Saturday, April 25, 2020

Will the Coronavirus Make Meatless Monday and Plant Based Diets the Norm?

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News is emerging regularly about the challenges associated with meat production facilities around the world. For example, an investigation is currently underway in Cudahy, Wisconsin around coronavirus safety for workers at the Patrick Cudahy meat packing plant and many meat packing plants have closed due to outbreaks. Shoppers have reported shortages of meat in grocery stores. 

Will these problems lead to an increase in families opting more regularly for plant based meals and even adaptation to plant based diets? As I noted in this recent post, while there are certainly many, many tragedies associated with COVID-19, there are interesting sustainability trends that may emerge once we pass the worst of it. 

Certainly there is a growing interest in finding options to the industrial food system. Many of us are getting food delivered which makes it more likely that we are trying to tune in to local food options and food systems. In addition, there is greater interest in gardening and growing our own food. In the New York area, many people have left the city for the country--some of them for good. A close friend of mine, who never really gardened before, is building a greenhouse so she can be a bit more self reliant. I am sure some of you reading this are making very different food decisions today than you did pre-lockdown.

At this moment of time, meat is not only getting a bit harder to find, it is also very expensive for people who have lost their jobs. The unemployment rate is very high (as I am writing this the unemployment rate in the US is around 20%) and people do not have the funds for large quantities of meat. For them, it is not about the scarcity of meat, it is the expense. Healthy, plant based diets are far less expensive than most meat options and it makes sense for many of us to cut back on meat in order to save money.

As many of you reading this know, meat production is far harder on our planet than plant production. It uses more land, water, and energy than plant production. Meat production also is responsible for around 15% of the world's greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. 

If, as I suspect, meat consumption declines in the next few years, we will see concomitant environmental benefits such as improvement of waterways and greenhouse gas reduction. 

Many who are opting or will opt to eat more plant based meals are not necessarily embracing vegetarianism, veganism, or even broad-based sustainability ideals. Instead, they are reacting to availability and pricing. Meatless Monday may become more of a necessity than a statement. 

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