As much as the world loves to make fun of the vegans and their over-the-top ways to market the lifestyle, there is still merit to the nuance they cling to. The big one being that 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from the billions of livestock that exist solely to appease the human appetite.
But while the ‘to meat, or not to meat’ conundrum will continue to suffer from prolonged debate, the biggest problem is perhaps that fact that an aggravatingly large portion of this meat doesn’t even make the long journey to our plates anymore.
A recent study found that an astounding 18 billion animals, including chickens, turkeys, pigs, sheep, goats, and cows, either die or are slaughtered but never actually end up being consumed every year. This means that while stacks upon stacks of hay that the world rears to feed the ridiculously expensive livestock simply goes down the drain every year. And along with it goes all the fertiliser, farmland and water taken to grow them every year.
The reasons for this immense wastage vary across regions. In developing countries like India, diseases comprise the majority of the livestock losses, followed by meat spoiling due to inadequate storage and transportation infrastructure. In contrast, developed nations witness a surge in waste at the consumption end, fueled by overstocking in supermarkets, oversized portions served in restaurants, and households regularly discarding uneaten leftovers.
The United States stands out as a particularly egregious example of the latter, along with South Africa and Brazil. India, fortunately, has a relatively low per capita meat waste rate. This disparity underscores the role of economic development and consumption patterns in determining food waste levels.
Further, we simply cannot shrug off the fact that livestock production, particularly beef, is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing meat waste, we can not only alleviate unnecessary animal suffering but also make a significant stride in mitigating climate change. Meaning that, whether you like them or not, vegans may actually have a point here.
But there is really no simple universal way to fix the problem. In developing countries, improving animal husbandry practices, enhancing storage facilities, and strengthening transportation infrastructure are crucial steps. Meanwhile industrialised nations will have to focus on behavioural changes, such as consuming more mindfully and promoting smaller portion sizes. It will also help to educate consumers about proper food storage to reduce waste — especially in countries where meat consumption is particularly interlinked to their cultures.
With collective action and a shift towards more sustainable food systems, we can not only reduce food waste but also honour the lives of countless animals and safeguard the planet for generations to come.
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