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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Verbeek

A tribute to my father, an award and vegetarianism

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

I’m sitting in a room beside the bed in which my father is slowly dying. I hear silence for a couple of minutes, turn my head wondering whether my father’s breathing has stopped altogether, then his lungs begin to pump into action and life dribbles into him again. This is the second day my brother (his third day) and I have kept vigil. My father is strong and, as is inevitable in times like this, my thoughts often turn to the wonderful years I’ve had with him. He’s almost ninety-nine."It's a good innigs," I ofted hear said - and say mayself. They're easy words to say - as if life is a game with runs that can be counted. The reality is my father was a person alive with thoughts, feelings, laughter, love, foibles, regrets, successes, desires, which can’t just be reduced to “a number of runs”.

And while I’m sitting here, I’m aware that in the midst of reflecting on my father’s life, I perform tasks and react to news relevant to my own life …

One bit of such news being that I was a awarded a winner of the Maincrest Media Book Award in the fantasy category for the boxset books “Songs of Si’Empra”. This is the second time I’ve won the award – the first one being for the first book in the series “Skyseeker’s Princess”.

I dedicated that book to my father with the words:

For my father, who taught me to love books, imagination and the word “why”

I think that from now on, I will think of that award as a tribute to my father and all he has given me in my life.

Should we go vegetarian?

Well, there are many things that go through one's mind while cooped up between four walls. One is a question that has intrigued me on and off for a number of years - the issue of vegetarianism.

Ellen (see the Songs of Si’Empra trilogy) is a vegetarian and picky eater. In developing the Ellen character, I became increasingly curious about what it would mean if the world went vegetarian.

Ellen is a vegetarian because she doesn’t like the taste of meat. That’s one reason for choosing to be a vegetarian. Other reasons include cultural conventions, expounded health benefits, ethical (animal welfare) concerns, and less stress on the environment in the production of human food. I was mostly interested in the latter so did a bit of digging.

Turns out the issue is complex/many-faceted, with figures on benefits and disbenefits. Here are some often-quoted statements by those who think, overall, we would be better of if we all went vegetarian:

  1. More than 25% of emissions causing climate change comes from the production of food.

  2. About 16% of these emissions are from the livestock industry.

  3. Going vegetarian would mean that about 80% of the land currently used for livestock could be returned to nature

  4. The other 20% would be needed to satisfy the increased demand for “vegetables”.

  5. There are many health benefits to being a vegetarian, including less susceptibility to cancers and heart disease.

So are these benefits iron-clad?

For one, the health benefits of vegetarianism only accrue if vegetarians pay attention to consuming the various sources of protein readily available in meat. The consequences of not attending to this issue is starkly demonstrated by comparing the skeletons of Palaeolithic hunter-gathers with those of later farming culture ones. Compared to Palaeolithic hunter-gathers, skeletons belonging to farming cultures show higher rates of anaemia, thinner and shorter long bones, greater tooth decay, and greater evidence of internal parasites (Bryant Jr, Britannica: Science and the Future, (1995)). These findings are not surprising – after all, our bodies, evolved over millions of years to process an omnivorous diet.

That is to say, if you’re wealthy enough to be able to afford whatever foods you need, then being vegetarian is a good option because it reduces the hazards to health of meat consumption. Unfortunately,  billions of people on planet Earth are not wealthy.

Aside from the issue of healthy eating, there is the issue of culture. Raising and consuming livestock is part and parcel of many cultures around the world and, actually, in the places such people live, the option of 'growing vegetables' is often minimal

The United Nations' Food and Drug Organization (FAO) conducted an extensive study on the sustainability debate around removing livestock (meat) from human diets. Here are some of their conclusions:

  1. Livestock products make up 18% of global calories and 34% of global protein consumption.

  2. Livestock use 2.5 ha of land globally of which 77% is grassland that cannot be converted to cropland.

  3. Livestock adds to agricultural production through manure production and drought power.

  4. Keeping livestock provides a secure source of income for over 500 million poor people in many rural areas.

  5. 85% of livestock feed is not suitable for human consumption and would become an environmental burden as humans consume more and more processed food

  6. On average, 3 kg of cereals are needed to produce 1 kg of meat at global level – cattle rely on grazing and forage, and need only 0.6 kg of protein from edible feed to produce 1 kg of protein in milk and meat (thus contributing directly to global food security).

The FAO report concludes that there is no question that more efforts need to be made to make the production of meat products more sustainable. The report also notes that better balancing meat consumption in human diets would benefit health for some. But the solution to sustainable use of Earth’s land resources is not a blanket ban on livestock production.

A recent Reddit discussion (an online discussion group) highlighted another issue: growing monoculture crops – regardless what the crop is – requires clearing the land and that can “kill 25 times more animals due to destroying the ecosystem and (often) using poison to kill off unwanted animals such as mice (especially when in plague proportions encouraged by the availability of vast tracts of food provided in fields of wheat, oats, rice, etc), birds, lizards and millions of arthropods and nematodes”. There is also the issue of degradation of the soil that occurs when there is more monoculture – even when there is crop rotation.

Well … I found the journey for more information on this debate most interesting. As is so often the case when looking for better ways forward in sustaining a healthy human population (with far too many of us), I’m left with the opinion that a thoughtful balance, taking only what is needed and not what advertising pushes us to needlessly consume (and waste) is the rational way forward.

What do you think?

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