No more beef: will we all be veggie in 40 years?

meat 300x196 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.

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  • Giles Toman

    It only “makes sense” to use all the land for crops to feed more and more people if we think it is a good idea to HAVE that many more people. I’d prefer a good steak and 2 billion people starving to death. It would be better for the world (and me!) in the long term.

  • chrius nashill

    We are living in an sick environment, im mean seriously, you guys have no idea whats going on in the meat industry – they are more mighty than any drug cartell – the real big bosses are the guys who deliver the everyday needs.

    There are a lot of interests involved, some are mighty some not, guess which side is more mighty right now.

    One thing i always wondered, how can one sleep who owns ´for example a big meat factory, must be zombies.

  • chrius nashill

    Meat should be a luxury item, it should be something special.
    Actually its more like discount, meat on sale – so annoying.

  • DaiWales

    “I’d prefer a good steak and 2 billion people starving to death. It would be better for the world (and me!) in the long term”.
    There must be some hidden meaning to the “2 billion people starving to death” phrase … I’d hate to think that anyone who claims to be remotely human could put that, even semi-jokingly…


    Is this an allusion to our inability to curb unsustainable meat consumption, or climate skepticism?

  • Alex_Cheshire

    It is an allusion to our inability to predict the future on anything. Invariably something comes along which nobody foresaw, and then all prophesies are inaccurate.

  • mikegruntfour

    There rally is a ‘load’ of ‘guff’ in this colume. It is agreed scientifically that the human race only became the human race because we left the fruit and fibre alone and started eating meet. So if ‘you’ want a smaller brain then go ahead and start eating nothing but fruit and fibre. Presumably, if we all became ‘veggies’, each new generation will have smaller brains which is the opposite of what is happening now. Our grand children mentally are miles in front of the average grand parent. I wonder how many ‘veggies’ actually ‘grow their own’? If they do what do they eat in winter?

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