Is meat or soya beans the villain?

The awareness around meat consumption is at an all-time high, with veganism becoming a more commonplace alternative in a bid to save the planet. But is worldwide reduction in the consumption of meat alone, going to fix climate change and will large consumption of vegan alternatives also impact the environment negatively? Palm oil in recent years has received severe criticism, but what about soya beans? Perhaps the affect soya beans have on the environment is not widely known, or are vegans protecting the preferred protein meat equivalent? Is one worse than the other or would most foods consumed on such a monumental scale be problematic?

Like palm oil, the global food market has become reliant on soya with its production in Brazil having more than quadrupled in 20 years. Converting the forest into mono-crop farmland releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, so why are we not concerned about the consumption of soya beans? If veganism became more widespread globally, wouldn’t it only require even more deforestation to meet soya bean demands which like meat, will cause climate change? The production of soya beans also causes health problems; the fields are sprayed with enormous quantities of pesticides which wipe out other plants and insects, pollute water supplies and cause health problems to the agriculture workers. Does this mean as a developed country we care more about veganism than the health of people in less developed countries?

Obviously, the fact that 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions comes from the meat and dairy industry does make for the argument that meat is in fact, the villain in this debate. Problematically, the largest meat producing company in the world, JBS, produces half the carbon emissions of fossil fuel giants and many of the UK’s supermarkets and fast-food chains buy from companies owned by JBS. Unsurprisingly, most people can only afford to buy their meat from supermarkets like Asda or Tesco and this is only exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis we are currently going through. Not too dissimilar to soya beans, the industrial meat system sees forests slashed and burned annually for cattle to graze and for crop growth to feed billions of farmed animals. Between meat being a very ‘inefficient’ food and a large source of greenhouse gases, tackling meat consumption on a global scale could make a monumental difference in terms of slowing climate change.

Unequivocally, if we consumed less meat globally, we could curb global warming. Only 400-480 pounds of meat can be produced on one acre of land in comparison to 20,000 pounds of plant foods; so, is a vegan diet the only way we can continue to feed the growing population? But surely, if we were consuming soya beans on the scale that we are currently consuming meat, would we not be in a similar predicament with deforestation and global warming? Is the problem more the sheer scale of consumption as opposed to what it is we are consuming? The consumption of meat worldwide is far more widespread than the vegan diet, which is why discourse focuses on this side of the argument. But if there was a global shift to the vegan diet, would we soon run out of land to grow plant foods? It is widely acknowledged the damage the global meat consumption has on the environment, but as humans we do not want to lessen our own quality of life if we know others are not going to do the same. In a similar fashion, emissions from aviation are a significant contributor to climate change, but most people are not willing to stop going on holiday if they know others around are not doing the same. Is simply ‘asking’ humans to make personal life changes to stop global warming enough, or do we need legislation to be implemented to make a real difference?

Written by Izzy Mchattie, EP Business in hospitality