A growing number of Irish people are shunning meat and not just for Good Friday

Published by Chaitanya Brady on

23rd March 2016

Ireland’s Catholics will be avoiding meat this Friday. But a growing cohort of people are moving away from a high meat diet because of its impact on the planet through the high emissions it generates. In this piece Chaitanya Brady speaks to a number of Irish people who have moved away from meat. 

For every 400 kilograms of beef produced per hectare each year in Ireland, we could be growing 35,000 kilograms of potatoes, or 10,000 kilograms of wheat, according to M.A in Environmental Science James O’Donovan and CSO crop yield statistics.

“Sixty-six per cent of the land area of Ireland is used for agriculture. A certain proportion of that is tillage, but two thirds of tillage are grown for animal consumption,” said O’Donovan (47).

O’Donovan, who is the Editor of the Vegan Sustainability Magazine and is on the management committee of the Cork Environmental Forum, believes animal agriculture is the biggest detriment to the environment.

“I became vegetarian 25 years ago. I read this book, ‘Diet for A New America’ by John Robbins, it was detailing, among other things, what proportion of grain harvest in the US was going to feed animals.” O’Donovan made the change to veganism four years ago.

He makes the point that although we obviously need food production, meat production, especially beef, is very land, water and grain intensive.

O’Donovan suggests cutting down our meat intake in order to sustain human consumption, which is continuously rising. The UN predicts the population will reach nine billion by 2050.

“Some people don’t eat meat on a Monday, people are vegan until 6pm – until their main evening meal. A lot of the meat and dairy replacements are becoming tastier. In Ireland we have a rapidly increasing market for meat and dairy alternatives.”

Irish businesses such as Dee’s Wholefoods, Linda McCartney and the Happy Pear run by the Flynn twins have cropped up in recent years to cater for a growing demand.

The Environmental Protection Agency released figures that show the agriculture sector contributed to 33 per cent of Ireland’s greenhouse gases.

Niall Tohak, a former Politics and German student in NUI Galway, has changed his diet significantly in the last few months. He began looking into public health when he returned from Erasmus in Berlin, he describes himself as a reformed sugar and processed food addict.

This led him to explore waste surrounding the food industry, especially that of freshwater and agriculture. He said: “Our planet is covered in water, but only 2.5 per cent of that is freshwater, and much less is accessible to humans. We are burning through our fresh water supplies”.

He recommends a documentary called Cowspiracy, its executive director is Leonardo Di Caprio, who’s well known for his philanthropy towards environmental causes.

The documentary highlights the excessive amounts of freshwater animals agriculture needs, quoting that more than half of freshwater in California is used for agricultural industry. It also focuses on the harmful effects on the environment and natural habitats, including deforestation and extremely high greenhouse gas emissions.

IMAGE: Niall Tohak delivers pizzas to his friends, he usually sticks to brown rice and quinoa CREDIT Chai Brady

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Chaitanya Brady

Chaitanya Brady is a writer for Green News. He is currently studying for a BA in Journalism in DCU.