Mankind’s appetite has long marked the history of Earth. The planet’s colonisation by the homo sapiens largely resulted in the extinction of many large mammals: mammoths no longer roam the European plains as they used to. From simple hunter-gatherers, humans progressively adopted a more sedentary lifestyle through agriculture and livestock rearing. The rapid progress of the last couple of centuries has been fueled by the intense exploitation of oil and coal, which has not spared our food systems. Agriculture production has been multiplied thanks to the creation of improved seeds, fertilisation, pesticides and mechanisation.
Livestock has had to follow this acceleration, sustained by our appetite from protein. Chickens outnumber humans 3 to 1, and there are about 2.5 billion cattle, sheep and pigs. The industrialisation of agriculture and livestock rearing has given an impulse to the vegetarian and vegan movements. While the abstinence of meat consumption is not new, the case for it has only gotten stronger.
In environmental terms, meat production is nothing short of a slow motion disaster: greenhouse gas emissions, impact of growing grain to feed livestock (much of the amazon forest is lost this way), water and air pollution, and the inevitable rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria. On top of this the cruelty and life conditions that the animals are subjected is not only heart breaking, but also quite unappetizing. I’d rather not eat a chicken that has lived around 40 days on the size of an A4 sheet of paper in its own filth.
One of the answers comes from the sea. In this fascinating blogpost by Diana Fleischman, she lays out the ethical case for eating mussels and oysters, even if you are vegan. They have a very simple nervous system but no brain, no ability to change any behavior in response to stimuli. Also, they are likely to be one of the least harmful ways to grow food. Even agriculture is responsible for much destruction of nature and displacement of wildlife. Mussels and oysters production are very environmentally friendly. They are farmed and do not displace or harm other sentient animals, they even filter out excess nitrogen (largely produced by agriculture) and do not require antibiotics. Finally, I would add that they are an excellent source of nutrition, with a lot of protein, iron, omega 3 and vitamin B12 (which address the most common vegetarian vitamin deficiencies).
So if you were not quite sure how to go about making your diet more sustainable, you might just be in the perfect country. We are, after all, in the land of the mussels.