I did a brief stint as a climate journalist after graduation and, in efforts to practice what I preach, I have been trying to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. You know, reduce my plastic usage, switch to more eco-friendly products (shampoos, make-up, all that), and cutting down how much water I use/waste in a day. Water, particularly, is something I wanted to be particularly more sustainable about and make more active efforts to conserve.
Pakistan currently ranks third amongst countries facing water shortages, according to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report and is expected to reach absolute water scarcity by 2025.
I spoke to some of my colleagues who work in the fields of climate change and sustainability and asked what else can I, as an individual, do to reduce my water footprint.
And just about everyone’s answer was: eat less meat. Wait, but how does that work?
I did my research and spoke to experts and, yeah, turns out, the meat industry is one of the biggest contributors to climate change AND uses up immense amounts of water.
I will get to the science of how later, but anyhoo, I decided I am going to do something I never thought I would be able to: get rid of red meat from my life. (Just for a few weeks to see how it goes, at least. Come on, for us Pakistanis, meat is like, such an essential part of every meal. How was I gonna get rid of it forever?)
So I went on a 21-days-no-red-meat diet (because, apparently, it takes 21 days to develop a habit) and my plan was to make sure I never shut up about it around anyone. I was gonna tell EVERYONE I possibly could ke I am not eating red meat for a few days and tell them why. Hopefully, they’d be curious too and join in and, you know, spread the word.
The plan was to emphasize on how important it is to cut down on red meat to save our water and planet. (Again, I will get to the science in a bit.)
But five days in, I was telling people about a whole other side of how this diet was changing my life.
For the first few days, I felt very, um, meatless (?) for a while. Probably psychological. I was eating chicken and fish from time to time (also tried to reduce those, tbh, but baby steps, right?) but I never felt as full as I wanted to.
But, voila, around 4-5 days in, I guess my body and mind finally accepted this change and I woke up feeling completely different. Here are some of the ways getting rid of red meat from my life, changed me:
I had a lot more energy.
I am in my early 20’s so I should technically always be full of energy, but I am not. But getting rid of meat, and being forced to replace those meals with more vegetables and fruits, brought such an ABSURD level of change to my energy levels. I’d wake up not feeling irritable (my terrible sleep cycle improved too) and I’d go through the day not feeling tired.
I lost weight.
People in my life started noticing the change JUST one week in. I was getting more toned, my waistline reduced, my bloating was gone, plus, I felt so much lighter?
My skin cleared up.
I was obviously compensating the meat with lots of vegetables and fruits and it just did wonders to my skin. Just last week a friend asked me what makeup foundation I had switched to coz my skin was glowing. Pssht, nazar na lagay, but I wasn’t wearing any, jussayin.
I saved a lot of money.
Both groceries and meals at restaurants became so much cheaper because some of the most expensive meals (which are always meat-focused) were off the market for me. Sure, the first week took a bit of a plunge on my wallet because I was trying to figure out my new diets and spent a lot on random stuff, but, eventually, (once I figured out what I was gonna be eating for the coming days) I started saving money. By a significant amount.
I felt like a better person. Because see, I’d done my research. And, guys, seriously. The meat industry consumes crazy amounts of water. And is all around pretty shitty for the planet too.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the global livestock industry contributes close to one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions – even more than the combined emissions of all cars, planes, trains, and ships. I recently spoke to a researcher in public health and nutrients who is also working for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the role meat consumption plays in climate change.
There are three main ways in which the meat industry is one of the biggest contributors to climate change:
- Cattle, through their manure, produces one-third of the world’s methane (which is 20 times as damaging as carbon dioxide when it comes to global warming). Basically, four members of a family each having a quarter-pound beef burger create as large a quantity of greenhouse gases as a 100km car journey. Matlab, hadd hai.
- A HUGE amount of the world’s forests have had to be cut down (and still being cut down) to make room for cattle to graze.
- Cattle need immense amounts of water to be sustained.
I mean, seriously. Immense amounts of water.
Let me help you put it into perspective: producing 1 kg of beef is estimated to require close to 14,000 liters of water and 7 to 10 kg of feed. In comparison, it takes approximately 1000 liters of water and just 2 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of chicken.
Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has stated that cutting meat consumption was “something one could consider” to help the planet. Initially, he suggested people should give up meat for one day a week before trying to make further cutbacks.
Because, like, if things continue the way they are, meat production and consumption is only going to increase. The world’s population is increasing every year as are people’s incomes – which means more and more people will be turning to meat-centered diets.
And more demand for meat means even a bigger burden on water, already a very scarce resource for us. This is simply not sustainable.
If a few years – or even months – ago, someone were to ask me how aware I thought people in Pakistan were about the importance of conserving resources or the role of individuals play in it, I would probably have had a rather negative view on it.
But, thanks to a Chief Justice who has made it somewhat of a life mission to ensure Pakistan has the resources to conserve water (whether his plan is realistic or not is a whole other debate), and that millions of Pakistanis would chip in financially to help with his plan (again, debatable how effective any of it is), one thing is clear – Pakistanis do somehow understand that every single one of us has a role to play in ensuring the country is using its resources in a sustainable way.
Understanding that all individuals have a role to play in conserving resources such as water is an enormously positive step forward for Pakistan but it is not enough.
It has been over 21 days now and I love how I feel so I am not going back to red meat just yet. I don’t know yet if I am ready to go full vegetarian or vegan. Moment of honesty, I am just not ready to rule out even chicken from my life. And I don’t even know if I am ready to permanently say goodbye to red meat for life. It’s a big decision to rule out burgers and steaks forever.
I’m going to try to reduce my intake by as much as possible. The health benefits plus the whole saving-the-planet thing kinda make it 100% worth it.
Give it a whirl. ESPECIALLY if you are someone like me who is probably too scared to make the whole commitment to go vegetarian or vegan and love meat too much.
Trust me, it is worth it.
For your health, for your wallet, for your country, and for your planet.
Cover image via Mawra Hocane/Instagram