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FORESIGHT IN FOOD CULTURE: PROMOTING GREEN ACTIONS IN BEEF PRODUCTION

Have you ever heard that forests are the lungs of our land? Do you agree with the Aboriginal Proverb that if you look after the land, the land will look after you? Environmental enthusiast Lakota was wise when he opined that a man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard, and lacks respect for humanity. And yes, nature holds the key to our aesthetic, emotional, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction. We have an undeniable mandate to take care of the Earth.


Unfortunately, humanity has been abusive to mother nature. In the pursuit of our diverse food cultures, we seem to have failed to realize that land is a community that should be treated with much love, ultimate care, and respect. Sad, right? Should we not change for the good of the future generation considering that humanity has a life sustenance mandate, beyond environmental conservation? Should we not place more emphasis on green actions in land use, while still nurturing our much-treasured food cultures?


Promoting green actions entails eliminating unnecessary and destructive practices so that the bold advocacy voices can stand out. Yes, green actions are about cultivating a green culture and creating innovative spaces for bold minds to register their influence. According to environmentalist Jennifer Nini, “Being green is more than just buying ‘eco’. It is an unshakable commitment to a sustainable lifestyle” while still meeting diverse needs. Green practices are about innovatively utilizing and cultivating contentment with what we have. It is all about doing what is right rather than what is easy. True! This is a call to go green with our food cultures.


What is food culture? Food culture entails the values, beliefs, attitudes, practices, assumptions, networks, and institutions associated with food production, processing, preservation, and consumption (The Wellness Essentials, 2020). To enable us to appreciate how food culture is impacting land use and how the global community can promote green practices, this article will explore beef production culture.


Cattle were first wild. The cattle ancestors, aurochs, were huge animals from the sub-continent of India. In the 19th century, rearing and domestication of aurochs spread into China, the Middle East, and eventually northern Africa and Europe. In the late 20th century, cattle production remained largely free range due to land availability. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, cattle not only provided beef meat but other by-products such as milk, skin, leather, and ghee. Today, beef animals are reared primarily for beef production, with beef accounting for about 25 billion pounds of meat each year.


Who is involved in promoting beef production culture? The players and promoters of beef production culture are diverse. The constituency membership of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) reflects this diversity. GRSB membership includes producers, processors, retailers, civil societies, national or regional roundtables, and allied industry initiatives (GRSB, 2020). It represents the interests of millions of people influencing various aspects of beef culture. However, these promoters of the beef value chain are faced with one monumental challenge: how to attain the fine balance between promoting a healthy beef production culture and promoting sustainability of the global beef value chain that is environmentally sound, socially responsible, and economically viable. This battle is not for the GRSB team alone. It is for us all. We must get to a point where we realize that desired and unshakable commitment to a sustainable lifestyle on Earth may never be a reality without amplifying altruism, commitment, and change of mind in land use. Beef lovers must be ready to negotiate their values and beliefs otherwise without change of mind, it is impossible to save the Earth.


What then are some negative ways that beef production culture is impacting the terrestrial environment? One of the major concerns is the growing carbon emission crisis. According to Garretsen (2021), beef farming is by far the biggest climate culprit since it releases a huge amount of carbon emissions, fuels deforestation, and contributes to biodiversity loss. Out of the 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions obtained from farming, the production of beef accounts for 41 percent. This is worrying considering that we are now consuming around 350 million tons (The World Count, 2021) of meat globally yet meat production continues to put immense pressure on the Earth’s ecosystem. Should we expect worse things by 2050 when global meat consumption is projected to reach 570 tons? I guess this might be the case considering that beef and buffalo meat is the third-largest category of meat consumed globally. The growth in beef consumption is a pointer that beef lovers may not relent that passion for beef any time soon.


Second, beef production has brought about increased deforestation, land degradation, and biodiversity loss. Research has shown that beef production is now one of the leading causes of deforestation. For example, the Daintree rainforest in Australia, the Amazon in Latin America, and Bwindi in Uganda. Brazil exports 30,000 tons of beef to the UK annually (Randall, 2021). With such a guaranteed market, Randall will tell you that local Brazilians deliberately set fires in the Amazon forest to clear more land for cattle farming and soy production for their feed, thus increasing deforestation. Of considerable concern is the fact that meat production is very demanding in terms of energy, water, and land resources (The Word Count, 2021) thus affecting biodiversity and contributing to the extinction of certain species. Should we not heed to Johan Rockstrom’s wisdom that biodiversity is a prerequisite to stable societies and that its wanton destruction is akin to setting fire to our lifeboat?

The third impact of beef production culture is its contribution to the global food crisis. Scientists have established that almost half of the world’s harvest is fed on animals. With 90 percent of the global soybean harvest fed to animals, only 10 percent is left for human consumption. Such a deficit exacerbates an already worsening food demand amidst a growing global population. Clearly, the time is ripe for change. Possibly the pertinent issue is this: are some of the largest beef producers and consumers such as the United States, China, European Union, and Brazil ready to lead the world in employing green practices in beef production culture?


While you flex your foresight muscles, here are some of my perspectives on how we can promote green actions and nurture a healthy beef production culture.


First, there is a need to promote a global mindset among diverse leaders who are involved with beef production, processing, retailing, civil societies, and governments. This is because leaders and influential persons in the beef value chain are the number one influencers and shapers of any culture. They do so through what they prioritize, embrace, communicate, resource, reward, and model. A global mindset promotes sustainable and profitable relationships with individuals, organizations, and governments across cultural, geographical, and economic boundaries. Such a mindset would also seek to establish and address cross-border problems impacting sustainable beef production and climatic change. Health and productive relationships arising from such a mindset become critical bridges to promoting green beef production practices while taking care of the cultural interests of beef consumers.


Second, employ a combination of technology and scientific research to sustainably meet the growing meat protein demand globally. The modern technologically engineered plant-based meat substitutes, lab-grown or “cultured” meat, and algae farming could just become the real future game-changer when it comes to the way communities have always produced and consumed meat. This could reduce the consumption of beef meat produced from traditional land farm production. However, the question of the taste of natural beef meat remains unresolved, and is thus a critical concern when it comes to lab-produced meat. This notwithstanding, scientists have projected that a 64 percent reduction in global greenhouse by 2050 will require a 90 percent decline in the current amount of beef consumption (Tridimas, 2021). I wonder if my fellow beef lovers do not consider this proposal to be asking too much. Anyway, while we reflect on the “how” of realizing such a monumental change, we must never forget that our ultimate goal is not only to reduce greenhouse gases or global warming but to improve the environment and quality of life.


The third is the promotion of a state incentivized holistic and environmentally sound farming approach among selected farmers. Such an approach would include state-supported and economically subsidized reduction of the number of animals reared for beef production. The state could lease land not under animal production and collaborate with selected farmers to grow crops of high economic value. Such incentives could be guided by legally binding agreements between the state and the farmer on the duration of support, value of compensation, and manner of transition that guarantees mutual benefit to both parties. Beneficiaries of such a model program could become advocates for adoption of a similar approach towards promotion of a sustainable beef production culture.

My fellow beef lovers, the facts are on the table. Today most of the beef production approaches have resulted in growing carbon emissions, declining natural resources and biodiversity, and a growing global food crisis. We may not claim that we love the Earth and then take steps to destroy it. We need to find a balance between our love for eating beef and our consumption culture, versus saving the one thing we all have in common – the Earth. While I welcome you to flex your foresight muscles on how we can realize this monumental task, I have three proposals. We need to promote a global mindset among leaders and influential individuals involved in beef value chain; use science and technology to produce alternative sources of beef protein; and promote state-sponsored holistic beef production models. We should not wait any longer. Climate change is real and is happening now. We must work collectively to stop it today.


References

Gerretsen, Isabelle (2021, June 1). “Why Your Stake Comes With a Side Order of Eco-Collapse.” https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.010621/


The Wellness Essentials (2020, December, 1). “What is Food Culture and How Does It Impact Health?” https://www.thewellessentials.com/blog/what-is-food-culture-and-what-does-it-have-to-do-with-our-health


Randali John (2021 July, 19). “There Should be no Room for Deforestations in British Plates.” Reuters Events, https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/there-should-be-no-room-deforestation-british-plates


Tridimas, Bea (2021, September 1). “Plant base treaty”: New campaign seeks to put climate-friendly diets at heart of global decarbonization efforts. BusinessGreen, https://www.businessgreen.com/news/4036481/activists-urge-governments-adopt-plant-based-treaty

© Anne Kyoya 2021

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