Lifestyle Innovation: Vegetarianism, Sustainability & Healthy Living

London, UK - 9th January 2010, 12:35 GMT

Dear ATCA Open & Philanthropia Friends

[Please note that the views presented by individual contributors are not necessarily representative of the views of ATCA, which is neutral. ATCA conducts collective Socratic dialogue on global opportunities and threats.]

Could eating meat become as socially unacceptable within a generation as drink-driving? When at a recent ATCA roundtable a UN report's findings were mentioned on how livestock production is the single largest contributor to green-house gases -- more than cars, trains and aeroplanes put together -- the entire room fell silent for nearly a minute! Many people have for years thought they were doing their very best by recycling, turning down the heat in the house, turning off the lights and driving a bicycle and not a car to compensate for the endless aeroplane journeys. In real fact the single most important bit that could be done by humanity is by choosing to reduce the amount of meat we eat. Direct emissions of methane from cows and pigs is a significant source of greenhouse gases. Methane is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a global warming gas. The UN has warned that meat consumption is on course to double by the middle of the century.

The Green Club Roundtables

Hippocrates, the father of western medicine and ancient Greek physician, 460-370BCE, stated, "Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine shall be thy food!" The most potent killers of humanity since the dawn of civilisation have not been warfare, natural disaster, or starvation; they have been epidemics resulting directly from animal husbandry. The desire for meat, fish, fowl, eggs and dairy products has been one of humanity's most dangerous desires, according to a United Nations report published by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). The UN report also surveyed the damage done by sheep, chickens, pigs and goats. But in almost every case, the world’s 1.5+ billion cattle were most to blame. It states the major threats to human life since 8,500 BCE -- micro-organisms and viruses such as smallpox, influenza, tuberculosis, malaria, plague, measles and cholera -- all have something of importance in common: each evolved from a disease in domesticated animals that then adapted to, and infected, human societies. What is the genesis of the H1N1 virus or Swine Flu?

The 400-page report -- Livestock’s Long Shadow -- identifies the world’s rapidly growing herds of cattle as the greatest threat to the climate, forests and wildlife. Raising animals for food generates more Green House Gases (GHGs) than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. Livestock has also been blamed for a host of other environmental fallouts: from acid rain to the introduction of deformed species; from producing deserts to creating dead zones in the oceans; from poisoning rivers and drinking water to destroying coral reefs.

Dr R K Pachauri, chair, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, states: "The Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC found that changes in lifestyle and behaviour patterns can contribute to climate change mitigation across all sectors. One area where individuals can make a difference in this regard is by altering their diets through consuming less meat, say by giving up meat at least one day a week. Reducing meat consumption in this manner will make individuals healthier as well as the planet."

Lord Stern of Brentford, formerly the chief economist of the World Bank and now chair, Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics (LSE), states: “Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better.” He predicts that people’s attitudes are likely to evolve until meat eating all the time becomes unacceptable. “I think it’s important that people think about what they are doing and that includes what they are eating,” he said. “I am 61 now and attitudes towards drinking and driving have changed radically since I was a student. People change their notion of what is responsible. They will increasingly ask about the carbon content of their food.”

Prof Robert Watson, chief scientific adviser, DEFRA, UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, states: “There’s no question we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, not only the way we produce energy and use energy, but also from avoiding deforestation and our agricultural sector. Livestock globally could account for as much as 18 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions. When you look at the livestock industry, it’s not just the cows burping methane, it’s transporting the meat, it’s cooking the meat, it’s storing the meat... It’s how do we get a balanced diet that reduces the environmental footprint.” Work is already under way to tackle emissions from livestock. DEFRA has a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by 11 per cent in 2020.

Sir David King, director, Smith School of enterprise and the environment, Oxford University states: "The carbon and water footprints associated with producing beef are about twenty times larger than maize production. Eating less meat will help the environment."

According to a number of analytical reports by quality sources, a vegetarian diet can help to:

a. End world hunger due to livestock production’s inefficient use of:

i. water, grain and soy thus causing water/food shortages; and ii. electricity, petroleum and petroleum products.

b. Prevent:

i. deforestation; soil degradation;
ii. oceanic dead zones;
iii. air and water pollution;

c. Counter climate chaos; and

d. Dramatically reduce health care costs.

One Vegetarian Day A Week

Sir Paul McCartney, English musician, entrepreneur and activist states: “I think many of us feel helpless in the face of environmental challenges, and it can be hard to know how to sort through the advice about what we can do to make a meaningful contribution to a cleaner, more sustainable, healthier world. Having one designated meat free day a week is actually a meaningful change that everyone can make, that goes to the heart of several important political, environmental and ethical issues all at once. For instance it not only addresses pollution, but better health, the ethical treatment of animals, global hunger and community and political activism.”

The Belgian city of Ghent embarked on a radical experiment in 2009, seeking to make every Thursday a day free of meat and of the fish and shellfish for which the city is renowned. The objective: to turn the burghers of Ghent into pioneers in the fight against obesity, global warming and cruelty to animals.

Ghent city council says it is the first town in Europe and probably the western world to try to make the entire place vegetarian for a day every week. However, there's nothing compulsory. Ghent just wants to be a city that promotes sustainability and healthy living. Every restaurant in the city is to guarantee a vegetarian dish on the menu, with some going fully vegetarian every Thursday. From September, the city's schools made a meat-free meal the "default" option every Thursday, although parents can insist on meat for their children. Hospitals are also looking to join in.

Ghent city council also hopes to crush the myth that meat-free eating amounts to a diet of soggy lettuce, a slice of tomato, and a foul-tasting bean burger! The coalition of parties running the city was persuaded to back the idea when Philippe van den Bulck, an outstanding culinary talent, served up a veggie gastronomic tour de force at the town hall. He is one of Flanders' top chefs and food writers and is also a vegetarian.

The organisers cite United Nations data arguing that meat production and consumption are to blame for 18% of greenhouse gases -– more than cars! If everyone in Flanders, Belgium, does not eat meat one day a week, they would save as much C02 in a year as taking half a million cars off the road, according to the Flanders' Ethical Vegetarian Alternative (EVA) association.

The Veggie Day is not a plan for everyone to be forced into vegetarianism. But it seeks to reduce Ghent city's carbon footprint significantly. The basic premise is to introduce a way of lessening meat consumption. Ghent Councilman Balthazar and EVA name four reasons for eating more vegetarian cuisine:

1. it’s healthy;
2. it’s good for our planet (and climate);
3. it’s good for the animals; and
4. it’s good for people in the south.

and -- most of the times -- it’s very tasty!

How did the Ghent citizens react? Not surprisingly, there have been very few hostile reactions. Response is generally extremely positive. People’s awareness of the issues concerning meat -- and especially the climate chaos impact -- is rising, and perhaps many people realise that something really serious needs to happen, and that it can only be consolidated by some political courage.

Why a veggie day? Why not just stimulate people to eat a bit less meat every day? First of all that would be very boring and not very specific. A veggie day is a clear concept, feasible, fun and challenging. Secondly, eating no meat or fish one day requires of people that they really go and look for alternatives. They get to know other products, cuisines and restaurants, which wouldn’t be the case if they ate a little meat every day.

Joanna Lumley, English actress and activist, states: "Just see how easy it will be not to eat meat for one day a week. Just think how the world will benefit from fewer trees being cut to make way for grazing animals. Just imagine how many lives, both animal and human you will help to save."

Meat Free Monday is another global campaign encouraging people to help curb climate chaos by having at least one meat-free day per week. It raises awareness of the climate-changing impact of meat production and consumption. The campaign already has the support of Dr R K Pachauri, Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Richard Branson, amongst others. Recent newsletters from a number of City Councils across the world are promoting Meat Free Mondays.

Sir Richard Branson, chairman and founder, Virgin Group, states: "I love eating meat, but I love our planet even more, so I will join this campaign and stop eating meat at least one day a week."

Ghent's Veggie Donnerdag and Meat Free Monday may be on to something. They appear to be tapping into a zeitgeist awareness of the cost to human health and the environment of intensive meat and dairy farming. Other towns in Europe are looking to follow suit and there are growing enquiries from North and South America as well as Asia to participate in similar initiatives.

ATCA 5000 will be running a series of "The Green Club" roundtables shortly in regard to "Lifestyle Innovation: Going Vegetarian for Sustainability and Healthy Living":

1. If you would like to attend one of roundtables please let us know; and
2. We would like to know whether you are "for" or "against" this lifestyle innovation. Please explain briefly why you feel the way you do!


We welcome your thoughts, observations and views. To reflect further on this subject and others, please respond within Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn's ATCA Open and related discussion platform of HQR. Should you wish to connect directly with real time Twitter feeds, please click as appropriate:

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Best wishes

ATCA: The Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001 to resolve complex global challenges through collective Socratic dialogue and joint executive action to build a wisdom based global economy. Adhering to the doctrine of non-violence, ATCA addresses asymmetric threats and social opportunities arising from climate chaos and the environment; radical poverty and microfinance; geo-politics and energy; organised crime & extremism; advanced technologies -- bio, info, nano, robo & AI; demographic skews and resource shortages; pandemics; financial systems and systemic risk; as well as transhumanism and ethics. Present membership of ATCA is by invitation only and has over 5,000 distinguished members from over 120 countries: including 1,000 Parliamentarians; 1,500 Chairmen and CEOs of corporations; 1,000 Heads of NGOs; 750 Directors at Academic Centres of Excellence; 500 Inventors and Original thinkers; as well as 250 Editors-in-Chief of major media.

The Philanthropia, founded in 2005, brings together over 1,000 leading individual and private philanthropists, family offices, foundations, private banks, non-governmental organisations and specialist advisors to address complex global challenges such as countering climate chaos, reducing radical poverty and developing global leadership for the younger generation through the appliance of science and technology, leveraging acumen and finance, as well as encouraging collaboration with a strong commitment to ethics. Philanthropia emphasises multi-faith spiritual values: introspection, healthy living and ecology. Philanthropia Targets: Countering climate chaos and carbon neutrality; Eliminating radical poverty -- through micro-credit schemes, empowerment of women and more responsible capitalism; Leadership for the Younger Generation; and Corporate and social responsibility.

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