It’s sometimes hard to decide what topic I should write my Monday emails about. Sometimes there are too many interesting things but none that are significant enough on their own to make a subject, and other times I have been so busy that I haven’t had the time to really think about it. However this week is different. This week I not only know what I want to write about, I feel compelled to write about it.

Late Thursday evening I sat down to watch a new documentary that had appeared on Netflix about animal agriculture. I’d heard that cattle farming – no matter how innocent it may seem while driving past placid cows on a country lane – has a surprising impact on deforestation, ocean pollution and global warming. But here, it really stood out just how large a part our consumption of beef and milk specifically contribute to that; and the shocking amount of food and water that is required to sustain it.

Before I get into it, I think it’s probably necessary to explain why I feel that this is relevant to my blog dedicated to becoming extraordinary and experiencing an extraordinary life:

At first I thought it would fall under some sub category of nature / environmental issues, but then I realised the following points:

  1. Our environment and the world around us are intrinsically linked to experiencing an extraordinary life. A considerable portion of my standout life moments to date have been out in nature: swimming with sharks, climbing a rock face, trekking through national parks or camping out under the stars. All of this is directly affected and therefore relevant. I would not want to imagine future generations swimming in empty oceans or watching old David Attenborough shows about an unbelievable forest that once covered a large proportion of South America!
  2. It is not possible for me to be an extraordinary person if I am willing to live a certain lifestyle when I know the potential negative impact it is having on the world and our future. It is an extraordinary act in itself to go against the crowd, set an example and – through my actions – make others aware of the implications of theirs.

So with that in mind, here are a few key facts outlined in the documentary ‘Cowspiracy’ that could change the way you think about your diet:

Greenhouse Gasses –

“Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of Greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation”

Water Consumption –

“2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef”

“1,000 gallons of water are required to produce 1 gallon of milk”

“Animal Agriculture is responsible for 20%-33% of all fresh water consumption in the world today”

Oceans –

“We could see fishless oceans by 2048” (in most of our lifetimes!)

Rain Forest & Species Extinction –

“Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction”

“The leading causes of Rainforest destruction are livestock and feed crops”

World Hunger –

“We are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people” and “Worldwide, at least 50% of grain is fed to livestock” (We could feed the whole world if we just stopped feeding so much to cattle for the rich few)

“82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by western countries”

Diet –

How much land is required to feed 1 person for 1 year?

•    Vegan: 1/6th acre
•    Vegetarian: 3x as much as a vegan
•    Meat Eater: 18x as much as a vegan

For a full list of stats, you can either watch the documentary on Netflix or you can see them all for free here.

 

These stats are so large and scary that many people will choose to just ‘put their head in the sand’ and hope that someone else acts to make the problem go away. It is easy to feel that an individual cannot make a big enough impact. However, the action of one person gets seen by those around them, and with the right explanation can influence others to follow. It is also your responsibility to do what you believe to be ‘right’ despite the direction of the crowd.

So, this then raises the question of “what can people do to help?” something I don’t feel is covered in enough depth or answered in the documentary, other than saying that “it is best to become a vegan”. As someone who regularly eats meat, dairy, fish and pretty much everything else listed in the movie, I was keen to understand not only what needs to be done, but also how I can go about making changes and what implications they may have. Should I become a vegan?

I am very curious about the health ramifications of a vegan diet. I want to make sure I am doing my part, but also that any lifestyle changes will not have a negative impact on my health. In the documentary, Kip (the presenter) talks to a Doctor about becoming a vegan, but unfortunately the only response given by said Dr is that he’s a vegan and has felt it to be beneficial for 40 years; which seems like quite an unsatisfactory explanation for a documentary otherwise packed with statistics. They are suggesting an enormous life changing decision that many people (including myself) know very little about and need a lot of guidance in order to implement.

And so I decided to run a little experiment over the weekend to see just how difficult it would be to move onto a vegan diet: there were some things that were surprisingly easy, such as replacing milk. However, there were also a few shocks that I just hadn’t thought about:

  • Milk chocolate – As the name suggests: contains milk (even some dark chocolate)
  • Haribo & Marshmallows – Made with gelatin (from animal bone)
  • Fish – No cod liver oil tablets!
  • Eggs – No egg fried rice, omelettes and most cakes
  • Pastry – Contains butter
  • Honey – An animal product

The experiment mainly made me realise that there is a lot of food that depends on animal products. I am glad I tried it for a short time, however, not being able to eat honey raised an important issue: I never set out to become a vegan, I set out to try and find ways to reduce my part in the impact of animal agriculture, and maybe some rules of being a vegan were different from those I am trying to implement. For this reason I am not going to aim to be a vegan, instead I will simply choose not to eat certain foods, even if it eventually creates a very similar diet to that of a vegan.

I will make changes to my diet to reduce my personal impact on our forests, seas and those living without food and water in poorer countries. In true Extraordinary Blog style, I intend to make these changes a benefit and to thrive on my new diet.

 

So I plan to make the following changes first:

Step One: quit beef. This seems to be the largest contributor and the easiest to implement. This won’t be hard as it only makes up a very small proportion of the meat I regularly consume: the odd steak on date night! This is also the one action that I think most people could achieve. It is important to find the small steps that everyone can take to make incremental change, even if the overall goal is quite a large change in global habits.

Step Two (this will be a lot harder): remove dairy. I have already started making my morning porridge with coconut, almond or soy milk (this works for cereal, coffee and tea too). But I have no idea yet how to remove or replace butter, yoghurt and cheese (R.I.P pizza!?)

I’ll start with beef and gradually work on ways to cut out other foods in a healthy manner. Whilst this will have to be an ongoing experiment and will require a lot of research into alternatives, I’m hoping I will not only reduce my impact on the facts listed above but also create a healthier diet and lifestyle in the process.

I realize that this has been based on a single documentary and therefore is not a fully balanced analysis. The resources listed on their site do seem compelling, but I am definitely open to hearing other perspectives. So please put any counter arguments, stats or even dietary tips in the comments below…

 

UPDATE (02/12/2016): I have now eaten a fully vegan diet for over a year. It has been much easier than I thought. It has also been more rewarding than I could have imagined and in ways I did not expect.

Did you enjoy this article?
Share the Love
Get Free Updates