Veganisim  - A Butcher’s Perspective

Opinion Piece

Despite being a butcher, I’m comfortable with conflicting views on vegetarianism and veganism. I appreciate that people should be free to make their own choices on how they want to live their lives and the food they consume. I have been working in butchery since the age of 16 , when I made the decision to leave school and work with my father. For the last 26 years my livelihood has relied on the sale of meat. This may suggest I’m biased towards eating meat but I’m also realistic and open-minded.

Growing up with a mother from Tipperary and a father from Meath I was introduced to the value of food from an early age and I enjoyed the typical Irish diet of a protein-source, spuds and two vegetables. We rarely ate out and my parents passed me on the skills they possessed to cook for myself. Cooking is a life skill I’m thankful for and a skill that unfortunately a lot of people seem to struggle with or don’t make a priority to learn. As my love and understanding of food has developed, I have created a rich and varied diet for myself and my family that includes fish, vegetables, nuts, seeds and dairy. I firmly believe it’s not all about the meat but about balance.  

But how does avoiding meat, or indeed embracing meat, really affect us, if at all?

I really believe we as humans were born to eat meat. On one side, we wouldn’t have become the physically-strong, verbal, intelligent humans we are today, if it wasn’t for the availability of meat in the wild and all the natural benefits that came from it such as supporting bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood development. As a new study in Nature points out, not only has processing and eating meat always come naturally to humans, it’s entirely possible that without an early diet that included generous amounts of animal protein, we wouldn’t be the humans we are today.

This fact isn’t a justification for eating meat. More a point that we, as omnivores, have relied on meat for thousands of years and it is a food source the human body have evolved to process. As it stands there is no profound nutritional reason to stop eating meat.

There is however an argument that is popular in veganism and vegetarianism - the negative contribution food production has on global warming.  

I agree that as a nation we need to improve on our contribution to the global warming situation. I firmly believe that we should take action individually and not wait for our government or local councils to do it for us. However, I do find it hard to correlate giving up meat and bettering the world.

For instance, do we really need to eat strawberries flown in from the other side of the world in December?

In addition, whilst the global meat industry has been bashed in recent months the Irish meat industry cannot be compared with our international counterparts and is very different in reality.

We don’t participate in clearing any forestry to facilitate land for animal grazing. We have the highest level of regulation and traceability in Europe. Our animals are primarily fed a natural grass-based diet.

As a country that has historically relied on agriculture the majority of Irish farmers, and certainly those we have had experience with have great respect for animals and are grateful for the goodness they give us.

Many people continue to think avoiding meat as infrequently as once a week will make a significant difference to the climate. But according to one recent US based study, even if we eliminated all animal protein from their diets, they would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by only 2.6 percent.

Certain industries and ‘plant-based’ companies have seen the consumer’s growing appreciation for eco-consciousness, as an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon and bash meat eaters. As it stands, the approach from such companies at the minute is to use emotional campaigns to turn people against eating meat. Take “Veganuary” for instance.

I see first hand in the shop, young kids talking with their parents and referencing advertising campaigns as the reason for new-found vegetarian or vegan beliefs. They don’t understand that there is potential danger in such diets and a lack of consideration for where these plant-based foods are coming from. Of course it is possible to survive on a plant based diet. However for children and young adults who are on a vegan diet they must be extremely careful to ensure they get the correct levels of protein and calories to aid in their development.

Of course some people will always passionately disagree with the idea of animals of being reared entirely for food or commercial purposes and that is perfectly understandable. However, more education and research is needed into the real effects of veganism on the human body and the environment.

In the meantime it’s worth considering that there are easy ways to help the environment that you can start straight away!

  1. Eat a seasonal, balanced diet of local foods that includes all the macronutrients and micronutrients the human body needs to function.
  2. Today ⅓ of the food we buy is wasted. Much of the food waste generated in our homes could be avoided through mindful buying, storing, cooking, freezing and the reusing of food.
  3. Drive less, walk or cycle more or consider a hybrid or electric car
  4. Recycle or even better re-use as much as possible - coffee cups, clothing, shopping bags, cotton wool, kitchen roll.
  5. Plant more trees
  6. Grow vegetables at home
  7. Be conscious of how home energy contributes and add solar panels or turn to green energy where possible and use energy and heating timers
  8. Cancel your junk mail or go paperless where possible
  9. Wash your clothes less where possible
  10. Use less chemical cleaning products

As a company, we are eco-conscious and are working on lowering our footprint every day. So far, some of our initiatives include:

  1. Changing all our lights across our stores and our production units  to low energy LED lights.
  2. Phasing out all single use plastics from the company by end of this year. All our packaging will be compostable or recyclable where possible.
  3. Encourage our customers to bring their own shopping bags and food containers.
  4. We are a member of the Origin Green programme, an initiative created by Bord Bia that is pioneering Ireland’s approach to sustainable food production

Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear your thoughts or comments!

Barry Kerrigan