ENCOURAGING people to skip meat two or three times a week could be the single most effective action in helping safeguard the planet, experts in climate change have suggested.

A major UN report warned efforts to curb greenhouse gas-emissions will fall “significantly short” unless there is a major shift in land use and agricultural policy and suggest a reduction in meat consumption could be the single most effective way to achieve this.

Evidence shows it takes almost 20 times less land to feed someone on a plant-based (vegan) diet than it does to feed a meat-eater while 10 pounds of grain are needed to produce just one pound of meat.

The number of dedicated vegan and vegetarian restaurants has surged, particularly in Glasgow, which was been named the vegan capital of the UK  in recent years.

HeraldScotland:

As well as dedicated restaurants such as the 13th Note and The Hug and Pint, larger chains and big name brands including celebrity favourite The Ivy, which recently opened in Glasgow, are also keen to enjoy a slice of the action - and revenue - with dedicated vegan and vegetarian menus.

Meanwhile the cafe at Kelvingrove Art Gallery has introduced ‘meat free’ Mondays to tie in with the Linda McCartney retrospective and say the response so far has been “encouraging.” More schools and nurseries across the city are also catering for vegan and vegetarian diets.

Read more: Greggs profits soar helped by launch of vegan sausage roll 

Dr Harriet Ingle, of the Centre for Climate Justice, based at Glasgow Caledonian University, believes the environmental and health benefits are now superseding animal welfare as the main driver for eating less meat. 

She said: “There’s is definitely an appetite for it.

“The news articles that are going out now regarding plant based diets are now more about the ecological and health benefits rather than the animal welfare angle.

“We can’t continue consuming the way we are. Meat is a really energy inefficient protein. 

“It takes a lot of energy and a lot of water resources to produce a small amount of beef. A huge amount of the world’s surface is used for meat production which is leading to problems with soil erosion and pollution.

“The amount of grain that is fed to livestock in the US is enough to feed about 840million people.”

HeraldScotland:

However Dr Ingle would stop short of calling for government policy change that "tells people what to eat."

She said: “I don’t think that’s ethical. But I think the public should be made fully aware of the environmental impact and the impact on their own health - for example the carbon footprint of individual foods. That could drive different consumer behaviour.”

David Disbrowe, General Manager of the 13th Note one of Glasgow’s first vegetarian restaurant says the majority of his diners are actually meat eaters, which could indicate more of the public is eating less meat.

He said: “We would like to think that some customers eat with us just because we serve good quality fresh pub food never-mind if its vegetarian.

“We have seen a spike in food sales over the last four  years however, so there is definitely a veggie tourism aspect with Glasgow having so much choice, we hear accents and languages from all over Europe.

“I think Glasgow overall is doing better than most cities for supplying good vegetarian/vegan options and more and more food businesses are providing better menu options, so the market is strong here.”

HeraldScotland:

But how realistic is it to persuade a family on a tight budget to eat less animal products when processed meat is so cheap and readily available?

Read more: Agenda: The future is bright for plant based firms 

Barbara Bolton, legal counsel for Go Vegan Scotland, said: “The price of animal products is artificially reduced by the huge subsidies paid to prop up these industries. 

“The most sustainable and healthy foods ought to be the most accessible and affordable, which is another reason the Scottish Government should redirect subsides to support plant-based production. 

“We don’t currently teach school children about plant-based food preparation. We should and we should offer free community classes to people of all ages, to help people learn what can be done with plant foods as well as about the health and other benefits.”

Jill Muirie, Public Health Programme Manager at Glasgow Centre for Population Health says work is underway in Glasgow to improve access to affordable, healthy food.

She said: "There is a large body of evidence that reducing our red and processed meat intake is good for health and also good for the environment, through reductions in greenhouse emissions relating to meat production.

"However, there are some parts of the city where it can be harder to buy fresh fruit and vegetables at affordable prices, which could make a shift away from meat, and particularly cheaper and processed meat products, more difficult than in other areas. 

"Work is underway, as part a city strategy on food that will be developed over the coming year, to improve access to affordable, nutritious food for everyone in Glasgow.  There are already limits on the processed red meat that is provided in Scotland’s school meals."

Donna Swabey, a speech therapist from Dennistoun in Glasgow’s East End, has been vegan for 25 years.
She said: “It’s great that the report is encouraging veggie and vegan diets. Hopefully more people will see how appetising vegan food is."