We mostly breed four species — chickens, cows, sheep and pigs — all of which need vast amounts of food and water, emit methane and other greenhouse gases and produce mountains of physical waste.
But how much stress does our meat-eating put on ecological systems? The answer is a lot but the figures are imprecise and disputed.
The authors of the report, called Livestock's Long Shadow, did not just count the methane from the belching, farting cattle, but the gases released from the manures that they produce, the oil burned taking their carcasses to markets often thousands of miles away, the electricity needed to keep the meat cool, the gas used to cook it, the energy needed to plough and harvest the fields that grow the crops that the animals eat, even pumping the water that the cattle need.
Should the studies have been based on giant US factory farms, or on more sustainable breeding in Europe? Should you include all the knock-on emissions from clearing forests? What about the fertiliser used to grow the crops to feed to the animals, or the emissions from the steel needed to build the boats that transport the cattle; or the "default" emissions — the greenhouse gases that would be released by substitute activities to grow food if we were to give up meat?
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And is it fair to count animals used for multiple purposes, as they mostly are in developing countries, from providing draught power to shoe leather or transport, and which only become meat once they reach the end of their economic lives? But however it's counted, livestock farming ranks as one of the three greatest sources of climate changing emissions and one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation.
A human population expected to grow by 3 billion, a shift in developing countries to eating more meat, and global consumption on track to double in 40 years point to the mother of all food crises down the road. How much food we grow is not just limited by the amount of available land but meat-eaters need far more space than vegetarians. A Bangladeshi family living off rice, beans, vegetables and fruit may live on an acre of land or less, while the average American, who consumes around pounds of meat a year , needs 20 times that.
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One billion people go hungry every day, but livestock now consumes the majority of the world's crops. A Cornell University study in found that around 13m hectares of land in the US were used to grow vegetables, rice, fruit, potatoes and beans, but m were used for livestock. The problem is that farm animals are inefficient converters of food to flesh. Broiler chickens are the best, needing around 3.
Other academics have calculated that if the grain fed to animals in western countries were consumed directly by people instead of animals, we could feed at least twice as many people — and possibly far more — as we do now. To make matters worse, our hunger to eat animals has led to overstocking of fragile lands and massive soil erosion and desertification. Overgrazing, from the downlands of southern England to the uplands of Ethiopia and mountains of Nepal, causes great loss of fertility, as well as flooding. But the figures must be treated with caution. Animal manures can revitalise the soil and millions of animals live on marginal land that is quite unsuitable for crops.
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But before we leap to conclusions and lump all livestock rearing together, consider this: in western countries animals are bred and reared to put on as much meat as possible in the shortest time after which they are slaughtered. But in poorer regions, cattle — especially in dry areas — are central to human life and culture and often the only source of food and income for many millions of pastoralists. The ceaseless movement of these nomadic herders over vast areas is the backbone of many African economies and, a major new study from the International Institute for Environment and Development suggests, a far more ecologically efficient method of farming than the way cattle are reared in Australia or the US.
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Eat a steak or a chicken and you are effectively consuming the water that the animal has needed to live and grow. Vegetarian author John Robbins calculates it takes 60, , , and pounds of water to produce one pound of potatoes, wheat, maize and rice respectively. Salt selection boxes make great food gifts for vegans.
A great starter selection of different salts comes in the form of this salt selection from Sea Salt Shack , which has Himalayan pink salt, French grey sea salt, Red Alaea Hawaiian salt and Black lava Hawaiian salt. Spices A foodie always has a well-stocked spice cupboard. Check the latest price on the spice gift set here. Baobab, lucuma, maca and moringa are all predicted to be food trends, as is turmeric drink. Pick up maca , psyllium husk powder , baobab , raw lucuma powder or moringa powder. Vegan cheeses Get your vegan foodie the gift of cheese — vegan cheese, that is!
While a lot of vegan cheeses have a reputation for tasting and feeling like plastic, in recent years a whole slew of amazing artisan vegan cheeses have sprung up, leaving their industrial plasticky counterparts in the dust. These new cheeses are usually made from nuts and often aged in a way similar to cheese, and they make an amazing vegan present.
Think the vegan foodie in your life is up for a challenge? One of the best presents for vegans who love artisan food-making is the cookbook Artisan Vegan Cheese. Several of their candies are dairy-free, like sea salted peanut, classic dark, and raspberry. Just double check ingredients as some, like coconut, peanut butter and pumpkin pie, contain dairy! Cocomels are the best vegan caramels , made from coconut milk and are organic and GMO-free. This pack comes with 6 different Upton Naturals meal kits. Vegan online cooking classes. Kim is an amazing cook, and covers all kinds of vegan recipes, plus how to organise your pantry, food prep and more!
My book shows vegan travelers how to find vegan food anywhere in the world. In this guide , your vegan gift recipient will learn how to find vegan restaurants and vegan-friendly accommodation, events and more, wherever they end up in the world. Heading to Spain this summer? My vegan guidebook to Barcelona will be the perfect present for the vegan on your trip. It recounts her tale of quitting her job to travel the country and break free, while visiting over restaurants in 48 states.
They keep your clothes separated and handily compress them, meaning you can fit more in your backsack. This Eagle Creek 3-piece set of cubes is what I use and love. Some travelers swear by travel clothes, which are clothes specifically made for travel, because they dry quickly, are wrinkle-free or are great for warmth. If you want to get a vegan gift that will delight your vegan travel lover, then steer clear of these and opt instead for items like this bamboo tank top, which is antimicrobial, moisture-wicking and resistant to odour-causing bacteria or these cushioned travel socks , which are also compression socks.
Click here to see the latest tour dates and prices. Want more travel gift ideas? Click here to see my full list of vegan travel resources here. Smart watch The Apple watch is one of the most popular smart watches for fitness tracking, is water-resistant and has GPS. Check the latest prices here. Vegan runner t-shirt Vegan runners can show their pride with this t-shirt.
Click here to check the recent prices. Most though not all of the Vibram range is leather-free and vegan. Check the latest price Check the latest price. Pick up a pair of anti-fog and UV filtering Speedo goggles for the swimmer in your life. Buy them here. See the latest prices. Vegan shoes One of my favourite shoe brands is Beyond Skin , who make beautiful and long-lasting vegan shoes.
Wondering what to get a vegan for her birthday? This vintage crossbody bag is cute and comes in a color called kale — what could be more vegan?! They make beautiful and durable designer vegan goods. Many are lined with recycled materials too. A perfect gift for the vegan fashionista.