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A pivotal question

  • Published at 12:43 am January 23rd, 2020
Vegetable
Photo: Dhaka Tribune

Can a vegan diet sustain the planet and its population?

Naturalist David Attenborough is the latest expert to throw his weight behind a UN panel report that has advised drastic reduction in meat consumption to aid the fight against climate change.

Theoretically, it might be of great joy to vegans and vegetarians, but practically it is a daunting proposition to wean people away from meat. 

As it is, cattle are artificially bred these days to meet growing demand. It’s the post-breeding stage where the problem begins, as natural cattle feed is mixed with man-made nutritious feed, both of which have an impact on the environment.

Meat as part of a balanced diet is recommended by nutritionists and physicians -- but that’s white rather than red meat. 

Unfortunately, red meat in its variants from haute cuisine to the common snack has gained popularity over any other form. So much so, that it has become a staple in many countries. 

Pork is a major factor featuring in the trade dispute between China and the United States, beef is a mainstay in Europe, but thankfully India’s red meat consumption is more confined to mutton. While protein is a required element in the growth and maintenance of the human body, there are alternative plant-based options of beans and such.

In a way, the meatless world is a bit of a knee-jerk reaction. The forces of nature with the survival of the fittest theory has essentially kept matters in balance.

But as man is increasingly hunting more than what it needs or requires, the balance is tilted and rapid extinction of species is taking place. 

Over-fishing and over-cultivation will both have effects on the environment in terms of an ecological balance. Species feed on each other and man’s hankering for new palates only add to the predicament. 

Ocean fish aren’t being cultivated and left to nature to procreate and produce. Whaling continues to be a profitable concern with total disregard to the balance of the oceans.

With the rapidity with which the world population is growing, there is some research on how to produce greens that can grow in normally unfriendly climates. For burgeoning populations like Bangladesh, such research is needed more than many other countries. 

We are now producing more beef, thanks to India tightening the border trade of cattle and mutton, but development initiatives are eroding the arable land required for crops and greens. 

The dwindling crop lands are being harvested multiple times, thereby denying the soil any time for rest, and as a consequence, much needed natural nutrients.

Organic grain and vegetables are not just harder to come by, but are also very expensive, and the tree-huggers are only dealing with half of the problem. The giant fertilizer and seed nutrient countries comprise the other half of the problem. 

Changing food habits is a dire challenge, and one that most governments are reluctant to venture into, keeping farmers and cattle breeders in mind. 

There have been some efforts to introduce proteins through consumption of previously unheard of crickets and flies, but that too may have to become a possibility. 

Reducing carbon emissions to zero levels is no longer a nice thing to have. If the future generation is to have a habitat, it becomes a must. 

That is where the older generation politicians are getting their priorities wrong, investing in conflicts of “isms” rather than the future of the planet.

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.