Think before you eat for all of our sakes
By eating less meat, particularly that of the red variety, we would be reducing the risk of disease, cutting our water footprint and helping tackle climate change
How much meat a Hongkonger typically eats in a year depends on the study at hand. Some contend we each consume more than anywhere else in Asia, others say more than Europeans, Australians and Americans. But they all agree that the amount is more than is healthy, both for our bodies and the environment. By eating less, we would be reducing the risk of disease, cutting our water footprint and helping tackle climate change.
The latest study, led by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and published in the Journal of Hydrology, found each person in Hong Kong on average eats 102.7 kilograms of meat a year, more than Europeans and North Americans. That may seem hard to swallow given we also rank at or near the top of global seafood lists. But as any casual observer quickly learns from the restaurants to be found on most streets, our city loves its food and cannot seem to get enough, both in quantity and variety. In the rush for a tasty meal, there is little concern about what impact that may have on ourselves and the world.
It may therefore come as a shock to learn from the study that to produce the beef, pork and chicken we each eat requires 4,401 litres of water a day, on top of the average 326 litres taken from taps. If we instead followed national guidelines set by the Chinese Nutrition Society, which recommends 27.4kg per year as being the healthy annual meat intake for an adult, water use would drop by 40 per cent. Agriculture is highly water intensive and a particular problem for Hong Kong is that about 90 per cent of our food is imported, mostly from the mainland, which is increasingly prone to drought brought on by climate change. Matters are made worse by meat production and methane gas from animals’ manure being among the main contributors to rising temperatures.
Excessive meat intake has been linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other health disorders. Red meat is the most harmful to the environment, with cattle requiring more grain and land than other animals. But we do not have to become vegetarian or vegan; instead we should think before we eat and strive for a more sustainable diet.