By Julia Luise Tiemens
In the past few years, the world has witnessed dramatic growth in terms of trends, promoting a vegetarian, pescatarian and vegan diet. Reducing meat consumption is an increasing and lasting choice which is also mirrored in the food that is being sold in the supermarkets. This trend is a consequence of several subjective reasons like religion, ethics, social and environmental factors. While, on the one hand, a plant based diet has proven to be advantageous for the environment and climate, it has also created certain challenges like unemployment, nutritional deficiency and water depletion on the other. Hence the question, is vegetarianism a step towards a green future or a fleeting social trend?
In our society, especially among the young generation, sensitivity and awareness towards environmental concerns is growing high and fast, furthered by the motivation and social pressure to change the world, for better or worse. Self -idealization: the constant struggle between who we want to be vs who the society wants us to be, is a dilemma many face. Vegetarianism, like other things, is also a consequence of this social recognition.
Health benefits of a plant based diet are the primary contributors for the transition. The change can be guided due to Self-preservation or Self-optimization. The former is an involuntary concept, where an individual is forced to switch their diet due to health issues. The second is mostly seen in younger people and concerns the functionality, fitness and the aim to achieve a perfect body where discipline stands in the foreground. Primary advantages include balanced cholesterol, controlled blood pressure, better gut and mental health and low chances of diabetes. In fact the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is four times lower in a person that does not consume meat. Additionally, vegetarian people tend to eat more healthily as they consume more vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts. Consequently, this reduces the risk for cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Experts have concluded that vegetarians have a life expectancy, 5 years higher than that of carnivores.
Other driving forces are climate change and ethics. Animal based diet, ways of procuring and processing meat, excessive hunting and poultry farming has been held responsible for several current problems like carbon emissions and extinction. On the brightside, with increasing awareness and sensitivity, more people are willingly making this switch. It is the first step towards averting a catastrophe like the climate crisis. Without the mass breeding of animals, we would be able to control the emergence of greenhouse gasses better. Today scientists blame around 15% of the gas production on the meat industry, which corresponds to higher values than all trains, planes and cars produce in the whole world. Moreover, it is also a step towards a humanitarian cause as it ends the suffering among animals, which commercialisation has taken way too far, considering the breeding conditions.
We have a rapidly growing world population, which is predicted to reach 10 billion people by the year 2050. With rising scarcity, providing nutritious food will be an arduous task, according to The Israeli scientist Ron Milo, with less meat consumption and more focus on agricultural aspects, we would be able to feed 350 million people more. For instance, the fields and areas that are now used as grazing grounds could be used for food production. Another fact that cannot be overlooked is that poverty stricken countries often bear the brunt of excessive meat consumption by the affluent states. The situation can still be controlled as only the continents of europe and north america have behaved recklessly, not the entire world.apart from meat consumption, one also needs to focus on reducing food wastage and carbon emissions caused by discarding excessive food, hence promoting an environment friendly yet sustainable condition.
The shift in the focus and preferences of the population, makes many producers follow the trends and offer a higher variety of vegetarian goods. Since the prices of these are usually higher, it evolves into a profitable market. Companies like Lidl have made many environment friendly changes which could also be considered greenwashing to bank on more profits. Christoph Graph, Chef buyer of Lidl in Germany, said “ there is no way around the change to selling less meat since we do not have a second planet”. Besides selling more vegetarian and vegan substitutes Lidl has also focused on the wellbeing of the animals. Furthermore they are trying to approach the younger generation to engage in dialogue for the needs and limits of our planet. This serves as a great example to show the economic implications and how profitable this trend can be if used right. There is already a big push and pressure for innovation by the younger generation. The fact that even big chains are shifting away from meat and towards plant-based products, allows the consumers to have better alternatives and sustain longer with this lifestyle.
However, as advantageous as it may sound, there are a set of concerns that need to be addressed. Firstly, for a vegetarian diet to be effective and healthy one has to be prudent in replacing the lost nutrients. Secondly, not all vegetarian substitutes are environmentally friendly. Many have to be imported from far away and therefore leave huge carbon footprints. Usually, Soy (which is used highly as a meat replacement)often requires a lot of space which promotes monoculture and lost biodiversity. Many areas in dry or mountain regions can also not be used for the planting of crops and instead serve today to breed animals that will bring profits, create jobs and generate protein-rich diets. Often this is the only possible or the most important source of food for the inhabitants of those places. In this sense, we can say that agriculture without any kind of animal is possible but not the best option or sustainable for all.
In conclusion, one can say that while a vegetarian has a myriad of pros, the cons can be complicated and difficult to deal with. In most situations, therefore, a plausible solution would be including gradual changes rather than drastic ones that are difficult to sustain. The search for alternatives will most probably continue and increase in relevance, making climate positive options more realistic and creating those jobs that will be lost in the meat industry. Despite being a rocky start, the world of vegetarianism holds potential and promise. It might be a trend, but it is here to stay.
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