Are you feeling gut wrenchingly guilty after watching Netflix’s Seaspiracy? Created by the same team responsible for Cowspirarcy, the 2014 eco-film that helped usher in veganism as en vogue, Seaspiracy holds a shocking mirror to the impact our fishing industry is having on the environment. Your favourite California roll is probably looking less appetising, and rightly so. The film has pushed many to consider changing their diet, from removing fish to going fully vegan in the aim of saving the planet and reversing the impact of overfishing. Is guilt making you consider the same dietary changes?
You would not be alone in going plant based; there are currently approximately 600,000 vegans in the UK and the plant-based food industry is projected to be worth $24.3 billion globally by 2026. Adopting a plant-based diet has never been more widely accessible in the UK, but does it really give you the higher moral ground? Around 60 million people are employed in the fishing industry worldwide, with the industry responsible for 25% of GDP in island countries such as Iceland. The impact of boycotting the fishing industry globally would be disastrous, and a decision which comes from being privileged enough to say no to food.
Reducing our consumption of animal products is still vitally important despite the slightly more nuanced issues surrounding the industry that Seaspiracy decided to leave on the cutting room floor. Going fully plant based can reduce an individual’s carbon footprint by 73%, a staggering number that universally aiming for could result in a significant overall decrease in carbon emissions from food production. Adopting a fully vegan lifestyle is not the only way to make a difference though, and for some it is neither a realistic nor healthy goal to set.
For example, some nutrients can only be absorbed through animal products, most importantly of which is B-12. Deficiency in B-12 can lead to anaemia and impact daily life by causing fatigue. More shockingly, studies show that eating disorders, especially anorexia nervosa, are twice as likely to coexist with a vegetarian diet. For this reason, numerous treatment programmes ban vegan diets during the early stages of recovery as they can mask disordered eating. As somebody who once cried in a therapy session because I was forced to admit eggs may not actually be evil, as a pro-vegan documentary led me to believe, I know that a plant-based lifestyle is not universally healthy. However, we can still make sustainable and responsible decisions about the food we eat whilst also putting our health first.
As Professor Maggie Gill highlights, “how you buy your food” is a question we should all be more engaged with. For example, buying locally grown vegetables from farmers markets can often be cheaper than buying from larger supermarkets, and allows us to support local farmers and reduces food miles. Shopping seasonally also mitigates the use of artificially sustained hothouses, unnecessary transportation, and irresponsible irrigation of crops. If you choose, or need, to consume animal products, then supporting sustainable and responsible farming should be an aim. The Good Fish Guide is a brilliant resource to help you buy and cook sustainable fish, such as anchovies and bass, and is an easy step to a more sustainable diet.
By engaging with where our food comes from and understanding the environmental impact each meal costs our planet, we can hopefully become less wasteful. The Love Food Hate Waste app is an easy tool to help combat food waste in your own home and suggests simple ways to use your leftover food that do not include throwing them in the bin. Even if you decided to still consume meat and dairy products on a daily basis, respecting your food enough to not waste it is a positive right step forward.
Films like Seaspiracy can often be blind to the many factors holding us back from switching to a fully plant-based lifestyle, and harshly deliver an agenda that can make us feel guilty for putting our health first. Of course, we should all strive to make more sustainable choices with our diet, but we should also aim to be as kind to ourselves about those choices as we want to be to the planet.
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