3 Sustainable meat and fish products that help the planet
BY Eva Humphries
1st Nov 2023 Environment
4 min read
Quitting meat is one of the best things you can do to reduce carbon emissions, but veganism isn't the only way. We explore the sustainable meat and fish options
In 1591 an unknown author with the initials AW published a cookbook titled A Book of Cookery Very Necessary for all Such as Delight Therin. Exclusively developed presumably for the cooks of the rich, this early recipe book provides instructions for working with one precious ingredient: meat.
With the British population at a mere 5 million and farming still widespread, sustainability was not yet on the agenda. Rather meat was regarded as a luxury item most strived to afford.
Fast forward a few hundred years, exponentially multiply the population of Britain, and meat is once again a topic of affordability.
This time, it’s the environmental cost of meat’s production that is in question.
Is eating meat bad for the environment?
A paper in the Journal of Science brought into focus just how damaging our current system of mass meat farming may be.
Scientists from the University of Oxford analysed some 38,700 farms in 119 countries, coming to the conclusion that intensive animal husbandry comes at a significant cost to the environment, risking our ability to feed not just future generations but also our future selves.
Of course, this isn’t exactly new, we only have to look at the fast food industry to realise that the quicker and cheaper it is, the higher the cost elsewhere.
"Intensive animal husbandry comes at a significant cost to the environment"
We’ve long been aware of the problems, but what exactly is our solution?
The available data from this particular paper made a convincing argument for plant-based living. In fact, the evidence was so strong, the very scientists working on it turned mostly vegan.
Their main message implies that avoiding beef and other meat products is the single biggest way to reduce our environmental impact.
Does a sustainable diet have to be plant-based?
A closer look at the figures confirms this very notion of intensive farming being “bad” but read a little further and it’s evident that not all forms of meat protein are environmentally costly.
This is reassuring since our current system isn’t set up for mass veganism and even if it was, culturally it may be a little difficult to let go.
So what are the options?
Instead of worrying, or simply brushing under the carpet, how much every mouthful of our food is destroying our planet, the more logical answer would be to turn to sustainable protein sources.
BANT registered nutritionist Eva Humphries looks at three sustainable protein sources that aren’t plant-based.
For an island nation, we are surprisingly bad at eating British fish and shellfish—emphasis on British, because we do still import a large proportion of seafood from foreign shores.
If we look at the data, our preference is for five species of fish and shellfish: salmon, cod, haddock, tuna and prawns.
Unfortunately, the more we rely on a small, select number of species, the more unsustainable their production becomes.
Luckily, there are much more sustainable, nutritionally superior alternatives, of which British trout is perhaps the most stellar example.
"For an island nation, we are surprisingly bad at eating British fish and shellfish"
Once reserved for fishing enthusiasts, this surprisingly delicious and sustainable fish is now widely available on supermarket shelves.
British freshwater trout only survive in clean, cold water and have an excellent feed conversion ratio. The feed conversion rate (FCR) is a measure of how eﬃciently a species can convert food for growth.
Trout have an FCR rate of approximately one, whereas, for comparison, cows have an FCR of six, meaning trout are pretty good at growing sustainably.
Nutritionally they contain superior levels of Omega 3 fats, a lot of protein, the hard-to-find nutrient selenium and many other vitamins and minerals.
Here is a fact that might surprise you: eating venison actually helps the environment.
Deer and muntjac (a type of small deer originally introduced from China) love to nibble on new shoots, trees and shrubs.
This shouldn’t be too big of a deal, except that the UK’s deer population is estimated to be at its highest level for 1000 years. Thanks to their vast populations, they are damaging woodland habitats which in turn is impacting other woodland-dwelling species.
"By eating venison we are preserving trees and promoting their carbon-sequestering nature"
Trees are important for removing carbon from the atmosphere, so by eating venison we are preserving trees and promoting their carbon-sequestering nature.
Nutritionally, venison is a great source of protein, zinc and vitamin B, plus it’s very low in saturated fat.
If you ever need a good-for-you, sustainable red meat, then venison could be a good choice.
From Roman times to the mid-20th century, oysters were an aﬀordable and very popular protein source. Then we overdid it, natural stocks became very low and regulations had to be put into place.
Their stocks are now recovering, which is good news considering their sustainability.
Oysters grow relatively quickly, filtering the water and cleaning up their surrounding environment as they do so.
Nutritionally, they are by far the best source of the mineral zinc, a hard-to-find nutrient that many of us are low on.
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