No more beef: will we all be veggie in 40 years?
It’s a winters’ evening in 2052. In the rich part of town, gourmands are looking bleakly out the window of their favourite restaurant. Outside – again – are the crowds. Crowds with placards. Crowds who chant so loudly there’s no point in trying to ignore them. The restaurant’s Italian owners – who moved only recently to this secret West-side location – hurriedly place wooden screens in between the glass and the tables of the diners. They apologise profusely. But, looking down at their beef-stacked plates, the gourmands know the game is up. It will no longer be possible to come here. And so, the last place publicly serving meat in London will be out of business.
An unlikely dystopia? Sure. But a groundless one? Not entirely. A report released this week by leading water scientists warns that there could be catastrophic global food shortages within the next 40 years unless the world’s population switches to vegetarianism. Of course, the crucial word in that sentence is “could”. Few branches of science have a good track record in apocalyptic predictions. It could also be that shifts in farming practice, food-production and animal rearing ensure that, 40 years from now, the food balance remains largely the same as it is today – and we can all go on eating steak in public.
But there are two key points of logic here. One, to rear animal meat takes five to 10 times more water than is needed for a vegetarian diet. Two, when the world’s population reaches 9bn, as it is expected to by 2050, the additional 2 billion mouths to feed will put extraordinary strain on the earth’s capacity to feed them. As such, it makes sense to use all available farm land in the most calorifically efficient way possible, i.e. for crops.
So are we about to enter a ‘war on meat’? It’s difficult to say. Wars against inanimate things tend to do a lot better when the enemy is something most people don’t instinctively like – such as drugs, or terror. And it will undoubtedly take more than one scientific report to toxify ‘meat’.
Encouraging people to modify their personal habits is a long and difficult process. Recent campaigns against smoking and drink-driving have been successful partly because smokers and drink-drivers were made to recognise that their vice presented significant risks to their own personal health and happiness. Eating meat is harder to stigmatise. Grand threats of environmental cost will do little to make lifelong beef-eaters down forks.
What might do it, however, is peer pressure. It’s easy to continue harming the environment when everyone else is doing it too. But should your friends, family and workmates turn against meat, the stigma will be not so much environmental as social. You’ll have to head outside to tuck into a cold sausage sandwich.
Social media will be vital if any such tipping point is reached. With respect to the scientists at the Stockholm International Water Institute, academic reports don’t put people off their lunch. A better bet would be shocking, share-able videos. Already the internet abounds with tales of people who have looked too closely into the practices of the meat-industry and, in horror at what they saw, turned veggie. The more that stare into the eyes of the Meatusa, then, the greater chance there is of a fresh wave of environmental vegetarianism.
Today, people who wear fur are seen as gratuitously selfish. Forty years from now, the same accusation could well be made of meat-eaters – at which point you might think twice before booking a table at the Angus Steak House.Tagged in: farming, meat, Vegetarianism, water
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