I’m not a big fan of statistics, numbers, graphs, pie charts and the like. This is strange really as I loved maths at school (not A level, obviously) and I have a science degree, so I do appreciate that we need them. But, and it’s a big but……it’s easy to get bamboozled by them and lose interest in important stuff.
Important stuff like stopping the planet burning and the loss of the natural world as we know it.
My Big Beef About Beef
The current debate about meat production is a case in point. A recent post on xwitter stated that if all Brits ate one less red meat meal a week it would pretty much cancel out our carbon footprint. This sparked a furious debate in which I soon lost interest. We have venture capitalists sinking money into techno firms to produce ‘meat’ alternatives on 3D printers. Many vegan and vegetarian people now consume more ultra processed foods than the worst junk food junkie. It’s all got a bit messy because we started to blindly follow the numbers, on both sides of the argument, rather than do a bit of CRITICAL THINKING. After all, we are supposed to be the most intelligent species on the planet.
The thing is when you isolate just one factor then you’re already losing sight of all the other inter-related factors. Case in point with the current anti-beef argument, we miss how much grass-fed cattle can have a positive effect on the whole ecosystem. Grazing animals, which by the way includes deer, giraffes, gazelle etc not just domestic cattle, increase biodiversity of grasslands massively. Their dung naturally fertilises the soil and supports insect populations, trampling the ground helps break down coarse vegetation and by eating the most dominant plant species they allow other species to get a look in. All of this brings in more birds, amphibians and mammals making the ecosystem healthier and more resilient to climate change. Fewer pesticides and fertilisers are used and native breeds, such as Highland cattle, can cope being out all year round so require less input.
However, if we are talking about chopping down rainforests to use the barren, exposed land as feeding enclosures that hold intensively farmed cattle, fed on soya-based feed in order to provide for the hamburger addiction of obese Westerners then that is a very different scenario.
The phrase comparing apples to oranges comes to mind….
A Different View
The statistics that I do really like are these,
“Indigenous people protect 80% of the earth’s biodiversity despite making up just 5% of the global population”
These are people who deal in balance and harmony of entire ecosystems and see themselves as part of it, rather than being top of the food chain. They deal with knowledge and experience handed down from generation to generation about the world in which they inhabit and live alongside domesticated and wild creatures. They take what is needed rather than what they can get away with or profit from. They are custodians of the land; looking after it with respect and reverence.
Science definitely has it’s part to play in tackling the environmental and biodiversity crises but to rely entirely on hard data and ‘facts’ we risk losing people along the way if it seems contradictory and complicated. Everyone needs to understand what’s happening and which solutions are best and that means keeping it simple.
Food Costs vs Food Value
The same is true when we talk about food. The supermarket wars have meant that we have become accustomed to very cheap food for the longest time and now it’s all about the COST of food rather than its intrinsic VALUE.
The COST of food is one dimensional, measured in a currency that is only relevant to humans.
On the other hand, the VALUE of food is multi-dimensional and can benefit all living things. Obviously, there is the nutritional benefit of food but good animal welfare, farm biodiversity, food miles, seasonality, sustainability, soil health, pollinating insect numbers, ground nesting bird populations and the happiness and job satisfaction of our farmers and growers all contribute to the overall value of the food we eat. Or it should…..
Now we could quantify these factors, but I would argue that by doing so we are trying to fit into the cost-based system which is fundamentally flawed. Remember that the 5% indigenous population don’t need data, statistics or academic arguments to do the right thing and neither do we.
So, back to the critical thinking bit that I mentioned before that we should combine with our good old-fashioned gut instinct and intuition.
Start by feeding yourself and your family the right way and you’ll already be part of the solution.