It’s been found that the pet food of cats and dogs makes up 25 to 30 percent of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the United States. Chew on that.
Nowadays, people tend to view their pets less as pets and more as part of the family, so they buy higher quality meat-based products that humans themselves can eat. Dogs and cats, however, are actually able to digest a lot more than humans can and it’s not very sustainable for them to munch on premium products when they would be absolutely fine with less sophisticated food. While they share our homes, they don't need to share our dinner plates.
Also, from an animal rights standpoint, how ethical is it to make our domestic pets as happy as possible whilst turning a blind eye to the millions of other animals being slaughtered to fill their food bowls?
UCLA geography professor Gregory Okin calculated that the meat-based pet food consumed by cats and dogs generates about 64 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, which is equivalent to a year's worth of driving 13.6 million cars. This carbon pawprint is significant and, sadly, generally overlooked.
Could it be that pets making a switch to a vegan diet would be better for the environment? Guess so. But then what about their health?
The company Wild Earth think they have found a sustainable solution. Using biotechnology, they are able to turn a type of fungus called koji (found in Japanese foods like soy sauce and miso) into a high quality source of protein. Making this protein into pet food puts less strain on the environment and is free from animal cruelty; is it a no-brainer?
There is a lack of published research on the idea right now, but there is a lot of evidence suggesting that veganism for pets can work, and it’s something that companies like Wild Earth are certainly willing to explore. If plant-based food has been so successful for humans, why not for animals?
Experts suggest that dogs can more accurately be classified as omnivores than carnivores, so in theory they can also survive on a vegetarian or vegan diet. However, just as with humans, it has to be carefully designed to ensure that they still get all of the right vitamins and nutrients.
In 2002, the collie Bramble lived to the ripe old age of 27 (189 dog years) on a purely vegan diet of rice, lentils, and vegetables, and held the Guinness World Record for oldest living dog at the time. Bramble’s story shows that dogs can not only survive on a vegan diet, they can thrive.
Cats on the other hand, are obligate carnivores, and meat is an essential part of their diet, although they can eat plant-based foods too. In response to this information, Ryan Bethencourt and his team at Wild Earth are working on a lab-grown cat food made from cultured mouse cells, which would both give cats the meat protein they need and reduce their environmental impact.
This approach has provoked worry in some corners though, with concerns that "the cat food is Bethencourt’s Trojan horse to introduce lab-grown meat for humans." The idea of "clean meat" is indeed being looked into as a sustainable food source, as growing meat directly from the animal cells skips the long process of factory farming and reduces the negative environmental impact.
Bethencourt says, "If I was asked: 'In 10 years’ time are we going have clean meat?' Without a doubt. In five years’ time, I’m hopeful."
For humans and pets alike, food sustainability is a serious issue that needs to be tackled and the introduction of a little plant-based kibble looks like a step in the right direction. Feeding your pets some more veggie alternatives won't do them, or the planet, any harm and in fact— it's more likely to do a whole load of good.
Uttar Pradesh in India is not a great place to be a woman. Quite the opposite in fact. The northern Indian state has high levels of violence against women, who are often failed by the police and the legal system leaving them waiting a long time for a fair trial and justice.
Tired of the poor justice system, Sampat Pal Devi founded the Gulabi Gang, an organisation that aims to challenge the deeply patriarchal structure of her society.
As a group that now boasts 400,000 women who wear pink saris and carry large sticks to beat offenders, they have not gone unnoticed and are making a mark in Northern India.
"Yes, we fight rapists with lathis [sticks]. If we find the culprit, we thrash him black and blue so he dare not attempt to do wrong to any girl or a woman again."
However, Gulabi Gang isn’t just about beating local abusers. The group’s main focus is on empowering women, promoting equality and challenging stereotypes. This is carried out through several practices including training women in self-defence, persuading families to educate girls and putting an end to child marriage.
The Gulabi Gang also hope to empower women by providing them with resources that'll help them gain economic freedom. They organise events with companies where women can be hired. They currently collaborate with a local business, which employs over 500 women and allows them to earn up to 150 rupees a day.
Considering only 27 percent of Indian women are in the labour force Gulabi Gang's work is quite impressive.
Pal definitely knows what she wants for the women in India and is not afraid to be considered a controversial figure in order to get it, saying:
“Society will only change if we eliminate the inherently subordinate role given to women. This is a revolution that has to come from us. Therefore, besides having established self-help and legal counselling groups to address individual cases, we focus on programmes to achieve their emancipation... If we women don't save ourselves, nobody will”
The Gulabi Gang are really taking women’s rights and empowerment into their own hands and are considered a force to be reckoned with across the globe. Although Sampat Pal Devi’s direct approach might be seen as controversial in some circles, there is no denying she is making an impact.
After graduating from Gaza’s Islamic University with an engineering degree, Majd Mashharawi looked around in her city to see high unemployment rates, war-torn infrastructure and blockades limiting the supply of resources and materials.
In 2016, Mashharawi and her friend Rawan Abddllaht decided to do something about the state their city was in and invented a new form of brick made from rubble and ash in order to, quite literally, rebuild the city from its ashes.
Costing just half the price of traditional bricks, Mashharawi’s replaces sand and aggregate with her new formula called "GreenCake" to produce a lightweight brick from materials that would have otherwise been wasted.
Not only materials needed to produce GreenCake are easy to find and cheap: GreenCake also has a positive environmental impact. The innovative brick uses ash from local restaurants and factories that would have otherwise been dumped into a landfill, posing environmental threats.
Mashharawi and Rawan’s efforts did not go unnoticed and the pair won first place in a local startup incubator, supplying them with funds to create their first 1,000 bricks in 2016.
Mashharawi didn't stop with building Gaza from its ashes but also decided to work on saving it from darkness. She and her team are expanding into renewable energy technologies for people in Gaza. The city only receives three to six hours of electricity a day, which affects it's residents severely in many ways, from the quality of life to education, from socialising to economic growth.
But According to Mashhrawi, "[T]he region has a resource that can be harnessed: an average of 320 days of sunshine a year, making solar energy an ideal source of electricity production."
The SunBox, one of her projects, aims to address this: it is a solar energy technology that generates 1,000 watts of electricity, enough to power four lamps, two laptops, two phones, an internet router and a small refrigerator for a full day.
Mashharawi made it to Fast Company's Most Creative People in Business 2018 list, and rightfully so. She is finding sustainable and realistic solutions to her local communities problems that can be extended to many other places in the world, and she's doing all of this while sticking it to the patriarchy.
Three years from now, you may be able to buy a very special brand of meat in your neighbourhood supermarket. In that, no defenceless animal was raised and slaughtered to produce it.
Yes, thanks to the efforts of some brilliant minds in biotechnology and meat production, cultured meat is finally on its way towards becoming a commercial reality.
Mosa Meat, a Dutch startup, recently announced that it had raised 7.5 million euros to commercialise cultured meat — meat produced from animal cells rather than slaughter — and bring it to the market by 2021. In this initiative, the startup collaborated with Bell Food Group, a Swiss meat producer, and M Ventures, a venture capital firm.
“Replacing traditional meat production with cultured meat would have a huge impact on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, it would free up a large number of resources that are now used for meat production worldwide and will completely disrupt an old-established and currently unsustainable industry,” said Alexander Hoffmann, principal at M Ventures. “We’re incredibly excited to be leading this investment into Mosa Meat, a company at the unique cross-section of food and biotech.”
It’s clear that the global livestock will not be able to sustain the exploding world population for long, which is why the idea of cultured meat could be a lifesaver in the coming decades. Professor Mark Post, a pathfinder in cultured meat production and the co-founder of Mosa Meat, realized this early when he began trying to create the world’s first cultured beef burger, succeeding in 2013.
This marks yet another giant stride in finding sustainable alternatives in terms of food consumption. Here’s hoping that more such brainwaves follow soon.