Issue: March 2020, Our food – a risk? – Sustainability in nutrition and agriculture
Giving up is not hard to do
Editorial by Jan Peter Schemmel, CEO, Oeko-Institut
No meat? On a trek in 1996 in the company of vegans and vegetarians I noticed: it’s actually OK. And I didn’t even find it particularly difficult. Perhaps because pasta, pancakes and a pizza from the camping stove were particularly delicious. But perhaps also because I didn’t immediately become a strict vegetarian but have continued to eat fish and seafood from time to time.
That’s what I am still doing. As a result, I frequently notice how sensitively or defensively some people react when I say that I don’t eat meat. However, it is clear that we must urgently reduce our consumption of animal products. Our meat-eating habits overburden the planet through excessive land consumption, monocultures, the use of fertilisers and pesticides for feed production, the methane emissions of livestock farming and the impacts on groundwater, coastal waters, biodiversity and the climate.
At first glance one might think that it should be easy to bring about the necessary agricultural transformation. After all, agriculture does not just cause environmental and climate-related problems but is also directly affected by them; one has only to think of the drought and harvest losses of the summer of 2018. But unfortunately it is not that simple, because state subsidies continue to encourage a focus on industrial and environmentally harmful production methods. Organic agriculture in Germany is advancing only very slowly and by comparison with the European pioneers it is still at a surprisingly low level. According to Eurostat, Austria led the way in 2018, with 24.1 percent of its farmland being organically managed. Estonia and Sweden, with figures of 20.6 percent and 20.3 percent respectively, were not far behind, while in Germany the figure was a mere 7.3 percent.
At the same time, we consumers have a part to play. It is true that in Germany people are increasingly avoiding animal products, but the shift is too small and is happening too slowly. In India, for instance, around 40 percent of the population are vegetarian, while in Germany the proportion of vegetarians is in single figures. I am convinced that we could all adopt more sustainable eating habits without finding it a burden or a sacrifice. Just give it a try, learn to appreciate it and perhaps stick with it. Incidentally, the Oeko-Institut has already taken an important step in this direction: in our canteens in Freiburg and Darmstadt and in our internal and external catering at all our sites we deliberately avoid all meat. And we know we can always look forward to really delicious food!
Jan Peter Schemmel