Up Front 7/18

According to the Vegan Society, evidence of people choosing to avoid animal products can be traced back over 2,000 years. As early as 500 BC, Greek philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras, is said to have promoted ‘benevolence among all species’ whilst following a vegetarian diet. However, it wasn’t until 1944 that Vegan Society founder, Donald Watson, gathered together a few like-minded individuals to discuss non-dairy vegetarian diets and formed The Vegan Society. These days it appears to be one of the most popular environmentally-initiated decisions taken by people who wish to contribute positively towards their planet. A recent survey by comparethemarket.com suggests that more than 3.5 million British people are now identifying as vegan. Although these figures are disputed by The Vegan Society as being a bit high, there is no doubt that many people are changing dietary habits because of concerns about the damage to the environment caused by meat farming. According to Gresham College professor, Carolyn Roberts, ‘from farm to fork and beyond, food accounts for about 20% of all our greenhouse emissions’ and she points to estimates suggesting that if all of our meat eaters switched to a vegan diet, it would roughly halve total greenhouse gas emissions associated with food. However, changing the world’s diet overnight is a little unlikely, but as Monkton Wyld’s Simon Fairlie, author of Meat: A Benign Extravagance, recently suggested, taxing meat as a luxury item may have a positive impact. His suggestion, published in an article in the Guardian last year, included an exemption for small livestock farms and options that might help reverse the drastic decline in the number of small family farms. Science has a role to play also, with recent research showing that the addition of seaweed to livestock feed could reduce emissions from cattle dramatically, by as much as 90%. But new research suggesting that root vegetables, such as sugar beet—a popular ingredient in cattle feed—could be the key to making stronger and greener buildings, is truly intriguing. The suggestion is that concrete mixtures can be strengthened and made more environmentally friendly by adding ‘nano platelets’ extracted from the fibres of root vegetables such as sugar beet.  Lead researcher, Professor Mohamed Saafi, from Lancaster University, believes root vegetable concrete could go a long way to reducing construction carbon emissions. This may have the makings of a virtuous circle—or at least a virtuous ampersand.