Some interesting questions were posed at our recent 2019 Conference; we’ve selected a few to answer in more depth. This is the first one:
Q. Shouldn’t we be encouraging plant-based eating at events? Meat agriculture produces more methane than food waste and uses huge amounts of water. Plants are compostable; meat isn’t.
In a nut shell – yes. Livestock production is responsible for approximately 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Serving a plant-based menu at your event should help to lower its carbon footprint. Briefly, the reasons for this are:
Animal agriculture requires large areas of land, which has driven rapid deforestation.
Animal’s produce greenhouse gas emissions – their farts and burps contain methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Ruminants like cows and lamb are the worst offenders.
Natural and synthetic fertilisers release nitrous oxide, another greenhouse gas.
Farm waste run-off (such as manure) ends up in rivers and the sea, causing dead zones which release methane.
Additionally, animal products need large volumes of water and are a less efficient way of feeding people compared to crops. In very simple terms, one field of crops can feed many more people than if a field of crops is used to feed a cow, which is then fed to fewer people. This makes high meat consumption hard to sustain for the growing global population.
The above concerns don’t only apply to meat production, but also to dairy and egg production.
Uncooked fruit and vegetables are also easier to compost, although there are composting solutions for cooked food including meat, bone and dairy, such as Earth Probiotic‘s service and Bokashi composting solution.
HOWEVER, counter to this viewpoint, it’s also important to keep in mind that the food we consume touches on our cultural heritage, religion, biology and preferences. Therefore we need to be sensitive to these factors and not simply force a specific diet on our event attendees.
Another aspect of this debate to keep in mind is that not all plant-based menus are equal. Fruit and vegetables that are grown on the other side of the world by exploited farm workers who use harmful pesticides, for example, could be considered a worse alternative than serving some locally and responsibly farmed meat.
For the EGF 2019 Conference we had a number of discussions about how we could create a sustainable menu that everyone would enjoy. We ended up asking the venue (Maropeng, the Cradle of Humankind) to create a plant-based menu and then adding a few meat and dairy options to it. This way we felt we could satisfy everyone while keeping our carbon footprint relatively minimal. We also confirmed that the venue sources almost all food from local farms.
Other ways to be more sustainable include swapping out foods for ‘greener’ alternatives (e.g. serving free range chicken instead of beef), or communicating with attendees about the benefits of a plant-based menu to get their agreement to have at least one vegan meal during an event. It’s important to also make an effort to reduce food waste.
Take this quiz to test your knowledge on which foods have a lower carbon footprint: eatlowcarbon.org/take-the-quiz/