M-Eating Responsibly

By Stuart Lancaster and Ariana Crisafulli 2019-05-23 18:09:36

Should we reduce our children's meat consumption?

Up until last month I hadn't really considered the impact that eating too much meat had upon life or the Earth for that matter. Who doesn't love to indulge at Shake Shack and feast upon a burger after a long day at the office?! But I cannot deny that I am slowly waking up to the fact that we really don't need to eat meat on a daily basis. As parents we need to look to the future and prepare our children for whatever changes may occur and truthfully speaking the joy I get from eating meat is less than the guilt I have for worrying about the future of the planet and what I am leaving behind for my son. By exploring nutrition and carefully looking at my family's daily habits I have discovered that making small changes will not only benefit my son's body and future, but also that of his future planet.

This is not to say that I have over night become vegetarian or vegan, or that I look upon other meat eaters with disgust and steadfast judgment, but just that I want my family to become more flexible with what we eat. So, how did I come to this conclusion? It all boiled down to educating myself on alternative eating habits and misconceptions, and understanding the current impacts on the environment.

Environmental Impact

With a global population of 7.7 billion people, and a skeptical attitude toward plant-based diets, the worldwide demand for meat is becoming unsustainable. In China alone, the demand for meat has quadrupled within the last 30 years, and as of 2017 China consumed 74 million tonnes of meat - twice that of America. And the projected demand in 2020 is set to grow exponentially. But why is this global demand unsustainable? For example, why can't we just breed more cows to meet this demand? The reality is that the current overpopulation of cows is having massive environmental effects.

The gargantuan amount of water used to raise livestock is the first environmental hot potato. Believe it or not, livestock require 1700 gallons (6400 litres) of water to every one pound (450 grams) of beef, and to make one burger requires 650 gallons (2400 litres) of water.


The second hot potato is methane production from cows. With 1.3 billion flatulent cows on earth, the methane they produce is said to be a bigger cause of global warming than the CO2 emissions caused cars. This is because methane is 30 times more potent than CO2 as a heat trapping gas. A recent survey showed that 100kg of beef produces 105kg of greenhouse gases whereas an equal amount of tofu produces three and a half kg. Another consideration is the amount of land that is taken up by raising livestock. According to the Brazilian government, more than 60 percent of deforested land ends up as cattle pasture. This means that cow farming is not only responsible for producing methane but also eliminating the oxygen-releasing trees needed to help balance the scales of global warming.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that:
"In the United States, more than nine billion livestock are maintained to supply the animal protein consumed each year. This livestock population on average outweighs the US human population by about five times… At present, the US livestock population consumes more than seven times as much grain as is consumed directly by the entire American population. The amount of grains fed to US livestock is sufficient to feed about 840 million people who follow a plant-based diet." And according to the World Health Organisation more than three billion people are malnourished and this is arguably down to the fact that we are using the world's finite amount of land to raise beef for those that can afford it thus many are left without food. If we were to simply reduce our meat and dairy consumption, and the 450 million farms we have globally, by 75% we would have an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined. This land could then be used for growing legumes, seeds, vegetables and plant-based proteins.

Alternative Eating

To get a professional opinion on alternative eating habits I spoke with Dr Collin Yong from Shanghai United Family Hospital, and Dr Oliver Tang from Global HealthCare. They both explain that by reducing your daily intake of meat you will lower an incidence of obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as bad cholesterol such as Low Density Lipoprotein and experience an overall decrease in weight and BMI.

A common concern for parents is about whether a higher intake in vegetables can provide sufficient nutrition for their children, both Dr Yong and Dr Tang agree that it is important to make sure your family eats the right combination of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. If done improperly, children and adults alike could experience iron deficiency anemia and calcium deficiency but if done correctly predominately eating vegetables and vegetable proteins can provide all the protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and nutrition necessary for maintaining excellent health.

Parent Perspective

As an individual, reducing the amount of meat you eat after so many years of familial habits can be difficult enough without having to encourage your family to do the same! However, it is possible... I met with fellow parent, Stephanie Carez, who currently lives in Shanghai to discuss how she and her family have reduced the amount of meat they eat and also why.

Stephanie begins by telling me that it started after watching documentaries 'Food, Inc' , 'Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret', 'Before the Flood', and 'What the Health'. Like I, Stephanie felt she couldn't ignore the environmental impacts and as such decided to significantly reduce her daily intake of meat. However, Stephanie emphasises that she wants to give her family the choice on what they want to eat and not to force her opinions upon them. So, when her ten-year-old son recently came to her and told her that he had stopped eating meat at the school canteen she had mixed emotions. Just like the parents that Dr Yong and Dr Tang come across who are concerned about the impact a reduced daily meat intake has for their children, Stephanie was worried that her son would not get the nutrition he needs without meat in his school lunches.

“It’s difficult as a mother to feel very confident in removing all meat from your family’s diet. We have been accustomed to our daily meat and dairy routine plus consequently transforming our diets to plant-based diet is extremely challenging.”

Stephanie also faces the obstacle of constantly having to defend her choice on what she eats. She says that many people refuse to listen to new information about meat such as how it is raised, the health implications, or the environmental impact. Ignorance as they say is bliss. To help her friends to understand her perception, Stephanie hosted an extravagant meat-free dinner at her home with 12 people who were mainly beef eaters. She prepared an alternative Beef bourguignon using beetroot as a beef substitute and to everyone’s delight the dinner was quite a success.


At home, Stephanie mainly cooks dishes that include nutritious plant-based foods such as beans, rice, quinoa, and vegetables, and then the occasional free-range chicken Sunday dinner.

Eating a Reduced Meat Diet in Shanghai

In China, beef used to be considered the “millionaire’s meat” because it was only accessible to the privileged few. Nowadays, meat and beef are readily available and are seen as a sign of prosperity to the burgeoning middle class. Taking this into consideration, it’s really no surprise that you can find meat in nearly every Chinese dish.However, times are changing. In 2016, China passed regulations attempting to decrease the amount of meat that people consume with the goal of reducing meat consumption by 50% by 2030. China, unlike other countries, has foreseen not only the unsustainable impact of meat but also the health associated concerns like the increase in cancer, diabetes, and obesity.


Evidence of this change can be seen in UnTour Food Tours, launched by Chief Eating Officer Jamie Barys to cater to a reduced meat diet. Having lived in Shanghai for 11 years, Jamie is aware of the difficulties in avoiding meat in restaurants. Even when plant-based versions of dishes are requested, like mapo tofu or dry-fried green beans (gān biān sìjì dòu), often there will still be a slight presence of meat. Usually when you point this out to the waiting staff, they will dismiss it with a wave of their hand and say, “Oh that? It’s just flavouring.” However, after years of trial and error, and sending a lot of dishes back to the kitchen, Jamie came up with the perfect explanation to give to your waiter:

“I am allergic to meat, fish, and seafood. I understand that meat tastes good but eating meat may send me to the hospital. Please do not put any meat, fish or seafood into my dish and please do not season it with meat, fish or seafood including sauces or flavouring. Thanks!”

"我是一个对肉食、鱼和海鲜过敏的人。我知道它们吃起来非常美味, 但也许为了美味我将被送进医院。请不要在我的食物中放入任何鱼、肉或者海鲜, 也不要将它们一起烹调或使用任何相关调味品。谢谢!”

For veggie dining try out these simple sentences:


Wǒ chīsù de, bù chī roù huòzhě yú

I am a vegetarian, I do not eat meat or fish.


Zhège yǒu méi yǒu roù

Does this contain meat?


Zhège yǒu yú ma

Does this contain fish?