Meat, rice, earth and CO2

Publish date 17-03-2022

by Sandro Calvani

Fifty years of researching the right food 

In the early 1970s, Giorgio Nebbia and Fr. Bartolomeo Sorge, also influenced by Aurelio Peccei, were among the major inspirers of the short ecological turning point of the Church, expressed in various international conferences and consultations of the United Nations. In that pioneering climate, in 1985, a document Against hunger, changes your life, which I had written with some friends of various Italian ecclesial expressions, especially those then called "Third World", of solidarity, missionary groups and institutes, he reiterated the centrality of our consumption and lifestyles in global justice. That 46-page document contained several proposals for a more sober lifestyle, including food choices, a transition to a sustainable and inclusive economy, and analyzed ways to conserve the environment, water, energy sources and enough food. for all humanity. We started from an analysis of the causes of hunger in the world: these were the years of the most serious post-war famine, that in Ethiopia.

In 1987 the concept of sustainable development became the central message of the Brundtland Report to the United Nations. In 1991 Giorgio Nebbia presented the main connotations of sustainability in his book Sustainable Development and in his conclusions he insisted precisely on the need to change lifestyles. But the issue of food consumption, the most everyday theme of lifestyles, remained low-key for over fifty years. All my friends, both politicians and academics, are unanimous in reminding me that "the question of taste at lunch and dinner is too divisive". Even today the dialogue between carnivores, omnivores, paleotarians, pollotarians, pescatarians, flexitarians, fruitarians, vegetarians, vegans, kosher, halal and dozens of other food preferences is difficult and almost non-existent.

The roughly 2 billion middle-class Asians in 2021 will increase to around 3.5 billion by 2030. As relatively affluent consumers they will influence global food consumption trends related to health, sustainability and technological innovation.

Asian countries have a long history of diets rich in vegetables and low in meat.

Asia Pacific currently accounts for 92% of the world market for meat substitutes, due to the strong demand for tofu in the region. India tops the world rankings for the highest rate of vegetarians representing 38% of the country's population. And across the region, over a third of all consumers eat low-meat or completely meat-free diets. Vegetarians in Asia have been eating soy products as a source of protein for centuries, which has laid a good foundation for the acceptance of soy-based meat alternatives and other new protein products in the region.

In global terms, however, vegetarians currently make up a relatively small percentage of the population, with only 4% of consumers identifying as "vegan" and 6.4% as "vegetarian". On the other hand, people looking to diversify their diets with more plant-based options without following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet - the so-called flexitarians or meat reducers - make up a much larger group, accounting for 42% of consumers globally in 2020. One reason cited by flexitarians is a growing awareness of the environmental impact of land conversion to agriculture, with its related deforestation and biodiversity loss. Our World in Data estimates that adopting a plant-based diet could reduce agricultural land use by 75%.

Sandro Calvani
NP Dicembre 2021

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