National Vegetarian Week

You may not feel that cutting meat out from your diet will make any difference, but it’s actually one of the best things you could do
National Vegetarian Week: Eat veggie, cut carbon, drive change!

The Vegetarian Society UK

by Richard McIlwain, Chief Executive, The Vegetarian Society

We’re delighted that Oxfordshire councils are supporting this year’s National Vegetarian Week. As some of many authorities to have declared a climate emergency and developed plans to achieve net-zero before 2050, its clear that this current decade is the one in which real, focused and sustained action is needed.

But as individuals we often feel powerless to act. We can become cynical in the face of profiteering by the fossil fuel industry and insufficient action taken by many.

Even when we are motivated it can be hard to know where to start or which actions will have the most impact. Indeed, most greenhouse emissions result from our continuing use of fossil fuels and not everyone is currently able to invest in solar panels, move to electrified heating (such as air-source heat pumps) or purchase electric vehicles.

However, there is one simple; change we can all make. And the great news is we can start straight away and it has far-reaching positives. 

We can eat less meat.


Because the way in which we farm animals for food is helping drive both the climate and biodiversity crisis. Our Deputy Chair, Dale Hoyland, who is also a team leader within the Climate Action Team at Oxfordshire County Council brings this into stark reality:

We are facing an emergency indeed. Climate change is accelerating, and urgent action must be taken in order to slow and reverse current trends of emissions to protect our fragile planet, not only for future generations, but for ourselves and all other creatures alive today. Earth is in the midst of the 6th mass extinction event in its 4.5-billion-year history, but uniquely as a consequence of a single species, and we must now take personal and collective responsibility for our actions.
You may not feel that cutting meat out from your diet will make any difference, but it’s actually one of the best things you could do, and collectively, makes a significant difference.

What Dale says is backed by significant evidence, with land use in the UK accounting for 12% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, predominantly due to agriculture and animal agriculture specifically.[1]  

The global data set out in the chart below [2] suggests that beef tops the charts when it comes to emissions per kg of food, with other meats not far behind. And while UK farming is often more sustainable than in other countries, emissions are still high relative to most veggie and plant-based options. [3]

Graph showing the emissions associated with various types of food


But our current agricultural system also affects our native wildlife, through a combination of intensive farming and managed grazing on uplands and pasture. With 70% of land in the UK used for agriculture, it’s no surprise that when it comes to biodiversity, we rank in the bottom 10% of all countries globally.[4]

It follows that eating less meat, means less animals farmed, less emissions and more grazing land freed up for other uses, such as rewilding, renewables and carbon capture.

But what does this mean for Oxfordshire? Across the county, 70% of land is farmed intensively, of which two thirds is arable and one third improved grassland. Imagine if we ate less meat? [5]

We could reduce our reliance on pasture for grazing animals and reimagine the way in which that land is used for the benefit of the climate and wildlife.

And if we can cut down on our meat and cut out some of the associated greenhouse emissions we could protect more of Oxfordshire’s precious biodiversity, its chalk grasslands, its beech woodlands, its fens and marshy meadows and all the valuable species that rely on them.

And so you can make a difference. And what’s more you can do it while shopping in your local supermarket or grocers, whether you live in Oxford, Bicester, Chipping Norton or Woodstock.

Just swapping out meat in one meal a week will make you a climate activist. You’ll find you love the alternatives, they are often healthier and cheaper. Plus if you want something familiar – there are a great range of meat substitutes available. Look on this as an adventure – you are not giving something up. You are opening the door to a new food experience!

And think, if every single one of the circa 700,000 people across Oxfordshire took action and swapped out meat for one or meals a week, those carbon savings soon add up.

And who knows – you might be encouraged to go the whole ‘hog’ (pun intended) and try out full-on vegetarianism or a 100% plant-based diet.

Inspired to get involved?

Then join thousands of individuals and organisations by signing up to National Vegetarian Week.