Meat-eating is an unsustainable luxury. Far better then that in this
season of grace and magnanimity we work towards a transformation of
our diet. Sustainable eating habits require switching largely to
non-animal foods, which would make the national diet affordable and
The post-World War II period has seen striking breakthroughs in our
understanding of food choices and health. We have learnt that high
consumption of animal protein causes health problems and has serious
environmental impact: red and organ-meat is now known to be harmful
largely due to its cholesterol-raising properties.
Despite these new insights our schools in the 50s or 60s did not teach
any of this. In fact there was no link shown between what one eats and
the health issues other than very commonsensical precautions about the
need for washing food and boiling water. The connection with the
environment came later as a global awakening. This, too, is yet to be
taught and discussed in our classrooms.
Moreover, most customers are ignorant of the economic impact of global
meat consumption. Or, even if they are aware, they choose to neglect
it. Most of those who can afford meat have come to see it as the main
course of their meals, a pleasurable essential.
Roughly one-fifth of the world's land area is used for grazing, which
is twice that for growing crops. In the natural state grasslands are
healthy ecosystems supporting a diverse range of plants, birds,
rodents and wild grazing animals. These areas are often unsuitable for
cultivation, but with care they can generally be used sustainably for
livestock grazing. Cattle, sheep and goat are ruminants and they fare
best on a diet of grass. In Pakistan, animal production is largely on
the use of rangelands; very little cereals are fed to the animals. It
is 3 percent of all cereal production; in comparison, India uses half
of that. The USA uses over 69 percent (so 23 times higher than
Pakistan). Given our high population growth, and an increasing demand
for meat, it will be difficult to enhance livestock production from
Today, when there is a growing fear of the greenhouse effect causing
steep rise in global temperature and consequent melting of icecaps
resulting in great global catastrophes, the role of diet in this
crisis is overlooked. Up until now, traffic and industry have been
held almost exclusively responsible for the greenhouse effect.
According to the head of Wuppertal Institute of Climate, Environment
and Energy in Germany, contribution of cattle breeding is about the
same as that for all automobile traffic, if we take into consideration
the clearing of forests for cattle and for fodder.
The greenhouse effect is caused by three gases: methane, carbon
dioxide and nitrogen oxide, among other things. All three gases
originate through animal husbandry on a large scale. The 1.3 million
heads cattle kept worldwide (and the consumers of their meat) alone
are responsible for 12 percent annual methane gas emissions. Breeding
of livestock creates over 110 million tons of methane annually. This
is even more critical when one consider that one molecule of methane
contributes 25 times more to greenhouse effect than one molecule of
carbon dioxide (the main by-product of autos).
Meat-eating is a luxury that is clearly not sustainable. Far better
then that in this season of grace and magnanimity we work towards a
transformation of our diet. Sustainable eating habits require
switching largely to non-animal foods, which would make the national
diet affordable and healthy. This will give all Pakistanis a balanced
diet throughout the year.
The writer is an Islamabad-based physicist with a great and growing
interest in environment