Vegetarian Eats Meat - Great Daily Telegraph Article

‘I gave up being a vegetarian and started eating meat again – to save the planet’
When food writer Clare Finney looked into the environmental impact of the meat industry, the findings challenged all of her preconceptions

ByClare Finney25 May 2021 • 5:00am

Clare Finey had turned her back on eating meat when she was a child

Clare Finney had turned her back on eating meat when she was a child CREDIT: Andrew Crowley
I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 12, but while I’ve come close to renouncing my vegetarianism on several occasions, I chickened out because taking up meat at a time when the tide was turning towards vegetarianism felt counter-intuitive.
In the past year, some 500,000 Britons have moved to “plant-based” diets, many citing eco reasons for doing so. As a vegetarian of some 20 years’ standing, admittedly it was only in the past decade that I’d pinned my dietary preferences to the planet. But for a girl who’d spent her school years clad in Cotton Traders and playing the bassoon, to feel ahead of the game was a seductive experience.
For years, I’d been branded a fussy eater as my parents resorted to cooking two separate meals to keep everyone happy. I made some concessions – I ate fish occasionally and was secretly relieved that my grandma insisted on dousing my plate in her meat-based gravy. But for the most part I held my ground, vindicated by the growing body of evidence that showed livestock and all the carbon and methane they produced was bad for the planet.
By the time vegetarianism and veganism was undergoing its big rebrand, I felt like a war hero: a veteran vegetarian bearing the scars of decades of stuffed peppers and nut roasts. But it didn’t take long for my attitude toward “vegan-gelists” to turn. The more people climbed aboard the plant-based bandwagon, the more I started to question its legitimacy. Of course industrialised farming is bad, on a moral level as well as an environmental one, but this wasn’t as straightforward as just swapping spare ribs for “spare ribz”.
Having established myself as a food writer, I wanted to know how big food brands were cashing in on the trend and glossing over the fact that plant-based food can also be problematic, with monocultures, genetically modified crops and unsustainable sources of palm oil all posing serious threats to the planet as well. Unless one is equally committed to eschewing these practices and fossil fuels, Veganuary and Meat Free May feel like fiddling while Rome burns.
I was also becoming uncomfortably aware that vegetarianism – as opposed to veganism – was not a guilt-free middle ground. The more I read or was told of the dairy industry’s so-called by-products – the young males slaughtered shortly after birth, or exported live to the Continent for veal; the females slaughtered and sold for pet food at the end of their milking life – the harder it became to ignore the hypocrisy of my denouncing meat while devouring cheese.
So when I decided to look more closely at the relationship between eating meat and the environment, I was ready to be challenged. What I was not expecting, however, was to be told that it was possible to eat meat and cheese in such a way as not just to mitigate one’s ecological footprint, but to make a positive contribution towards preventing climate disaster, too.
The most sustainable meat we can eat is grass-fed beef, lamb and dairy products. According to Patrick Holden, farmer and founding chair of the Sustainable Food Trust, as long as we are “using our eating power to support regenerative systems, we needn’t feel bad about eating meat at all”.
The environmental argument in favour of eating red meat and dairy is complex, and comes with heavy caveats. The only context in which it stands up is where it pertains to regenerative agriculture: a broad term which refers to farming and grazing practices that reverse climate change by restoring biodiversity and rebuilding organic matter in the soil.
Soil’s capacity to store carbon is greater than that of any other ecosystem, so a combination of diverse vegetation and healthy soil serves to draw carbon back out of the atmosphere. Yet where once the health of agricultural soil was maintained through mixed farming – having livestock and arable together – farming in Britain is now mostly divided, with one half arable land, dependent on expensive, inorganic fertilisers that contribute toward soil degradation and water pollution; and the other, largely western half, livestock farms that have an excess of the perfect, natural replacement for those fertilisers: manure.
“The most fertile soils in the world were built by the interaction between grazing ruminants and grassland,” says Holden. “Mixed farming mimics that cycle, in which the soil is depleted by crops and then replenished and restored by grass and grazing animals” – thereby increasing its organic matter, and its ability to store carbon. “Bringing livestock back into rotation with crops… will reduce carbon emissions twofold, threefold.” Cows, sheep, deer and goats convert grass and biomass, which humans cannot eat, into nutrient-dense meat and milk, which we can.
Of course, this argument only holds if the animal products we consume are grass-fed. The moment you introduce grain into this equation, it no longer adds up. “Ecologically speaking, grain is expensive to produce. It’s cheap financially, but the price per ton doesn’t reflect the true cost of production: the impact of carbon-leaching due to soil erosion, pesticides and water pollution,” adds Holden. What’s more, it means that land that could and should be used for the cultivation of crops for humans is being used for animals.
This means industrially farmed (and, therefore, grain-fed) meat and dairy are out – but it also means chickens, historically billed as a sustainable meat choice, are also no longer so palatable. When you consider the nutrient density of lamb, beef, goats, venison and so on, and the wider benefits ruminants can bring to the soil, the environmental burden reduces significantly. The argument goes that carbon emissions of a food should be measured not according to its mass, but according to the nutrients it contains and its potential to offset carbon emissions in the course of its production. There’s a saying among those in the world of regenerative agriculture, Holden tells me: “It’s not the cow – it’s how.”
But even more impressive than the compelling and game-changing nature of these arguments were the former vegetarians I met. Glen Burrows was a vegetarian for 25 years before being persuaded not just to eat meat, but sell it through his business, the Ethical Butcher. Isabella Tree was a vegetarian for 20 years before establishing Knepp, a rewilding project in which English longhorn cattle, Tamworth pigs and red deer roam and are culled in order to ensure they don’t outstrip supplies of vegetation. It struck me that vegans and vegetarians are, in fact, prime candidates for supporting regenerative farming systems – because they already believe in the power of eating to make a difference.
After our conversation, Tree offered to send me a box of Knepp’s meat, including sausages – my favourite as a child, served with peas and potatoes. It was an icy, bitter day, so I slow-roasted some leeks, baked a jacket potato until the skin cracked, buttered it liberally and served the sausages, burnished and spitting, straight from the pan. That first bite was heady – meat packs a powerful punch when you’re not used to it – and heavenly.
I’d be lying if I said I’ve had meat many times since. Without being too graphic, there’s a limit to how much one can physically stomach after 20 years of a plant-based diet. And meat from high-welfare, regenerative systems – the only meat I will now consume – is neither widely available nor cheap. But my hope is that I and others will start to see meat as our ancestors would: a treasured, revitalising food, every last bite of which should be savoured in accordance with our needs and that of our world.
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DaveGrohl

Member
Location
Cumbria
Brilliant. I saw that story but couldn't get past paywall. These stories are ten a penny though but always good to read for a chuckle.
Actually now I've read it, it's a bit muddled to say the least.
 
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Cowabunga

Member
Location
Ceredigion,Wales
Every man, woman and their dog seems to think they know it all and can tell us, with some conviction, how we should be farming these days. Fúch 'em all and their 'regenerative', 'sustainable' 'biodiversity' 'carbon neutral', 'fair trade' 'vegan' and whatever other bollox buzzwords they introduce into their fascist control-freakery non-bovine bullcrap!
 
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DaveGrohl

Member
Location
Cumbria
I have a subscription for the Telegraph, so I copied it and pasted. At least there is an article, that is saying cows - good, rather than the usual "save the planet, give up meat" . Every positive message is good, just need more of them.
I actually posted my reply before I'd read it, multitasking doh! I'd presumed it was about how she felt much better having eaten some meat hence my first comment and then the edit.

Nothing wrong with the article at all, more power to her communicating to the masses, but it is a bit "my new bezzie Patrick Holden says...." And what's wrong with a mixed farm growing some grain to finish cattle and then returning the grain field to grass in a rotation? I do get drearily tired with the regen ag story being the ONLY way to farm when there is a close relative that has been the sustainable method for hundreds of years. It's monoculture that's the problem. But yes it's a good article on its own terms.
 

delilah

Member
I actually posted my reply before I'd read it, multitasking doh! I'd presumed it was about how she felt much better having eaten some meat hence my first comment and then the edit.

Nothing wrong with the article at all, more power to her communicating to the masses, but it is a bit "my new bezzie Patrick Holden says...." And what's wrong with a mixed farm growing some grain to finish cattle and then returning the grain field to grass in a rotation? I do get drearily tired with the regen ag story being the ONLY way to farm when there is a close relative that has been the sustainable method for hundreds of years. It's monoculture that's the problem. But yes it's a good article on its own terms.

Had an email yesterday from an online food delivery thing, saying interested in selling our beef and asking if it was 100% grass fed. Deleted.
 

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