My childhood in Malaga, like that of previous generations, ran around boats of espetos, bowls of ajoblanco, porras from Antequera, gazpachuelo and olives from Alorena. Food, all of them, that were born from the sea and the orchard. But, in just 30 years, the diet in my land has undergone a growing shift towards the intensive consumption of meat, leaving behind an important part of the local gastronomic heritage. In fact, many of our children are probably more familiar with chicken nuggets of any brand than with pepper salad, or more used to industrial pastries than to oil muffin.
Understanding what happened and how we got here is complex. Part of the responsibility resides in the intense working hours, which are especially prevalent in the poorest neighborhoods, where the rates of childhood obesity are double those of the wealthy neighborhoods. And here two factors come together: economic precariousness and lack of free time for care or preparation of lunches and dinners. These circumstances force, on too many occasions, to prioritize price over quality or variety, and leave the door open, more and more, to ‘fast food’ products or cheap trays of meat from macro-farms, which fill the guts quickly, satisfying and economically. Of course, aggressive advertising also helps fuel this trend.
In any case, this shift in the daily diet that takes us away from legumes, fruits, vegetables, cereals and olive oil is not exclusive to my province. Neither from Andalusia. It is being produced throughout the country: 70% of the population has already abandoned the Mediterranean Diet and, according to the FAO, Spain is the EU state with the highest consumption of meat per inhabitant.
Indeed, meat consumption in Spain is already higher than one kilo per week per person, which is well above the range of 200 to 500 grams recommended by nutrition agencies, the medical community, and international organizations responsible for health policies. public health. And this excessive consumption of meat has led to an increase in cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and even some types of cancer. Likewise, deaths related to the current intake of fats, salt and sugars are higher than those derived from tobacco, accounting for one in every five deaths in the world.
So far, what I have just said is more or less recognized in the public debate. However, the vertiginous increase in meat consumption is also a risk for the planet due to the greenhouse gas emissions it generates. And this is much less known. For this reason, organizations such as the WHO and FAO, as well as the bulk of the scientific community, insist that we must move towards eating habits that are both healthy and sustainable. The UN considers that the consumption of meat “is one of the most destructive ways in which we leave a footprint on the planet” and that, if cows formed a country, they would be the third in greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, worldwide, livestock has already surpassed cars and represents 14.5% of these emissions. The consumption of water associated with the production and generation of waste derived from the activity is also a problem of the first order on our planet, and even more so in countries like ours, where the eco-social crisis is linked to phenomena such as desertification.
On the other hand, and according to the United Nations Environment Program, the great global demand for animal protein and the over-exploitation of livestock, combined with global warming, constitute an explosive cocktail of zoonotic pandemics, caused by diseases transmissible from animals to humans. , as has been the case with COVID-19. Moreover, scientific studies have been warning for years about the relationship between the form of industrial agricultural production and the cause of the emerging epidemics in recent decades, abounding in the idea that the model based on macro-farms is deeply unsustainable. But it is not just about the risk of emerging diseases: they can become terrible time bombs due to the mutation and expansion capacity of viruses in a crowded environment of hosts, such as that embodied in large production centers. The abuse of antibiotics and, therefore, the possibility of becoming sources of resistance to them, jeopardizes their effectiveness for both animals and humans.
It is fair to say, however, that not all agricultural production models have the same impact. There are more sustainable systems, such as extensive livestock. A change in our consumption habits, which reduces the amount of meat eaten and prioritizes extensive production, would not only improve our health and that of the planet, but would also create thousands of jobs in this sector. In addition, it would provide other indirect benefits, such as the prevention of fires through grazing, the maintenance of biodiversity or the recovery of different soils and ecosystems.
I am a realist and I know that, faced with this scientific evidence, we face adversaries of very different conditions, ranging from climate change deniers to large economic agents that benefit from the current model. However, these positions cannot make us abandon our responsibility to insist on what science teaches us. In the recent prospective report ‘Spain 2050’ it is already assumed that, to face the eco-social challenges, we will have to change not only the way we produce, but also the way we consume goods and services. In particular, the report focuses on reducing our intake of food of animal origin, on the basis already mentioned that reducing meat consumption will help save thousands of lives each year in Spain.
What we are at stake is life itself. In recent weeks we have seen how in regions of Canada and the US temperatures of 50ºC have been exceeded, while IPCC reports continue to warn of the very serious consequences of global warming. Many of us want to combat these trends because, among other things, we want our daughters to be able to live in a country and a territory that is not a desert incompatible with life; at least with life as we know it today.
In this dimension that we address here, Spain plays with a certain advantage. It would be enough to recover the predominance of the Mediterranean Diet, which is recognized worldwide as the most sustainable and healthy, also moderating the consumption of meat and prioritizing quality over quantity, and rebalancing our diet with other foods such as fresh products or legumes. . It may seem like a humble measure, but we will be helping to build a better future for all.