Animal protein in our diet and Doughnut Economics

Choices for the 21st century

– concept for a discussion –

Let’s start with my convictions, after all, they also determine the context of this concept … they are the frameworks for “my” objectivism.

People are omnivores. This means that our entire system is designed to receive and digest both plant-based food and animal products. (Whereas a high proportion of animal products in our diet is such recent in history that it is negligible. Or to put it this way: a bit animal protein is part of it. A bit!)

In terms of the environment, a great deal of emphasis is often placed on the impact that livestock farming has on nature. Of course, by all means. It is regularly used as an argument to move people towards more plant-based food, vegetarianism or veganism. But: If you respect nature, you also accept that animal products should be included in our food package in limited quantities. If you respect nature, you do not dismiss the immense impact of clearing rainforests to fulfill all the need for plant-based food on our planet.

You should certainly not forget forestry itself in this context. Contemporary forests – with a few exceptions – are basically nothing but fields with trees instead of wheat or something else. And then bear in mind that it has been long and widely proven that monoculture plants just like pigs in a closed stable are bored and unhappy!

We certainly need to make other choices. Then let it be smart choices. And not replace one wrong pattern with another one.
Smart choices based on regenerative design – one of the paths within Doughnut Economics.

Back in time

Just a little bit back in history, and also fairly simplified. So you can certainly add anything to this.

Pigs and chickens – just omnivorous as we are – served for a long time primarily for recycling our kitchen waste: A very smart way to waste nothing and also to create refined products to enrich our diet.

Sheep (sometimes goats) were mainly kept for two reasons: for the wool (nice to be able to get warmly dressed in a colder climate or to use for blankets and insulation). And they were kept in pot stables in certain regions in order to have manure for otherwise poor soil. For both we found other (not always smarter) solutions.

Geese supplied – apart from eggs – mainly down for blankets and later also for clothing.

Milk and dairy products (both from the cow, the sheep, the goat) were basically, it seems, more a by-product of work animals needed for the fieldwork and logistics. That, too, has clearly changed.

Where are we standing right now?

In the meantime, mega-stables have been introduced all over the world, for cattle, pigs, chickens, turkeys, sheep, goats, rabbits, fish, mussels, mink, and many more species.

The wealthy afford a “rich” diet: with immense impact from both livestock farming and the feed that is required for that, as well as from luxury vegetable food that must be available throughout the year. They want everything all the time, with production now following the changing seasons around the earth in order to be able to meet those expectations. Products from their own living environment are no longer sufficient: sometimes the more exotic, the better, it seems.
With quite some impact on nature all over the planet. And the social impact because regional products become unaffordable and unreachable for the local population.

And: the advertising world ensures that everyone, who cannot yet afford this lifestyle, does feel the need to be able to. For the welfare of the planet: not smart! From a social point of view: they are no less entitled to it than we are (who – high time! – should bound in a bit).

The dream image for the future

We can feed everyone on this planet with a varied diet (plant-based food with some animal proteins) – with respect for regional differences (Eskimos always lived differently than untouched tribes in the Amazonas) – with respect for, preservation and good care for nature.

A whole mouth full. Sounds nicely theoretical. And luckily, we already have a practical translation!

Restructuring of agriculture

Research at Wageningen University has shown that 7-21g of pure animal protein is achievable in everyone’s diet in a form that organises less impact on the planet than a full vegetarian diet. It is essential here that some returns to “old” patterns:

  • pigs and chickens are return to food industry waste,
  • ruminants are kept on (lean) soils that are not suitable for other forms of agriculture,

therefore animal protein is produced without having to produce large-scale feed.

This also has an important relationship with food waste. At home in your own kitchen – you are in control! And maybe people actually need the psychological moment of felt scarcity, to bind in.

Two other strange behaviors are more important in this context: destruction of good food either because of suspected deviations or because of price retention. What an arrogant thought pattern, basically! Immediately, heavy penalties and taxes should be imposed on this! A task that the government should tackle, soon.

What is not mentioned, but is striking: all “luxury” animal species seem to have no room in this concept. Large-scale production of rabbits, turkeys etc. is not included. This led to the thought: Is it really necessary that so many different animal species are kept for our needs? What is actually useful in this, what less and how can we make smart choices, in the medium run?

Down from geese is hardly used anymore.

In any case, ducks have an extremely unnatural life in livestock farming, namely no access to (swimming) water. Is it necessary to have duck products in our diet?

Goat products seem to offer an alternative for people with lactose allergies. A2A2 milk (the old composition of cow’s milk) does that, too.
This refers to another special phenomenon, which we also see in vegetable nutrition: species and varieties have grown so far in the last +/- 50 years that our body has more and more difficulties to recognise it as “healthy”. Allergic to fruit? Give the old varieties a try, and you will spontaneously have fewer or no more problems with it!

Is rabbit meat needed in our diet?
Do we have to have pangasius?

Do we need to blame anybody?

Let me be clear: my questions are not meant to blame those who are currently working on the production! They are just as much part of all developments as we all together in the past 50-100 years (in which excessive luxury in the broad became a habit). Only if change is chosen, it will become much more direct to them than all of us together. And we must pay attention to that, together! Working, together, on solutions. We can NOT just want cheap products, leaving the producers with no space to innovate and restructure. We all have to take our share.

In the livestock industry you see (fortunately) that developments such as a Better Life Quality Mark (in The Netherlands) and Organic Production are increasingly having an impact on the entire sector. Very nice! And there are also many (small-scale) regional initiatives that do not allow themselves the luxury of a specific label, but, based on mutual trust – including the customer – they work on low-impact or even regenerative systems.

Protein transition, biodiversity, other raw materials

In pathways which focus on protein transition, people are currently looking for opportunities of artificial cultivation of proteins (both, vegetable and animal protein). Questions here are

  • do reliable products arise?
  • what is the impact on our body with (long-term) consumption?
  • what is the result for the environment?

We see a similar search pattern for arable farming. Large fields with monocultures lead to a scaling of the landscape. Permacultures, food foresting, organic farming, urban agriculture are under development, working on (at least) three important pillars: increasing biodiversity, more small-scale, less negative and more positive (regenerative) impact on nature.

In addition, you should, of course, not forget that agriculture does much more than work for our food supplies:

Many farmers are already maintaining nature in their surroundings. Many products such as cotton are used for clothing and very different products.
There is very little nature where humans not yet had any influence on. If you include all indirect influences, there is no more nature on which humans have had no impact.

The intention to “give back to nature” therefore evokes suggestions (to me) that simply cannot be fulfilled. Without wanting to expand on the Oostvaardersplassen (a nature park in The Netherlands), it seems to me that mention it is a sufficient already.
It is about understanding us –humans – again, as part of nature. And so to design our living environment according to patterns that fit in a natural environment with diversity, regeneratively. Regional as well as global.

Steps for the next 5 to 15 years

Fundamental social changes are needed as a basis for any (positive) development.

  • Politics should not serve for preservation of the lobby and its commerce, but the people and a good, responsible life they need.
    Politicians who don’t understand the urgency have no longer a place in society.
    Students from all over the world show that they are done with that protectionist thing. Let us – adults – be mature enough and take responsibility for it. I think it’s cool that we teach children about the environment. And they actually take what they have learned seriously.
  • There are two sides in the solution:
    • Local, regional, small-scale, from initiatives
    • Global collaboration

And I do not mean what is happening now: together at the table, sec to protect one’s own interests.
I mean: together in action to create clear frameworks, clearly taking into account what makes sense socially and scientifically. By the way, in my opinion, science has two sides: scientific research along academic lines and ancient wisdom like in all peoples, who have not completely forgotten their roots, have been handed down … in words, song lines, rituals etc.

Kate Raworth’s Doughnut provides a fantastic framework for this. provides insights at the national level.
The means to create frameworks are there. Now the will to change is needed, especially at the political level. After all, “even” CEOs sent a joint letter to the climate conference in Poland that they expect more from politicians!
As far as I am concerned, we add all unnecessary environmental pollution caused by traveling to and holding these conferences to their personal environmental depth. Videoconferencing is a great tool, these days.

Back to the theme!

As long as money is still the means of exchange in our economy (ignoring much factual value), it will be necessary to identify the financial resources that make a transition for agriculture possible.
Agricultural subsidy for maintaining large-scale agriculture with immense environmental impact is out.
Environmental subsidy for the transition (innovation, diversification, reduction and restructuring) is (should be) in place.

Prices for animal products will rise to what the production actually costs. Environmental subsidy for transition could also be given through a kind of food stamp on (more) sustainable products. This way it is prevented that income levels determine the composition of everyone’s diet in a dramatic way.

With a ban on marketing sec to increase consumption and allowing marketing that supports people to make smarter choices, you will achieve both: more awareness and, most likely, unlock huge budgets that can be used to increase sustainability so that there are actually more products which really deserve a smart story.

Charges on sugars, etc., such as in England, make sense; if these funds are also used for sustainable restructuring of the underlying sector.
Waiting for each other is no longer an option.

Companies and organisations are already taking the first steps.

The main question now is: how can we scale up at a good pace? Without waving away or shifting the responsibility that we all have?

The questions are: Who is participating? What is slowing you down?
And perhaps also: how do we get control out of the hands of those who do not steer for the necessary changes?