Malta is experiencing “a quantum leap” in the number of people shifting towards vegetarian or vegan lifestyles, with many nudged into action by environmental concerns, according to long-time lobbyist Darryl Grima.
An environmentalist for 30 years, he says that animal rights, health concerns and environmental awareness prompted by climate change are the main reasons why people of all ages are opting to gradually change their diet.
Health is the most common concern among older people, he adds.
As for the reasons why people keep eating meat, he pins this down to culture and lack of awareness in a society that subsidizes the meat industry and does not put enough emphasis on its “true cost” – financial, environmental and health.
His impressions emerge from a survey carried out by vegan website Veggy Malta, following the annual Meat Free Week 2021 held last October.
Results indicated that those who were already vegan were driven by animal rights, while people who still ate meat were considering the shift for environmental and health reasons.
In the name of education, Grima, the coordinator of Veggy Malta, has been asking the authorities to allow him to film what goes on in the abattoir but, for several years now, he keeps being refused entry, he said.
As a vegan and an animal rights activist, he believes that people deserve to know what really happens there.
“As the saying goes, if the walls of the abattoir were made of glass, no one would eat meat,” he says, stressing there was an overall lack of education about the “real cost” of eating meat.
People perceive meat as cheaper because the industry is heavily subsidized, he says.
But, in reality, there is a huge cost in terms of carbon footprint, aside from the animal cruelty and health aspects.
Livestock is responsible for around 15 per cent of world emissions and, according to researchers at the University of Oxford, adopting a vegan diet is one of the best ways to reduce your impact on the environment.
If the walls of the abattoir were made of glass, no one would eat meat
The average carnivore diet produces 7.2kg of carbon dioxide a day, almost twice as much as a vegan diet.
“There is a lack of education. We find health warnings on cigarette packets but there should also be the same warning on a sausage since processed meat can be very harmful to health, ”Grima notes.
Reducing meat from the diet would also target issues such as high levels of cholesterol and diabetes, he says.
Grima’s environmental activism goes back to his teenage years when, at the age of 18, he decided to become vegetarian. Back then he had been thinking of making the lifestyle change, then something happened that gave him the final push.
“I was active in Ambassadors and we were campaigning against hunting of quail and turtledove. Hunters would often retaliate by saying: ‘Yet you eat chicken. What’s the difference between a chicken and a quail? ‘
“That was when I became vegetarian. So, one could say I have the hunters to thank for my veganism today. ”
Over the years, Grima shifted further to being a vegan.
“I believe in the reducetarian principle. People can reduce their consumption of meat slowly and at their own pace. You don’t have to stop cold beetroot, “he laughs adding:” I don’t use the term ‘cold turkey’. “
By taking things slowly, people can adapt the lifestyle shift to their needs, gradually replacing meat-based products with other options and taking their time getting familiar with new ingredients and recipes.
As more people are opting to change their lifestyle, it is now also up to the governments and the EU to take the matter seriously by, for example, ending the subsidies to the meat industry and investing in cellular agriculture, he argues.
Earlier this month, the European Commission approved a request to start a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) calling to switch the subsidies given to the meat industry to plant-based alternatives and cultivated meat.
The ‘End the Slaughter Age’ initiative is locally supported by Veggy Malta, Animal Liberation Malta and Real Animal Rights.
It seeks to collect a million signatures across the EU. Malta needs to collect a minimum threshold of 4,230 signatures. For more information about the initiative, visit https://europa.eu/citizens-initiative/_en.
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