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April 9, 2019 | by  | in Liquid Knowledge | [ssba]

Liquid Knowledge – Animal farts and performative veganism

This week, my column doubles as an apology to my flatmate Isobel. When she swore off animal products “for the planet”, I could barely contain my sardonic banter. After four months of what I termed ‘performative veganism’, I came back from a holiday to find her cooking chicken. She had violently swung from one end of the anti-animal-product-spectrum to the other, nonchalantly handling the most grim of all raw meats. This revelation spun my ego absolutely out of control. I was right! Told you so! I really was a bit of a smug dick about it all.


As it turns out, Isy isn’t the first to make an attempt at an animal-free diet. Reports indicate that 26% of millennials consider themselves vegetarian or vegan. There’s also been an upswing in the number of people opting for ‘flexitarian’ eating habits: a meat-less, not meatless diet. Flexitarianism preaches a conscious reduction in the frequency that one consumes meat or dairy, and the supplementation of beans, nuts and seeds in their place.


Not just reserved for celery juice-drinking pseudo-influencers on Instagram, flexitarianism is being lauded by publications like ^The Lancet^ medical journal as the “single biggest way” to reduce one’s environmental impact. The recommended reduction in red meat consumption, in order to avoid catastrophic environmental harm, varies from 50 to 90% depending on the source. The line of argument is that, eventually, less consumption of animal products equals less supply, less livestock and farmland, and less animal farts burning through the ozone.


Agriculture’s environmental impact is mostly owed to greenhouse gases (GHGs). GHGs induce climate change by trapping heat in the atmosphere, most of which is absorbed by the ocean—cue rising sea levels. Additionally, long-lived trapped gases push the temperature upwards. The quicker the temperature rises, the less time the world has to adapt to the changing climate. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is the OG GHG and is produced by the burning of coal, oil, and gas, or changes to the use of land. The other main players are Nitrous Oxide (N2O) and Methane. Biogenic Methane (the most common) is produced by sheep, cattle, and other ruminants. It brews in their digestive system and, uh, comes out their butts. N2O is produced by livestock urine on soil, and some fertilisers. One tonne of methane is equivalent to 25 tonnes of CO2, creating a strong burst of warming over a shorter period. Alarmingly, one tonne of N2O equates to a humble 298 tonnes of CO2, and stays in the atmosphere longer than both other gases. Basically, N2O > Methane > CO2, but they’re all bad news.


GHGs are an issue close to home, because New Zealand has the highest global rate of emissions per capita. Of these, nearly half are CO2, the other near-half methane, and about ten percent N2O. Agricultural emissions make up almost half of our total, compared to an average of only 11% in all other developed countries. With more than three quarters of all land mammals now livestock or humans, and 60% of agriculture’s GHG emissions credited to meat and dairy, the rationale for consciously reducing our animal product intake is undeniable.


Average yearly consumption of meat in the developed world is 100 kg a year—the equivalent of chowing down on Ardie Savea, one-fifth of a grand piano, or just over 37,000 ping pong balls.

If you ate no meat twice a week, your yearly consumption would decrease nearly 30% and your grocery bills would probably fall by even more. A couple of meat-free days and oat milk in your flat whites could mean that we have a bit longer before we’re all commuting to uni in a dinghy.


It turns out that Isy had been saving the planet all along. I’ve promised to stop making fun of her eating habits, except for the whole daily apple-cider-vinegar-in-warm-water thing (actual psychopath behaviour). Now I sheepishly limit my own meat and dairy intake too. Why not opt for the veggie roti chanai at your next BYO? perfectly paired with a crisp rosé and a side dish of CO2 chat.



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