Environment Opinion

Modern consumption harms environment, health and animal life

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Fast food and other products contribute to poor health and a polluted environment (image by Leoparmr via Wikimedia Commons)

Is ethical nourishment the key for a more prosperous world?

The way we produce food, the way it's transported around the world and modified for growth has a devastating impact on the environment and our health.

Food systems contribute to approximately 25 to 35 per cent of all global greenhouse gases. Perhaps our biggest problem in Australia is livestock, not fossil-fuelled cars, aeroplanes and so on. A recent New Yorker article noted that:

'Every 4 lbs of beef you eat contributes to as much global warming as flying from New York to London – and the average American eats that much each month.'

The typical standard American diet (SAD) is described by Peter Attia as a killing machine like no other; a diet that can be described as cheap, tastes good, made for mass consumption and easily portable.

One alternative to the SAD diet is intermittent fasting, also known as time-restricted feeding.

The question posed by many is it really harmful to seemingly starve all day or does it improve our ability to think and support our best self?

A 2019 study by U.S. researchers on intermittent fasting suggested that:

'Evidence suggests that eating in a 6 hour period and fasting for 18 hours can trigger a metabolic switch from glucose-based to ketone-based energy, with increased stress resistance, increased longevity, and a decreased incidence of diseases including cancer and obesity.'

The science exists to support the diet from a human health perspective. But what could time-restricted feeding do for the environment?

Perhaps there would be fewer people driving around lunchtime, which would definitely contribute to a reduction in carbon emissions.

Vegetables and fruits are a much better source of glucose – an important energy provider – than meat. However, some say it is too late to do anything: we were dealt a bad hand and we are habitually omnivores.

Is it truly better to go green or should we just limit our meat consumption? The philosophy of time-restricted eating and vegetarianism is most common in Buddhism and other eastern ways of life. 

Islam has also supported time-restricted feeding through the month of Ramadan as a way to show gratitude and to increase self-awareness. Furthermore, a host of other religions also incorporate this philosophy with periods of no meat with self-reflection.

Australia, amongst other countries, is heavily tipped on the scale not because of lifestyle, but through meat consumption. Pharmaceutical companies have capitalised on consumerism by creating products that enhance health through multivitamins and various other essential nutrients.

Blackmores have created a multi-billion enterprise fulfilling these needs, but the question remains, is do we really need these vitamins if we are consuming the right foods? Are these multivitamins a nootropic or worse, just a placebo? Some scientists believe we are consuming unnecessary products for our kidneys to filter.

This is definitely something we must consider when we reach for the shelf.

Now, more than ever with the pandemic at our front door, we must start to consider ways to achieve a more sustainable life. Peter Singer, a well-known moral philosopher, discusses that the desire of humans to eat meat 'overpowers their reasoning capacities and empathy for other sentient beings'.

This statement elucidates a moral conundrum or oxymoron we face, as we condemn other countries as bad because they consume animals such as dogs or even bats.

Why is it that a dog deserves to live more than a chicken? Peter Singer argues the hierarchy of moral food choices is based upon our culture of love and nurture; because we live with dogs it is immoral to eat them.

This whole idea undermines the grand narrative of meat consumption.

These desires underpin the nature and nurture debate, and must be addressed as we as a society face a dying biosphere. According to the Department of Agriculture, livestock accounts for 10 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. 10 per cent may seem as minuscule in the scheme of things, but when you account for the emissions being nitrous oxide and methane, it is far more harmful to our environment.

There is no crystal ball to answer which way of eating is better. 

There are positive aspects of intermittent fasting and other forms of eating. Statistically, you may be better off with intermittent fasting or veganism. The key issue that still remains are the ethical implications of our diet. In further bringing the health, animal and environmental consequences of modern consumption to light, we might see fewer sick people, freer animals and a healthier biosphere.

 Dali Sulejmani-Blackwell is a law and arts student at Swinburne University.

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