I am indebted to the food section of Yahoo for raising this topic, which is fascinating.
If only because forewarned is forearmed. On the basis of this news, the Wellthisiswhatithink clan is going to start hoarding tins of Stag Chilli and Fray Bentos meat pies forthwith. If our home is suddenly subsumed by some nearby Pompeii-like eruption future archaeologists will surmise the modern Australian diet considered of nothing else. Well, and coffee, of course.
For all sorts of very good reasons, you see, Dear Reader, meat is going to play a lesser part in our diet moving forward. For one thing, all sorts of domesticated animals, and especially cows, burp and fart a lot.
And we mean, a lot*.
Methane, primarily. From their gut.
As one of the most potent greenhouse gases there is, if we could rid the world of farting cows we could all afford to drive gas guzzling SUVs back and forth to the shops till the, er, well, till the cows come home, and the world wouldn’t be affected much at all.
(One of the great myths of global climate change is that cars are strongly implicated – they aren’t, really, as engines become ever more efficient, and hybrid technology grows. Other factors are much more serious. Cars are just “in our face”: an easy target.)
Plus it takes an awful lot of grass – and water – and time and effort (and more greenhouse gases) – to “grow” meat protein compared to, say, veggies.
And our environment also suffers from the deleterious effect of cloven-hoofed animals wandering pristine grasslands digging up the surface soil so it can blow away to end up in the sea.
All in all, we can expect to see the price of beef and lamb/mutton especially climb to exorbitant levels. It will become an occasional luxury, and an environmentally unsustainable one at that.
OK, meat’s out. What next?
So what can we change our diet to? All sorts of yummy items. Not.
Insects are already a common source of protein in some parts of the world less wealthy, and less squeamish, than the West.
With the world’s population predicted to hit 9 billion by 2050, our diet will have to change as food production struggles to keep pace with the boom.
And there are lots of good reasons why we should consider ordering a dung beetle burger next time we’re at the pub.
Not only would insect farming be kinder on the environment than our current agricultural industry with its focus on factory farming large animals such as cattle and sheep (just think of all the methane produced as a side effect of our love affair with beef), insects are surprisingly nutritious too.
According to a BBC report, 100g of ground dung beetle contains 17.2g of protein, 30.9mg of calcium and 7.7mg of iron. A 100g serving of minced beef provided 27.4g of protein, 3.5mg of iron and negligible amounts of calcium.
Now we just need someone to tell us they taste just like chicken, and we’re in.
Visiting China (amongst other places) one often sees skewers of deep fried grasshoppers on offer from street stalls, along with a lot of other little beasties that one can’t even identify without a biology manual.
Indeed, over 1000 species of insects are eaten by people around the world, like these Thai deep-fried grasshoppers.
Of course, we might not be able to give up our addiction to flipping hamburgers on the BBQ and scientists may have one answer. Artificial meat grown from stem cells could solve the problems caused by the huge amount of water and energy required in traditional animal production.
But while scientists are in theory able to create a lab-grown burger that looks like the real deal, taste is another matter.
The taste of meat is created by blood and fat, and is difficult to recreate in an artificial setting. Not to mention, presumably, the mouth-soothing sensation of fat, which is one of the most obvious reasons that we all love eating marbled meat, ice cream, buttered bread and so forth.
Then again, watching the way clever chefs can use other ingredients to mimic the flavour they are searching for, one supposes that anything’s possible.
There is, presumably, a chemical formula for every type of taste sensation, so if we want to keep chowing down on beef we may have to accept that it means munching bowls of noxious chemicals too.
“Here Skippy, here boy …”
Well, in Australia, at least one very obvious opportunity presents itself.
Kangaroo meat is lean (2 per cent fat) and protein-rich, and its harvesting is more sustainable than beef and lamb, requiring less water and emitting far less methane than introduced breeds of livestock.
Selling kangaroo meat for human consumption is a relatively new development in Australia, having only been legalised in 1993.
Yet kangaroo meat is already now exported to 55 countries around the world, and has even given rise to a new diet dubbed ‘kangatarianism’ – an otherwise meat-free diet that permits consumption of kangaroo due to its eco-friendly status.
It’s sometimes hard to explain to non-Australians just how sensible a switch to roo meat would be.
For one thing, they are incredibly common, without any farming whatsoever. No one is quite sure how many roos are out there – it’s a big country, guys, and mainly un-populated – but the 2002 population estimate for the commercially harvested kangaroo species released by the federal government puts their numbers at 58.6 million. This means there are more than twice as many kangaroos in Australia as there are cattle (28.7 million). It also means the total kangaroo population is a little more than half that of the Australian sheep population (113.3 million).
That’s one helluva lot of roo stew waiting to be made. And if you think they’re just too cute to eat, then have you looked in the big brown eye of a calf recently?
Personally, I think we should be exporting breeding pairs of roos all over the world and you can all grown your own. And before you ask, darker than beef, quite a strong gamey flavour which puts some people off, the tail is the part most usually eaten, and in sausages, pates, terrines and pies, where is it “cut” with cereals and other items that reduce the gamey-ness of its flesh, it is truly delicious. “Kanga bangers” (that’s link sausages to our America readers) do really well here; kids love ‘em.
Plants scream too, you know
If you don’t want beetles, grasshoppers or kangaroos for tea, then the obvious answer: grow your dreadlocks and slap on the sandals. Let’s all become vegetarians.
Not only are veggies less environmentally harmful to grow (although pesticides and fertilisers need to be used with considerably more regard to the overall safety of the biosphere, with an acceptance of lower yields as a result) but we could all do with learning a lot more about how they can be prepared and presented to be truly delicious.
On the principle that human beings rarely do anything until push comes to shove, maybe rump steak at $200 a pound might be the incentive we need to learn how to make eggplant parmigiana properly.
Because the incentive is obvious. At least one 2012 study, from Sweden, argued that a global water shortage could mean that by 2050 animal production for food, which uses five to 10 times more water than plant-based food farming, could become a distant memory.
And while we are learning to love the lettuce, let’s remember that the plant kingdom offers many opportunities that, as a planet, we don’t make the best of.
I am referring, of course, to the harvest of the oceans.
We’ve pretty much eaten all the fish – surely a complete ban on commercial fishing for three years to return stocks to sustainable levels could unite the world? I would gladly pay more taxes to support the fishermen if it meant I could still enjoy a feed of flathead or Atlantic cod before I die – but fish are just the beginning of what’s on offer in the deep blue yonder.
One of the most useful products to come out of the seas are some of the most basic lifeforms yet discovered.
Algae: simple, single-cell organisms, can be cultivated in areas unsuitable for conventional farming, such deserts and the ocean. Algae also offers a cleaner source of energy than plant-derived ethanol, and can be used to feed animals and as a fertiliser for crops.
And if algae doesn’t float your boat (sorry about the dreadful pun, Ed.)then as some societies have known for years common-or-garden seaweed is totally yummy, prepared in all sorts of different ways.
Already a regular on Japanese plates, it is eco-friendly, great for digestive health and is packed full of nutrients, including calcium, iodine, folate and magnesium. (In fact, the current Western craze for sushi is leading to one unexpected problem – a few people are getting iodine overload from eating too many sushi rolls while wandering shopping malls. The best advice is apparently the most obvious – moderation in everything.)
Deep in the last millennium, I had a mother-in-law who would love to wander the seashore, grabbing scraps of seaweed off the rocks and munching it happily, reminiscent of her childhood in Ireland. “Dillisk”, as she was brought up to call it, is a reddish seaweed from the Atlantic coast of Ireland, collected at full moon, when the tide was lowest, and dried on huge sheets in the garden.
As Wikipedia kindly reveals: Palmaria palmata (Linnaeus) Kuntze, also called dulse, dillisk, dilsk, red dulse, sea lettuce flakes or creathnach, is a red alga (Rhodophyta) previously referred to as Rhodymenia palmata (Linnaeus) Greville. It grows on the northern coasts of both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and is a well-known snack food. In Iceland, where it is known as söl, it has been an important source of fiber throughout the centuries.
is a good source of minerals and vitamins compared with other vegetables, contains all trace elements needed by humans, and has a high protein content.
It is commonly found from June to September and can be picked by hand when the tide is out. When picked, small snails, shell pieces and other small particles can be washed or shaken off and the plant then spread to dry. Some gatherers may turn it once and roll it into large bales to be packaged later. It is also used as fodder for animals in some countries.
It is commonly used in Ireland, Iceland, Atlantic Canada and the Northeast United States both as food and medicine. It can be found in many health food stores or fish markets and can be ordered directly from local distributors. In Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, it is traditionally sold at the Ould Lammas Fair. It is particularly popular along the Causeway Coast. Although a fast-dying tradition in today’s McDonald’s-ridden world,there are many who still gather their own dulse. Along the Ulster coastline from County Antrim to County Donegal, it is eaten dried and uncooked in a manner similar to that in which one would eat snacks at a drinks party. It is also used in cooking. (Its properties are similar to those of a flavour-enhancer). It is commonly referred to as dillisk on the west coast of Ireland. Dillisk is usually dried and sold as a snack food from stalls in seaside towns by periwinkle-sellers.
Fresh dulse can be eaten directly off the rocks before sun-drying. Sun-dried dulse is eaten as is or is ground to flakes or a powder. In Iceland the tradition is to eat it with butter. It can also be pan fried quickly into chips, baked in the oven covered with cheese, with salsa, or simply microwaved briefly. It can also be used in soups, chowders, sandwiches and salads, or added to bread/pizza dough. Finely diced, it can also be used as a flavour enhancer in meat dishes, such as chili, in place of monosodium glutamate.
The earliest record of this species is of St Columba’s monks harvesting it 1,400 years ago.
Or as my old Mum was wont to say, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”.
Well, she would have said it, if she spoke French.
So now you know. Rib-eye and french fries is doomed. Ah well. We all might live a little longer, perhaps.Or as in the famous old joke, it might just seem that way.
And just remember, everyone. “Soylent Green is people!”**
*Much more than you ever wanted to know about belching and farting animals
With the development of large-scale agriculture in the mid-20th century, farming became a big business for some companies. Farms became consolidated into large enterprises with many thousands of animals across large acreages.
Initially, grazing areas were filled with a variety of grasses and flowers that grew naturally, offering a diverse diet for cows and other ruminants. However, in order to improve the efficiency of feeding livestock, many of these pastures became reseeded with perennial ryegrass. With the aid of artificial fertilizers, perennial ryegrass grows quickly and in huge quantities. The downside is that it lacks the nutritious content of other grasses and prevents more nutritious plants from growing. One commentator called it the “fast food” of grasses.
This simple diet allows many cows to be fed, but it inhibits digestion. A perennial ryegrass diet also results in a significant number of weak and infertile cows, which have to be killed at a young age. This is where the methane comes in. The difficult-to-digest grass ferments in the cows’ stomachs, where it interacts with microbes and produces gas. The exact details of the process are still being studied, and more information may allow scientists to reduce cows’ methane output.
A study at the University of Bristol compared three types of naturally grown pastures to ryegrass pasture grown with chemical fertilizers. Lambs were fed on each type of pasture. The meat from lambs fed on natural pastures had less saturated fat, more omega-3 fatty acids, more vitamin E and higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a “good fat” that is believed to fight cancer. The meat from these lambs was considered very high quality and scored well in flavor tests.
Because of concerns about ruminant diets, many researchers are investigating ways to alter what livestock eat and to mix the best of old cow pastures – diverse, naturally growing, nutrient rich grasses and plants – with the best of the new – fast-growing and resistant to invasive species. One possibility is to increase the ability of beneficial, nutrient-rich plants and flowers to grow alongside the fast-growing grasses commonly used in pastures. Another branch of research focuses on plants that are high in tannins, which are believed to lower methane levels in ruminants and to boost milk production – although excessively high level of tannins are harmful to a ruminant’s growth.
A study by researchers in New Zealand recommends the use of plants like birdsfoot trefoil that are high in alpha-linoleic acid, which boosts CLA levels. Planting legumes and genetically engineered plants to trap airborne nitrogen will also improve nitrogen levels in the soil, which is important for rich soil and healthy plants.
Some dairy farmers use processing systems to harvest methane from cow manure. The energy is used to power the farm while excess is often sold back to the local electrical grid.
Believers in naturally grown, mixed-species pastures say that the use of them will reduce greenhouse gases, improve animal health and meat quality and reduce the use of artificial fertilizers. Efforts like methane-reducing pills or the addition of garlic may just be stopgap measures that fail to address some of the core problems of livestock, namely ground and air pollution, cutting down of forests, the production of weak animals that later have to be culled and the use of artificial fertilizers and steroids.
Another possibility exists in trapping the methane gas and using it as energy or selling it back to the electrical grid. Some farmers already extract methane from livestock waste, but that does not solve the bigger problem of belched methane. Harnessing that methane would mean trapping it in the air, perhaps by housing cattle indoors or outfitting them with special muzzles that may inhibit eating.
(The above information on the digestive system of ruminants was copied from howstuffworks.com)