It’s clear cut that diet change is needed if we are to address climate change. Animal agriculture is the main source of methane and nitrous oxide in Ireland, which form 26% and 12% respectively of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases. Methane is much more potent than CO2 over a shorter life cycle, so reducing methane will have a greater impact in the immediate future.

I started becoming vegetarian by signing up to Meat Free Mondays, a body championed by Beatle Paul McCartney and his family.  The issue of replacing protein was not a problem and eating fruit and vegetables is manifestly good for your health. Following an An Taisce screening of Cowspiracy in Tailors Hall, it became clear to me that one day a week was not enough. The film portrayed industrial-scale food production leading to deforestation, huge carbon equivalent emissions and dreadful impact on animals. So I moved to two days a week. Temptation would arise if I was going to events on my chosen days where food was supplied. It was sometimes difficult to pass up the juicy cocktail sausages etc. on offer!

As news of climate change intensified since 2015 and the Paris Agreement, I found that I needed to do more and went vegetarian for 3 days a week. In mentioning this to my visiting Australian cousin, he noted that I was a part-time vegetarian! This stung a bit and encouraged me to move to 4 and 5 days a week without meat or fish. It was not too hard and you get to like the non-meat choices on offer. I like fish and its good for you, but we are over fishing the seas, so seafood cannot be seen as different from land-based animal products. Fish farms are getting a bad press and they are not the answer. Therefore, I look on meat and fish as treats to enjoy at the weekend, including an unhealthy Irish fry!

An Taisce Green Schools got into a bit of flak from farming bodies in 2019 over their advice to school students to consider reducing meat intake to help the planet. They were told that it was not their place to be preaching to young people about their eating habits. 

However, veganism is taking over from vegetarianism as the new norm of avoiding all animal products, as it includes dairy output and eggs. I was getting a bit frustrated at the constant linking of dairy with meat in relation to cutting down on greenhouse gasses. It seems dairy cows have higher carbon footprints than beef cattle. This was leading to a sense of disillusionment as I love dairy products. I could not see life worth living without cream, milk, eggs and cheese!

Having being bombarded by a vegan campaign in January this year – Veganuary – I have set myself a target of going vegan on Mondays – so my diet clock has gone full circle! It means vegan butter, plant-based spreads and soya milk inter alia. I now make my shortcake with vegan butter, so I’ll have a sweet after meals. Most sweets and chocolate are based on dairy and eggs. In going vegan, you need to check the ingredients list of what you eat, such as cereals, as milk/honey etc. could be lurking in there!

However, I could not be fully vegan. If we all reduce our meat and dairy consumption it will go a long way in getting our GHG’s down. More male calves will not be pulled from their mothers for veal, because they will not be able to produce milk. It will mean fewer animals leading poor lives for our benefit. So let’s help the health of our planet and our own health by a more vegetarian and vegan diet.

Eric Conroy