How could veganism change the world? | The Economist

How could veganism change the world? | The Economist

August 3, 2019 100 By William Morgan


By 2050 the world’s population could
approach 10 billion
and around 60 percent more food
could be needed to feed everyone.
[Marco Springmann] The
environmental impacts
of the food system are daunting.
It’s responsible for about a quarter
of our greenhouse gas emissions
and uses about 70 percent
of all fresh water
resources and it occupies about 40 percent
of the Earth’s land surface.
Food-created emissions could increase
to 50 percent by 2050 and fill up
the total emissions budget
that we have in order to avoid
dangerous levels of climate change.
Interest in vegan food
has been booming across the rich world.
A major study has put
the diet to the test,
analyzing an imagined scenario in which
the world goes vegan by 2050.
[Marco Springmann] If everybody went vegan
by 2050 we estimated that the food-related
greenhouse gas emissions
could be reduced by three quarters.
Cows are the biggest
emission contributors.
Bugs in their digestive
system produce methane
and deforestation for their pasture
releases carbon dioxide.
These gases warm the planet.
If cows were a country, they’d be the
third largest greenhouse gas emitter.
I’m a ninth generation farmer
in this area.
I grew up on a farm with
cows and feddling bulls.
Jaap Korteweg comes from a long line
of farmers in the Netherlands.
My goal is to be the biggest butcher
in the world.
To be doing it for meat lovers,
but if you don’t like meat,
don’t buy our products.
But he’s now a butcher
with a difference.
I’m the Vegetarian Butcher.
We are hooked on the taste of meat,
so the only way to change it is to
develop products with the same experience
without an animal
We can produce beef as big as a front door
with the right texture of real beef.
The equipment we use in
our plant-based plants
is the same as in the meat factory.
The only difference is
there is no blood on the floor.
Jaap made the switch
to plant-based meat 11 years ago.
He now ships to 17 countries
with annual sales of 20 million Euros.
The ingredients we use
are different.
We use soy, we use lupine,
we use wheat, we use peas.
We look to the meat
product we want to copy
and look for the right ingredients
to get the same experience.
Farmed animals are land hungry.
Over 80 percent of the world’s farmland
is used for animal production.
But it produces only 18 percent
of the world’s calories.
[Marco Springmann] You need to feed a cow
about 10 kilograms of mostly grains
for it to grow by one kilogram.
For pigs that’s about six kilogram
and for chicken, three to four kilogram.
So a lot of food is
wasted as feed for animals
that we would then eat.
Growing animal feed means more land
per calorie of food is needed
to produce beef than broccoli.
[Marco Springmann] Two-thirds of all
agriculture land is used as pastures
and if you saved all those pastures
if people went vegan
then that would be the size
of the continent of Africa
that would be freed.
And a well-balanced vegan diet,
more varied, with less
calories could save lives.
[Marco Springmann] If the world went vegan
in 2050, we estimated
that premature mortality,
and also all cause mortality,
could be reduced by about 20 percent.
Which could make the global economy
healthier too.
[Marco Springmann] We know how much money
is used to treat certain diseases
that are associated with diets.
Coronary heart disease, stroke,
cancer and diabetes.
Then we get to an estimate of about
one trillion U.S. dollars in 2050
that could be saved.
That would be about three percent of all
home health care related cost.
But global meat consumption
is growing around the world
by almost three percent a year since 1960.
Nobody like the way
we treat animals in factory farms.
Nobody like the situation
that is not good for our health,
not good for the environment,
but we all like meat very much.
While Jaap’s firm threatens
meat farmers, meat companies and butchers
are customers and partners.
Meat companies don’t own
the farmers, so it’s easy to change from
chickens or pigs to plant-based meat.
If the consumers want it
and the market want it
they’re happy to change.
Affordable and accessible
alternatives could yet see the rich world
hit peak meat and head
down the other side.
[Marco Springmann] If
you look at past trends
it’s probably unlikely to assume
that the world would
really go vegan by 2050.
We found that without
large scale dietary changes
towards more plant-based
diets, we would have
a very slim chance of staying below
dangerous levels of climate change.
But even moving towards
a plant-based diet could help.
[Marco Springmann] Coming
to our estimates of
predominantly plant-based diet could
get us probably three-quarters of the way.
Governments can play a
crucial role by setting
the right dietary guidelines.
They can adopt procurement policies
where it’s clear that the standard foods
that are ordered are plant-based,
healthy and sustainable.
For the Vegetarian Butcher,
plant-based meat is just the next step
in a long history of developments
in the farming world.
It’s always changing in
the agriculture world.
A hundred years ago there were millions
of draft horses to transport, to plow.
Now they are threatened with extinction
because we don’t need work horses anymore.
In the future you will use machines
to produce our meat and
the slaughter animals
will be threatened with extinction too.
And we only had room for
wild chicken and wild pigs.
And that’s the future, I hope.