With Ramadan on our doorsteps, the lectures and advices in Mosques, on the radios and even on the internet will be reminding us of the great virtues of fasting and of all the spiritual and physical aspects of this great month. And while we may occasionally be reminded of the effect of certain foodstuffs on our health, we may be surprised to find little being discussed about human hunger and poverty, deforestation, global warming and numerous other global/social issues. How are any of these relevant to the Month of Ramadan? Due to the fact that the amount of meat we consume has implications reaching further than we can imagine.
While beef consumption is said to play a major role in the development of heart disease, strokes, and cancer, the over-consumption of beef is being increasingly labelled as a major cause of human hunger and poverty, deforestation, global warming and numerous other global/social issues.
More than one third of the grain produced in the world is fed to cattle and other livestock. The fact that more than a billion people around the world could receive proper nourishment if all this agricultural land was used to grow food for human consumption, rather than livestock, is clearly not widely known.
With the current food crisis (being labelled by some as the Silent Tsunami) wreaking havoc across the globe, you may be shocked by these facts, but similar events have occurred in our recent past: at the height of the 1984 famine in Ethiopia, some of its agricultural land was being used to produce grains for export- to feed livestock in Europe.
The building up of various gases in the atmosphere, blocks heat from escaping the planet, and is expected to cause a global climate change of catastrophic proportions. Grain-fed cattle are a significant factor in the generation of three major gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The burning of the world’s forests for cattle pasture has released billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. The over 1.3 billion livestock in the world annually release some 60 million tons of methane through their digestive systems. Moreover, to produce the feed requires the use of fertilizers which emit vast amounts of nitrous oxide.
Eight kilos of grain is used to produce each kilo of meat. While in Africa, nearly one in three people is undernourished. In Latin America, nearly one out of every seven people goes to bed hungry each night. In Asia and the Pacific, 22 percent of the people live at the edge of starvation. In the Near East, one in nine is underfed. So consider that these stats could be reduced by around seven for every burger meal that we eat.
Now for the chicks- celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, has managed to cause quite a stir in the UK with his expose on battery chickens, Jamie’s Fowl Dinners.
But groupie mentality aside (I’m not a fan of the glorified cook), there is a tragic tale to be told. Rather being allowed to roam freely, choosing from a salad board provided by grass, herbs, insects and tree fodder, chickens are ‘grown’ in boxes these days- under the most disgusting conditions. Yet again, how many consumers are aware of the suffering of the birds and the extremely poor quality of the meat?
Mass poultry production as a whole poses serious health and environmental hazards, with the ammonia and other chemicals found in the feed. In addition, the amount of energy used to transport and process this billion dollar industry, make it hard to justify the obscene amounts of chicken dishes that litter our iftaar tables.
So, I am not on a crusade (jihad has become a loaded term;P) to convert the masses into salad munchers- the main objective of sharing this is to try and remind us that we need to be conscientious shoppers. We need to have critical minds and consider all the implications of our purchases, and taking this line of thinking to its end, our daily actions and decisions as a whole.
If you believe the claims made above, and now know that kids in poor areas around the world are dying due to the shortage of basic foodstuff, perhaps you will not want to eat huge portions of meat every day of Ramadan- maybe you will start cutting down and encourage others to do the same. One of the most effective ways that you, as an individual, can do your part to reduce human hunger, poverty, and global warming is to reduce your consumption of animal products.
For me, it’s not so much about not eating meat- what I try to do, and would like to encourage others to do, is to have a critical mind. Know what you are buying and the effects that your purchase has- all the way back to the source of the ingredients! While it may sound impractical and over the top, it takes a little bit of research and thought and you will know whether the coffee farmers behind your cappuccino and being exploited, whether your avocados were grown on land stolen from Palestinians or whether peasants in Paraguay were killed to ensure the demand for GM soy beans was met!
So no, I’m not a vegetarian- I do eat meat. But I make it a very rare occasion when I do this- usually when a guest in someone’s home (Which I am hoping is going to be fairly often this Ramadan). But I still make known the facts noted above. And if it’s chicken, it must be a chicken that has been allowed to roam the earth freely and live a good life. Yes, I only eat happy chicken.