Everyday Ethical: The Podcast | Eating Meat and Being Ethical [Episode 004]

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The Show Notes

Hello and welcome to Everyday Ethical:  A podcast about all of the small ways we can be more sustainable without the pressure to be perfect.

I’m your host Bethany Austin I’m an ethical lifestyle blogger who talks about everything from slow styling to cruelty-free cleaning.

Today we’re going to be talking about a very touchy subject: Meat. I definitely considered not recording this episode but I feel like you can’t talk about ethical living and not talk about food. And you can’t talk about sustainable food and not talk about meat. But don’t worry, I’m not here to shame whatever type of diet you have and I’m certainly not here to tell you how to eat. That’s not how I roll.

So, buckle up and let’s dive in.

Just before we get into the nitty grity, I want to point out that the single most important thing you need to be thinking about in terms of food is that you like and enjoy what you’re eating and that you have a healthy relationship with what’s on your plate. That needs to come first, above anything else.

So, whilst I will be talking about food in terms of sustainability, please know that I’m not suggesting that food’s only value is in terms of how sustainable it is. There are many ways to help the planet and, for some people, food is the right place to start, so feel free to click off this episode if you feel like it might trigger you or isn’t going to be productive for you personally. I promise there will be plenty of non-food related episodes coming your way soon and that I won’t be upset!

Anyway, as always with these episodes, I’ll start off by discussing my own experiences with this aspect of ethical living and where I’m currently at in terms of eating sustainably.

Let’s be very clear. I didn’t grow up in a vegetarian household. And deffo didn’t grow up in a vegan one. In fact, I just lived in pretty much your average joe household in the UK where meals like Sunday Roast and Spag Bolls (not with Quorn mince, mind you) were absolute staples in our food calendars.

However, I didn’t ever really enjoy meat.

I would love to say that it was because I had a strong ethical compass from a young age and just couldn’t fathom eating an animal but, nah, it was because I didn’t like the taste or the texture. So really, I ate meat because I had to, not because I wanted to.

Fast forward to me moving to uni and I finally had complete control over what I ate. Meat became less and less common in my diet quite naturally. Again, not for ethical reasons, though.

At the end of my first year, I decided to define myself a vegetarian. But frankly, I was a pretty crappy one because I still ate sneaky Big Macs. So I guess now the term would be “flexitarian” or something like that. But I did love how much cheaper my food shop was when I didn’t buy meat and that was a huge win for me and my student budget.

Anyway, I kept dabbling in and out of vegetarianism until the summer just gone when I read “Eating Animals”. That’s when I really decided to dedicate myself to not eating meat anymore. Although I already knew most of it, the book just bought everything into context for me and made me realise that my occasional meat-eating habits, as someone who didn’t even really like meat, were not worth the impact on the planet or the suffering of animals.

Now, 100% honesty here: I have had a few slip ups – I know you guys won’t judge me – but I think I’m finally getting there. And I’ve even drastically reduced my animal products more generally too: I never buy milk or eggs anymore, for example.

So, that’s my story. I’m definitely still learning. I’m not vegan or anything. But I am doing a lot better and I hope that this episode will help you to implement some of the changes that I’ve implemented to be more sustainable whilst doing my weekly shop.

As I said, I’m a vegetarian but I haven’t always been and a few weeks ago I got the question “can you eat meat and be completely ethical?” into my DMs from Michelle Gatley, blogger at The Unfinished Bookshelf. I didn’t think I would talk about it on the podcast to be honest, because it’s such a touchy subject, but I decided to bite the bullet and do it anyway.

So, can you be ethical and eat meat? My honest answer? No.

BUT – and hear me out – that’s only because it’s not possible to be 100% ethical at all, regardless of what you eat. Some vegans support fast fashion. Some non-vegans are pioneering the rights of garment factory workers. Do you get what I’m saying? None of us is truly, completely ethical and sustainable. Myself included. We’ve all just got to do our best and probably tackle the things that seem manageable first. It’s all about your own priorities, right? And that’s why I don’t judge anybody for what they eat.

I also know that it is a lot easier for me – with no allergies or intolerances, with the time on my hand to research and learn how to cook veggie food, and someone who just generally has a lot of privilege to not eat meat. The transition has been a lot easier for me than I’m sure it would be for others.

So, no, I’m not going to tell you that you have to stop eating meat and all animal products as soon as you finish listening to this episode. I promise I’m not judging you.

However, there’s no denying the fact that the factory farming industry had a hugely negative impact on the environment, as well as obviously just treating animals like crap. Even just in terms of water, being a vegetarian can save 1611L of water per day in terms of that that is needed to harvest the food you eat.  The meat-based diet requires way more water. And that’s before you even look into the HUGE amounts you can save by being vegan. We will look at veganism later though.

On top of that, the land that is destroyed from animal agriculture – including places like Amazon rainforest – is bloody scary. Another fact for you: livestock provides just 18% of the average eater’s calories but takes up 83% of farmland. So I think it’s clear to see that something isn’t quite adding up when it comes to factory farming. The numbers just prove that it’s not the most logical and sustainable place to get a lot of your food from.

And finally, the carbon footprint of meat is also pretty massive. Beef or the farming of cows for meat – which is one of the biggest polluters – results in up to 105kg of greenhouse gases per 100g of meat. On the other hand, tofu produces less than 3.5kg.

Team tofu ain’t look so bad now, huh?!

Overfishing can wreak havoc and destroy the environment and marine ecology and completely disrupt the food chain. For example, herring is a vital prey species for the cod. 2048

Erm, so yeah, if you’re looking at your diet from a purely sustainability standpoint: ditch the meat.

But your not looking at your food purely from a sustainability standpoint. You’re looking at it from a “what do I like/what can I actually eat/what’s going to fuel my body/ does this cause suffering to any other beings/is it easy to cook/do I have the money” kind of standpoing. And ditching meat is way more easier said than done, I totally get it. So let’s talk about your options.

Yes, you could – and maybe should – go completely veggie if that’s attainable for you. As you heard in the stats, you’ll be doing the earth and the animals a massive solid!

If you do want to make the transition to vegetarianism, I would highly recommend reading the book “Eating Animals” and watching the documentary “Cowspiracy”.  In fact, I would recommend everyone getting their hands on those two because they do give a great insight into the suffering of animals and planet at the hands of the meat industry, without being massively gorey. “Eating animals” is also a very balanced book – It doesn’t come at you from the first page trying to tell you that you’re a horrible person for eating meat. Instead, it recognises the cultural value of food, the memories attached to it and – of course – the fact that it tastes good! So definitely worth a look if you’re on the fence about making the change to a meat-free diet.

Also, switching to a veggie diet will probably require you to do some learning and unlearning because cooking meatless food can kind of feel like a whole different ball game when you’re new to it, right? Like, “what is making up the bulk of my plate”? So, for me, finding veggie recipes on Pinterest was a great help. I do have a board dedicated to them if you want to check out some of my faves, I’m over at /BethanyPaigeAustin which I’ll also link in the show notes. For more meal inspo, I also follow loads of veggies and vegans on Instagram to see their food pictures. So, a couple of my favourites are Venetia Falconer and Also Emily from Consciously Plantbased. Again, both will be linked in the show notes and are FAB if you’re looking for exciting meat free and plant based meal inspo.

But maybe being veggie doesn’t feel doable to you right now – or, like, ever – so why not just focus on reducing meat? If you eat meat in every meal, cut it out at breakfast time, for example. Switch your bacon sarnie for cereal or beans on toast or even a quorn bacon sarnie. Or alternatively, maybe try out something like meat free mondays! I feel like dedicating a whole day to being veggie will give you opportunity to try out a tonne of different recipes and get into meat free cooking a lot more. And hey, you might find that you actually want to do it more than once a week in the end.

Another option is to set yourself some meat-based rules. This is something I sort of did with clothes to ease me into no longer buying fast fashion too. I spoke about it in my last episode actually, the fact that I said to myself that I couldn’t buy something the first time that I saw it to avoid impulse shopping. In a similar sort of way, when I first started eating less of the stuff my rule was that I would only eat meat products if I was out at a restaurant. And yes, Mcdonald’s did count as a restaurant, okay? Can you even imagine how much less meat I was eating, going from having it once a day to, maybe once a month? I mean, you do the maths, but that sounds like a hell of a lot to me. Which is certainly better than doing nothing.

Again, you’ll still have to go through the learning curve of preparing veggie food, but it won’t be such a steep hill to climb if you decide to just switch out a few meals at a time. And by still giving yourself the option to eat meat, hopefully you won’t feel like it’s restrictive and want to rebel against it which is totally what I did.  

I also want to talk to those of you that just aren’t in the position or don’t want to cut out meat at all. Obviously, the facts are there: Eating meat is never gonna be your most sustainable option. However, there are some ways that you can make your meat eating habits more sustainable and ethical.

I think your best option is to buy your meat locally from a farmer who rears their animals in as traditional a way as possible and as far away from factory farming methods as possible. The truth is, you won’t ever know what goes on behind closed doors and can’t say that the meat on your plate is 100% ethical, regardless of where you buy. And, I mean, most people would probably argue that killing something can never really be ethical anyway. However, local, organic meat is much more likely to be more ethically reared and much better for the planet, including things like transportation.

Of course, buying that kind of meat is waaaay more expensive for obvious reasons: Animals aren’t in cramped conditions and injected with chemicals to make them grow to unnaturally large proportions, so these farmers are just producing less product per metre of farmland and hour of work.The prices have to be higher for them to be able to live.

So my recommendation would be – if it’s possible for you – to stick with the same meat budget, but buy high quality meat and eat it less often, if you do still want to have it in your diet.

Righty, now I do want to touch upon veganism too, because it is definitely a big talking point at the moment and something that needs to be considered when you’re talking about how sustainable your food is. BUT don’t switch off if you’re thinking “Beth, I’m not going to ever go vegan babe.” because I have got some smaller shifts for you as well. Don’t worry, I’ve got you.

Here are some facts about being vegan and the planet for you:

  • By going vegan, one person can save approximately 219,000 gallons of water a year.
  • Studies have also show that the dietary greenhouse gas emissions in meat-eaters are approximately twice as high as those in vegans
  • And, finally, there is the cold hard truth that 1 in 9 people are undernourished. Growing plant based food is generally a much more effective use of land and resources than rearing meat. If we want to feed the hungry mouths of the world, a switch to a more vegan diet is one of the most effective ways to do so.

Now, I can’t talk too much about switching to a fully vegan diet because I’m not vegan. However, like I said at the beginning, I am eating more and more plant-based food. I don’t buy things like milk or eggs anymore and, actually, I’d say that at least half of the meals that I cook for myself are plant-based.

So, I won’t pretend that I know about going completely vegan. Instead, I’ll point you in the direction the Vegan Society who offer up some great tips for anyone looking to get into the lifestyle.

What I AM going to talk about briefly is how you can eat more plant-based food. So, kind of like with meat, I think a great option is to set yourself some vegan boundaries. One thing I’ve been doing recently is making sure that every single one of my breakfasts is vegan.

Breakfast is just ridiculously simple to make vegan.

I mean, unless you eat bacon sarnies every day. In that case, it could prove a little bit more difficult.

But as someone who almost exclusively dines on cereal, porridge or toast before 12pm, it seemed the right place to start for me. For the most part, it’s just been a case of using plant milks (which I already did, anyway) and avoiding Nutella (definitely the harder of the two).

My most recent addiction has been using the Alpro vanilla soya milk on any cereal. It can make even bran flakes taste like pudding, so it’s definitely doing something right.

And of course, if you want a bit more commitment but not to fully commit yourself, the “plant-based unless I’m eating out” rule is also an option. If you are looking for plant-based meal inspo, I also have a pinterest board for that too! Linked in the show notes, guys.

Finally, I think it’s important to consider some of the smaller shifts that you can make. You could just swap out the milk that you put on your cereal or in your tea. Like I said, vanilla soya is great on cereal, but a lot of people live rice milk in their tea. You could also start buying vegan chocolate bars on your lunch break, using nutritional yeast instead of cheese in your pasta dishes or learning how to make vegan pancakes for your saturday mornings. All of those things are steps in the direction of sustainability – you don’t have to run the marathon straight away. Or ever for that matter.

I also totally know that veganism doesn’t mean that you are a super sustainable eater just like that. There are waaaay more factors that go into what makes a more sustainable diet. However, that would make this episode 5 years long, so I will save it for next week when I’ll talk about all of the non-meat and non-animal product ways that you can make what you eat more ethically conscious.

Before I go, let’s do a quick recap of some of the ways that you make your animal product related eating habits more sustainable, so that can set yourself a goal before we finish the episode. You could…

  1. Go completely veggie or completely vegan straight after this podcast. I applaud you if that’s you! And also, I have done a bloody good job so you should deffo leave me a 5 star review. Wink Wink.
  2. Or you could start doing meat free mondays
  3. You could commit yourself to no longer having animal milks on your cereals
  4. Finally, you could decide to only buy organic and local meat from now on.

Let me know if you do decide to go with any of those – or if you set yourself another goal – by tagging me in an instagram story (I’m @BethanyPaigeAustin and It’ll be linked in the show notes) – and also make sure to use the hashtag #EverydayEthical too.

I really hope that you’ve learnt something new in this episode and that it’s made you stop and think about an area of your everyday life in a different light. If it did, please leave me a glowing review on iTunes – it really, really does help me out – and also share the podcast with all of your pals, online and off!

I’ll speak to you guys next week!

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