What if I told you, your fork is more harmful to the planet than the key to your car…? That, according to a study, one hamburger uses enough fossil fuel to drive a small car 32 kilometres. And if that isn’t alarming enough, "more than a third of all raw materials and fossil fuels consumed in the United States are used in animal production".
With the population expected to reach over 9 billion by 2050, we now, more than ever, need to begin implementing changes to the way we consume our food, starting with meat. Reasons like CO2 emissions and animal rights play a rationale; however, we need to look at the bigger picture - what will happen to human existence when the entire ecosystem is flushed?! That is, what’s even left that isn’t already contaminated with plastic pollution?
Over the next four blog posts, I am going to cover some ground work on some important topics: the contaminated sea; meats and methane; veganism and the environment; and, how the slightest changes at the grocery store can make the greatest global differences.
In order to avoid eating red meats, people commonly transition over to a pescatarian diet - consuming only seafood. Seafood, including crab, lobster, fish and prawns, have become increasingly popular dinner dishes. Yet for years, seafood was a delicacy in many cultures, and, for the most part, only consumed by those who resided along shorelines.
According to a recent article, the amount of fish and shellfish harvested annually from the wild, is about 8 times greater than the amount produced by domestic aquaculture farms. And, according to another study, one of the main causes of global biodiversity loss are related to farmed fish. But because we don’t have transparent access into the deep blue sea, it's no wonder we do not understand the scarcity of what it means to be consuming our marine life at such high rates. Nor do we understand the ramifications we encounter when ingesting contaminated seafood, not only on ourselves, but for the rest of the Earth as well.
Let’s start off by quickly covering the importance of coral reefs, because if you haven’t heard by now, they are in extreme danger, and if they’re in trouble, then we are too. Coral reefs are often referred to as the tropical rainforests of the sea, making up 70% of the world’s breathable oxygen. When you think of coral reefs, it’s easy to confuse its nature for a plant because they root themselves on the ocean floor; however, coral reefs are more relatable to that of animals, because they are in fact living. Coral reefs, unlike plants, do not make up their own food, they actually hunt their food with their tiny tentacles. Coral also controls how much CO2 is in the ocean. If we were to remove the carbon dioxide from the water, levels of calcium carbonate would rise and marine life could begin rebuilding their skeletons/shells thus resulting in a well functioning ecosystem. However, according to a study, nearly 50% of CO2 emissions produced by the burning of fossil fuels has been absorbed by the oceans, turning the sea into an acidic bath. This has resulted in the bleaching of coral reefs and the extinction of many marine creatures (not to mention the plastic disaster also soaking in the sea).
Now, you might be wondering, what does this have to do with the way we consumer our seafood? Fish, and other sea creatures, have a mutualistic relationship with coral reefs - meaning, they both depend on each other for existence. To put simply - coral reefs die, fish die, and ultimately, so might we as a species (I know, the truth is so dramatic!).
I’m of the belief that eating wildlife in general should be reintroduced as a luxury, as, with over 8 billion people on the planet, "our capacity to kill greatly exceeds the capacity of the natural systems to replenish". In a Q&A with Sylvia Earle, an oceanographer with experience in this area, she points out that, like wild birds, wild fish have an importance in our ecosystem that outweighs their value as food. According to a study, your plate of sushi wiped out 145 marine creatures, including, sharks, seahorses, and green turtles, that died simply because they weren’t the catch of the day; therefore, they’re tossed back into the ocean, half alive, unable to regain strength, before helplessly being eaten by birds and other sea creatures. And, if that still doesn’t urge you to moderate your seafood consumption, according to another article, 50% of prawns in America are purchased from Thailand, reportedly from intense slave labour factories - check the video here.
Assuming these statistic did nothing but made you crave shrimp, that’s fine, I understand. So, then let’s talk about how the seafood you consume has been bathing in decades of plastic pollution and associated chemicals. According to scientists at Ghent University in Belgium, "shellfish lovers are eating up to 11,000 plastic fragments in their seafood each year". Studies have suggested that, ingesting carcinogenic plastics, like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) impact our lungs, which can lead to asthma. Not to mention other harsh plastics hogging up the sea, like bisphenol-A, (BPA) estrogen mimicking compound, commonly found in food and drink containers, has the ability to not only modify female fertility, but contribute vastly to things like, heart disease and brain alterations - more about that here. Consuming plastic comes with major concerns for all species involved. Now, let's think about the 2050 prediction, where there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Organic seafood? I don’t believe that’s a possibility at this point. More major health concerns? Probably. Years of neglecting the way we dispose of our garbage and single-use plastics is severely impacting the quality of any food derived from the oceans, including our favourite fish and shellfish, along with the oceans themselves. It’s pretty disturbing when you think about it - you wouldn’t run yourself a bath, dump your weekly garbage in the tub and then get in, so why should our marine life be forced to live in such conditions?
It is safe to conclude that seafood of any kind doesn’t just harm our marine and wildlife, but it harms us too. Studies have shown that parasitic worms have shown up in our sushi, along with in raw anchovies, creating internal bleeding and digestive complications. And according to a recent Chinese article, mussels are full of microplastics because they typically hang out on the floors of the ocean. If you choose to continue consuming seafood at an alarming rate, you may be harming yourself and the planet more than you believed to be possible.
The lesson here is we need to consider our food choices and how they impact the broader ecosystem, as trading one food source for another often has implications beyond that which may be obvious on the surface. Next week, we’ll take a look at meat consumption and learn a bit about how the animal agriculture industry is playing a major role in some of the environmental problems we are facing today.