Australia’s leading causes of death in 2017 according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

“Meat has no dietary fibre, virtually no antioxidants and … protective plant substances, its full of saturated fat, cholesterol, substances that lead to microbiome to make trimethylamine-n-oxide. You could almost say that meat has a long list of toxins in it”, he explained.

Dr Mackay said that the “chronic disease epidemic of the western world now sweeping the world” is largely due to animal products and processed foods.

Research has projected that a vegetarian diet can prevent 7.3 million deaths and a vegan diet 8.1 million. Having a plant-based diet can contribute to the environment and your personal health, however nutritional deficiencies can occur.

Dr Mackay said people who have a plant-based diet tend to lack vitamin b12 which is sourced from animals due to their diet. He recommended that vitamin b12 supplements should be taken. Grains, vegetables and fruits are low in calories, which can cause unintentional weight loss from a caloric deficit.

However, Dr Mackay said, “if you eat a variety (of) whole plant foods that you are actually likely to get the optimal balance and range of nutrients… and different kinds of fibre”. Over the last 40 years Dr Mackay has had a whole foods plant-based diet, stressing the importance of nutritional health.

“The number one choice that we have in our day about how much greenhouse gas impact we have is the food choices we make… it’s something that we can do very quickly,” he said.

Alternative meats

Left Photo: Italian sundried tomato. Right Photo: Founders Amanda Lethlean and Matthew Sipala. (Photographed by Kynd Butcher)

Substitutes for meat have become prevalent in supermarkets and fast food industries, offering an alternative option that is more environmental and health conscious. This market is rising as nearly 2.5 million Australians were reported to have a vegetarian diet in 2019.

Even the Climate works Australia have identified plant-based substitutes and lab food as solutions that can reduce emissions in the agricultural sector. Lab grown meat and its production emits substantially less emissions, while using less land and water than traditional meat production. However, it is still in its infancy stage, making plant-based meat the current solution.

Kynd Butcher opened last December as Melbourne’s first plant vegan butcher, broadening the availability of alternatives meats. Co-founder, Amanda Lethlean is a married, mother of three whose family united together four years ago when her husband was faced with a degenerative brain disease. As a family they became vegan in hopes to live a healthier prolonged life.

Ms Lethlean’s motivations to be vegan widened over the years beyond health benefits, to the lives of animals and the environmental impact of the meat industry. She established Kynd Butcher to provide a trustworthy vegan meat supply accessible for all. Whether they do it for health, environmental or lifestyle choices.

“Hopefully we’re at an edge of time where eating plant-based meals becomes a normal thing and eating animals will become a thing of the past, “she said.

However, she said, “Australia is a young country. It’s been doing the same thing, farming for such a long time, it’s tricky for people to come out of that comfortable environment.”

Act against the climate crisis

Climate Change Protest  (Photographed by Dominic Wunderlich(Pixabay))

The Australian Institute found that more than a quarter of Australians believe climate change is caused mainly by nature. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have identified that humans also contribute to emissions.

“We should be transitioning away from animal agriculture both for the animals that are in these production systems…But also it’s imperative that we do it because climate change requires us to do it,” Dr Cardilini said.

Vikaye Sithole, a Melbourne early childhood educator, said, “we are only harming ourselves if we are not doing anything because it benefits corporations, or it benefits other people. And if the knowledge is there of what we should do and we are not doing it, then that’s wrong and that needs to be fixed.”

“We need everyone working towards these solutions because we need to act very quickly and at huge scale and if we don’t, I really fear for what’s going to be happening throughout this century”, Dr Cardilini said.

 Monash student and vegetarian, Luna Lethbridge said, that it can feel hopeless because you’re just one person in the billions. However, “doing a little bit is better than doing nothing,” she said.

“If you do a little bit …you’re making such a big impact as opposed to just giving up and saying, ‘I could never do that’,” she said. Ms Lethbridge felt everyone can make a difference and that it is not a “all or nothing” situation. She expressed that our daily choices can make a difference, whether it be transport, the products we use and what we consume.

Ms Sithole said that it is important to take a holistic approach that accounts for the environment, fair trade and the excessive consumption of products.

“It’s not enough to just not eat meat when you are supporting fast fashion… it is not fair trade and it’s also adding to the carbon imprint. We are over consuming different trends day by day you buy something; you change your mind tomorrow,” she said.

Dr Cardilini felt that every citizen needs to be informed and actively contributing more to the climate issue. He felt there were a range of actions people could make such as their diet, reducing consumption of heavily polluting products and lobbying local communities and governments for change. Additionally, Dr Cardilini said, systematic change is needed from industries and government to support the transition to a plant-based diet.

“We won’t achieve what we need to achieve if we just relying on individual change. We also need systemic change,” he said.

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