WWF UK Blog  

Meat the past, present and future?


Eating less meat is not a new idea and nor are meat free days. In fact it has only been in the last 50 odd years that we have started eating so much meat. We now eat about twice the amount of meat we did in the early 60s. We have embraced chicken, eating 400% more today than in 1961.

Pig pen, Hubei province, China © Brent Stirton/ Getty Images/WWF UKPig pen, Hubei province, China © Brent Stirton/ Getty Images/WWF UK

This has all happened at the same time as we have learnt to industrialise livestock farming. It is no coincidence that the animals that have been most industrialised, chicken and pork, are the ones we eat most of and see the greatest increase in consumption.

It is the extensively reared livestock like lamb and beef which we still see as luxuries and do eat to excess. Still whenever you suggest that people eat less meat you are met with disbelief by people and the industry. I won’t mention the times I have been attacked by farming bodies as being anti-meat for suggesting we should perhaps eat a little less.

The simple facts

Nobody in the UK is protein deficient as demonstrated in LiveWell. We do not need to eat as much protein as we do to have a healthy diet. There are other sources of protein which are varied and tasty beside meat. These include beans, nuts and fish (certified of course).  Eating a varied diet and not too much meat is the healthiest way to eat. The current way of eating is new. It has huge consequences for our health and for that of the planet. Meat production is the single biggest driver of biodiversity loss. Our current diets are a modern invention. This is not how our grandparents ate.

Back to the start

If we go all the way back to the dawn of man, it is clear people were originally designed to eat plants not meat. We have long intestines which are found only in herbivorous animals. A naturally carnivorous animal has a far shorter intestine than human beings.  We are one of very few species which have switched our diets. One of the others is the panda which went from meat to mainly plants.

Since the evolution of society and religion humans have fasted. If you look at the history of man people have always eaten diets that are predominantly plant based, unless you were a noble.  Meat was often a luxury and not always available. When people had it they ate nose to tail and developed preserving techniques. It was a treat.

A young girl at her family farm, Kenya © Brent Stirton/Getty Images/WWF UKA young girl at her family farm, Kenya © Brent Stirton/Getty Images/WWF UK

Avoiding meat and having meat free days is a key part of the UK’s history. For centuries we did not eat meat for almost half the year. During these periods we were fasting for various religious reasons. We used not to give up chocolate for lent but meat. Religions saw giving up meat as a key component of faith. We used to avoid all meats on Fridays and Wednesday.

Many religions also advocate avoiding certain meats such as pork or beef.  Christians still talk about eating fish on Fridays.

Taste the future

We have not always eaten this much meat; we don’t need to eat this much. It has a huge impact on the environment. It is possible to moderate our meat consumption and have a varied, tasty diet. We can choose to support livestock farmers by eating less and better. We are not natural meat eaters. On World Food Day think about food, think about what we eat, think about switching to a varied, planet friendly diet that benefits small farmers and conservers biodiversity.

Measure your food footprint

Remember to add #PLEDGETOLIVEWELL and maybe even @LiveWellFood to your posts on Twitter, Facebook or any other social platform you prefer on World Food Day.

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