Meatless or Less Meat?
Whether we like the sound of it or not, animal protein production together with food waste, is causing enormous emissions that feed the global climate change. This is why our diet is one of the easiest ways to reduce our own carbon footprint.
Due to the ever-growing population and the warming climate, food production has become one of the most heated topics of our time. Food is unequally distributed and its consumption is distorted. While millions are starving, in other places, food is wasted or excessively consumed. In addition, food production has a huge environmental impact on soil, water systems and climate.
The production of one kilogram of beef equals to 15 CO2 kg whereas pork comes down to 4 CO2 kg. For the vegetarians, who haven’t excluded dairy products from their diets, it might come as a bit of a shock that one-kilogram of cheese equals 13 CO2 kg. According to the estimations of LUKE, the average Finn ate nearly 80kg of meat in 2015 when measured in carcass kilograms.
At this point I can’t help reminding that interesting numbers are found also in other areas of food industry. According to John Nurminen foundation, Finns eat an estimated 13 kg of sweets per year, but only one kilogram of fish from the Baltic sea. You do the math – something had to be done.
Meatless October (Lihaton Lokakuu) started in Finland in 2013 as a challenge that Green party politician Leo Stranius threw at a well-known journalist Riku Rantala. The movement that followed was huge. According to the Meatless October’s Facebook page nearly 30 000 have since participated in this challenge.
For many, it was a wake-up call to pay attention to their daily meat consumption and its environmental impacts, not to forget the ethical questions on animal rights and health-related issues.
A family thing
Silja Korhonen was one of the people who decided to give Meatless October a go three years ago. Silja left meat from her daily diet for health reasons and soon also her husband got excited about vegetarian diet. They both noticed how good they felt after eating vegetarian food and so this became a tradition and changed their diet to a more vegetarian direction year around.
“We have only good things to say about vegetarian food. My child recognizes the roots and vegetables, tastes new foods open-mindedly and enjoys seasonal tastes,” she says.
Later Korhonen got also interested in the ethical side of less meat diet, but she nevertheless believes in volitions over absolutism.
“Increasing awareness is more important to me than defining my diet too strictly. We have told our child how much the mother earth has to offer and taught him to respect the nature and animals. Since my husband hunts, we’ve had discussions on why game is more ethical and healthy than mass produced meat. If I want to eat a stake I will eat it, but I can’t really remember a moment this even crossed my mind.”
Although ethical matters play a big role in choosing vegetarian diet over meat, sometimes it is mostly about the taste and using your creativity in kitchen. For those who like to cook, vegetarian dishes offer variation to our daily dishes.
For Timo Pöntinen, the culinary side of vegetarian food was the reason why he decided to jump on board Meatless October – which he has made an annual thing.
“Ethical side has some effect, but more has to do with daily variation. I’m uplifted by trying out new recipes and modifying old ones with a new twist. And when you notice that the vegetarian one tastes as good, it is really motivating,” he points out.
Pöntinen is assured that the prejudices related to vegetarian food are a result of people having tasted tasteless vegetarian dishes.
“Update your spices and get to know food cultures that use a lot of vegetables in their kitchen. From there you get good tips for tasty recipes. It is also worth try out replacing meat in dishes where the meat is already a minor ingredient, such as macaroon casserole or tortillas,” he explains.
Good for me, better for the planet
Laura Laine chose vegetarian diet as a teenager for ethical reasons, but without proper knowledge on nutrients she fell anaemic and had to stop. Later with more knowledge, she resumed her vegetarian based diet with her Portuguese boyfriend, mostly due to the environmental impacts of meat production. It was the couple’s joint decision. For Laura, most concrete single reason for preferring vegetarian food was watching related documentaries.
“I’m not unconditional with anything and the same goes with meat. I’m not going to refrain from eating my grandmother’s dinner or a wedding menu just because it has meat in it. The most important things is to move your personal daily consuming away from supporting meat eating.“
For those still wondering whether they should try Meatless October, Laine advices to learn about food industry and learn to argue for their meat consumption the way vegetarians often have to argue for their diet, and then question their own arguments.
Laine however stresses that people shouldn’t feel guilty in case they end up eating meat during Meatless October. Instead, they should be proud of those days when they get to their goals. If the change feels too massive, even one or two meatless days advance health and take a step towards a more ethical life.
“It’s not about giving away, actually it is the total opposite for me. I feel like I’m a better version of myself whenever I give others the chance to live,” she concludes.
The hippie stigma
Although vegetarian based food has long traditions in certain cultures and religions, it wasn’t that long that talks about ’bunny food’ and ’sprout hippy stuff’ were pretty common. Luckily, the awareness has increased and our diets are no longer that chained to our gender or ideology.
For Juuso Jokinen, Meatless October is the first month without meat, maybe even first week ever. The change has been easy due to his partner, who is a vegetarian. For him the question about whether a vegetarian based diet is socially more accepted to some gender than others is ridiculous.
“Isn’t that like straight from the 90s? I’ve received mostly positive feedback. Few of my friends have teased me about it, but secretly they’re planning next years Meatless October menus. People have sent me plenty of tips and recipes, and given a lot of support.”
According to FAO, the use of livestock products will only grow by the 2050, even by 70%. Food is definitely socio-economic, cultural and political capital, which can be consumed in all the colours of the spectrum. Due to the ever-growing population and the differences in income, food for some is a mere necessity to stay alive, while the other extreme can afford to follow trends and diets. Right to survive belongs to all, but at this state of the world, do some income levels and nations have more responsibility over planet’s overall wellbeing?
Changing your diet even one quarter makes a difference.
“Since I cannot afford a Tesla, reducing meat from my diet is the biggest everyday change I can easily do to tackle climate change. I don’t think I’m going to drop out meat completely, but I will surely reduce it a great deal more,” Jokinen states.
In Western countries, we are pretty independent in terms of food and diets – with basic income you can choose what you eat. Or can you? Do relationships, family status or a wider community you belong to have effect on what you put in your mouth?
Eija Vehviläinen has been on a mostly vegetarian diet for some time already. She explains that it hasn’t always been an easy thing to do. In her words, her diet has created a dichotomy.
“On the one hand, my inner circle includes vegans, who support this lifestyle change and eagerly bring up different plant-based options. On the other hand, my parents and some of my old friends don’t understand my decision at all and sometimes end up being even slightly judging. My partner eats meat almost everyday, but is totally cool with my diet,” she tells.
Vehviläinen points out that cooking is nevertheless understandably a bit more demanding, like is giving up meat, if the dietary habits are so different,
“Relationship can make moving towards a more plant based diet difficult, if your partner doesn’t want to give up on meat. Cooking food that satisfies both can be harder, but I believe that with some effort this ’problem’ can be solved. In my view, at the end the diet is a personal choice, which shouldn’t be dictated by anyone else,” Vehviläinen concludes.
Eat what you preach
The more you know, the harder it is to close your eyes. People working with climate issues cannot but face the facts. Meat is one hell of a burden on our soil, water systems and atmosphere, but so is the production of dairy products such as cheese and milk. From one perspective, meat industry is the by-product of dairy industry. Therefore, simply meatless might not always be the best option in terms of climate.
The co-founder of Joukon Voima, a business bringing together funders and the projects focusing on sustainable living and renewable energy, Jukka Kajan draws attention to this topic – should there be more talk about climate diet.
“In my case Meatless October has made me to pay closer attention to the climate impact on each dish, since the primary driver to cut meat from my diet is the climate. From this perspective, meatless diet might not be the only solution. Using dairy products such as cheese as a meat substitute is almost equally bad as beef climate wise, whereas chicken has only a third of the climate impact of these two proteins. For this reason, a climate diet that placed more emphasis on ingredients with less climate impacts would serve my personal goals more efficiently,” Kajan ponders on.
It should be remembered that planning a versatile plant-based diet is not always equally easy for example due to food allergies. Luckily, the markets are now full of different vegetarian protein options that beat their meat competitors in nutrients and have come to resemble even the mouthfeel, giving hardly any excuse not to try them out.
“With my allergies, the situation would have been totally different few years ago before horse bean products and pulled oats. Mifu, which is a dairy based protein is an option too, although its climate impact is pretty horrible. I’m so grateful for these innovations, since otherwise I would have had a pretty bean dominant diet,” Kajan sumps up.
Life after Meatless October
Despite the seemingly warm welcome, this campaign also triggered a counter reaction. Anyone remember a group that appeared on Facebook during the first Meatless October in which the group members announced that they would eat even more meat than normally during that same month, just because it was their right.
Egos were really putting up a fight as the thought that we could be alright with less meat in our bellies started to enter society and our consciousness.
Personally, I hope our society has moved away from these kinds of extreme reactions. What we need is a good old team spirit for saving our climate, the one and only we share and depend on. We humans tend to judge and place ourselves higher than others. When it happens to me, I try to remind myself that I’m not perfect and my way isn’t the only good way. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do my share or try to do better when I can.
There are as many ways to take into account our climate and environment, as there are people. And whenever I manage to break free from my bubble, hear or read about someone’s actions or experiences I’m busted. Most of us do so-called eco deeds, some more openly and loud, others more discretely, not making a scene about it. Surely, I wish people would use their powerful voices whenever possible.
More talk might mean more actions.
Generally, in Finland, like in all countries, individuals carry a burden that in my view for most parts belongs to our government and big companies. We need legislation that guides our consumerism to more sustainable direction. The fact that healthy, ecological and ethical products are many times more expensive is by no means a natural given situation. The taxation and prices are being driven by politics and the current economic system and that is why the change has to start from there too. Hats of to those activists and researches who day after day try their best to get the politicians to do something about this on a bigger level.
Shortly put, if the healthy plant-based food was priced according to its environmental or carbon footprint, it would be more available to all income levels.
I hope we all take time to challenge ourselves and inspire someone already today! I know we can do it. Be it meatless or less meat, I’m sure our planet smiles.
What Helsinki Wildfoods does
Foraging and eating wild herbs is a fun and rewarding way to reduce your carbon footprint. In addition to vitamins and antioxidants, for example nettle and dandelion are also good sources of iron.
Wild herbs, vegetables and berries are all part of the ecosystems that are threatened by climate change and other human caused changes in the natural environment. We see our business and its success to be in direct connection with the surrounding environment. Therefore, it is our top priority to do the best we can to protect the natural environment and also educate and inspire others to do the same. We prefer locality, domestic ingredients and subcontractors, fair business models, the cleanest possible farming, and sustainable and easily recycled packaging materials. Sustainability, for us, means creating a balance and respecting the relationship between nature and us.
Psst! All you plant lovers, superfood junkies and gourmets, stay tuned for our new Nettle Pesto which will contain not only nettle and goutweed but also Finnish hemp seeds that are packed with fibre, protein and healthy fats. The Nettle Pesto will be a tasty alternative for meat dishes as well!
Photos: Aino Huotari, Anna Nyman
Sources and more information:
John Nurminen foundation
LUKE: Tietoa luonnonvaroista/maatalous-ja-maaseutu/lihantuotanto
Suomalaisille maistuivat liha ja hedelmat, maidon kulutus laski (2015)