by Janine Erasmus
The City of Cape Town has launched a campaign to encourage people to eat less meat – at least once a week – for the sake of the environment and the welfare of humans and farm animals.
Cape Town executive mayor Dan Plato made the official announcement at the end of July 2010.
The Meat-free Day initiative puts Cape Town at the forefront of other African cities in this regard, as it is the first on the continent to officially throw its weight behind the cause. There is only a handful of other cities in the world that have taken the step, among them Ghent in Belgium.
Capetonians are asked to put aside their carnivorous tastes for at least one day every week, which can be of their own choosing. On this day they’ll eat only vegetables, fruit, legumes, grains and other non-meat foods such as soya and eggs.
Cape Town was recently named as South Africa’s unhealthiest major city, with the highest numbers of heavy drinkers, smokers and overweight people, as well as the lowest level of physical activity.
According to a survey released earlier in 2010 by wellness and financial services company Discovery Holdings, Johannesburg is the country’s healthiest city. Discovery Vitality, working with the Sport Science Institute of South Africa, conducted the research.
Despite these motivating factors, however, South Africans’ well-known love of red meat, especially on the braai, or barbeque, may pose an initial stumbling block.
Meat-free Day is backed by the city’s Health Portfolio Committee, the members of which were unanimous in their support.
Committee chair James Vos said they would leave it up to residents to choose the most convenient day to go meat-free. “”We need people to eat more healthily and then there are also environmental benefits.”
Harming the planet
The UK-based Compassion in World Farming organisation is driving the campaign. According to the organisation, the sheer scale of modern factory farming is causing untold harm not only to people and animals, but to the planet too.
Not only is the industry responsible for an estimated 18% of carbon dioxide emissions – more than all the cars in the world – but cultivation of the vast amounts of animal feed needed to sustain it results in deforestation and pollution, and excessive use of precious water. About a third of the global grain harvest is allocated to animal feed.
The organisation argues that keeping less livestock will free up land for crops, which in turn will mean more food for those who currently struggle to get enough. The UN has said that a billion people go hungry every day.
Small-scale farmers won’t have to compete with the large farming concerns. Also, human health will benefit from a diet richer in vegetables than in meat.
About 18 000 unnecessary deaths could be prevented each year, said the British government’s chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson in March 2010, just by eating 30% less red meat.
Compassion’s local representative Tozie Zokufa, a former meat-hygiene specialist and now deputy editor of the organisation’s magazine Animal Voice, said that animals on commercial farms often live in miserable conditions.
“I believe that factory farming, whereby thousands of animals are crammed into spaces where they can hardly move, and die without ever having seen the sun, the soil or a blade of grass, is unethical and unAfrican,” he said at the campaign’s launch.
Zokufa spoke from experience, with some nine years’ of experience working in abattoirs and on farms around the country before joining Compassion in World Farming on his résumé.
“This is a triumph,” he said. “We started negotiating with the City Health Committee last December. Their decision yesterday to work with us on this issue is not only a triumph for human health, but also for the planet and animal welfare too.”
If people choose to eat less meat, he added, the saving could be used to buy free-range meat, which is considered a healthier and more humane product.