Arab culture and vegetarianism are compatible

Meat is an important attribute of the religious and social culture of the Middle East, and are they ready to abandon it in order to solve economic and environmental problems? Amina Tari, a PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) activist, caught the attention of the Jordanian media when she took to the streets of Amman wearing a lettuce dress. With the call “Let vegetarianism be part of you,” she tried to spark interest in a diet without animal products. 


Jordan was the last stop on PETA’s world tour, and lettuce was perhaps the most successful attempt to get Arabs thinking about vegetarianism. In Arab countries, arguments for vegetarianism rarely elicit responses. 


Many local intellectuals and even members of animal protection organizations say that this is a difficult concept for the Eastern mentality. One of the PETA activists, who is not a vegetarian, was outraged by the organization’s actions in Egypt. 


“Egypt is not ready for this lifestyle. There are other aspects related to animals that should be considered first,” he said. 


And while Jason Baker, director of PETA’s Asia-Pacific chapter, noted that by removing meat from your diet, “you’re doing more for the animals,” the idea didn’t get much support. In conversations with activists here in Cairo, it became clear that vegetarianism is “too foreign a concept” for the immediate future. And they may be right. 


Ramadan is already on the horizon, and then Eid al-Adha, a holiday when millions of Muslims around the world slaughter sacrificial sheep: it is important not to underestimate the importance of meat in Arab culture. By the way, the ancient Egyptians were among the first to make cows pets. 


In the Arab world, there is another strong stereotype regarding meat – this is social status. Only rich people can afford meat every day here, and the poor strive for the same. 


Some journalists and scientists who defend the position of non-vegetarians argue that people have gone through a certain path of evolution and began to eat meat. But here another question arises: have we not reached such a level of development that we can independently choose a way of life – for example, one that does not destroy the environment and does not cause millions of people to suffer? 


The question of how we are going to live in the coming decades must be answered without regard to history and evolution. And research shows that switching to a plant-based diet is one of the easiest and most effective ways to combat climate change. 


The UN has stated that animal husbandry (whether industrial scale or traditional farming) is one of the two or three main causes of environmental pollution at all levels – from local to global. And it is precisely the solution of problems with animal husbandry that should become the main one in the fight against land depletion, air pollution and water shortages, and climate change. 


In other words, even if you are not convinced of the moral benefits of vegetarianism, but you care about the future of our planet, then it makes sense to stop eating animals – for environmental and economic reasons. 


In the same Egypt, hundreds of thousands of cattle are imported for slaughter, as well as lentils and wheat and other components of the traditional Egyptian diet. All this costs a lot of money. 


If Egypt were to encourage vegetarianism as an economic policy, the millions of Egyptians who are in need and complain about rising meat prices could be fed. As we remember, it takes 1 kilograms of feed to produce 16 kilogram of meat for sale. This is money and products that could solve the problem of the starving population. 


Hossam Gamal, an official with the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture, was unable to name the exact amount that could be saved by cutting meat production, but he estimated it at “several billion dollars.” 


Gamal continues: “We could improve the health and lifestyle of millions of people if we didn’t have to spend so much money to satisfy the desire to eat meat.” 


He points to other experts, such as those who talk about the reduction in the amount of land suitable for habitation due to the planting of fodder crops. “Nearly 30% of the planet’s ice-free area is currently used for animal husbandry,” Vidal writes. 


Gamal says Egyptians are eating more and more meat, and the need for livestock farms is growing. More than 50% of the meat products consumed in the Middle East come from factory farms, he said. By reducing meat consumption, he argues, “we can make people healthier, feed as many people as possible, and improve the local economy by using agricultural land for its intended purpose: for crops – lentils and beans – that we currently import.” 


Gamal says he is one of the few vegetarians in the ministry, and this is often a problem. “I get criticized for not eating meat,” he says. “But if the people who object to my idea would look at the world through economic and environmental realities, they would see that something needs to be invented.”

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