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Why Manitoba’s Wildlife Needs You to Quit Vegetarianism

December 12, 2018

This blog post comes from Nawal Omran, a dietetic intern from Aramark Canada Ltd. who completed a placement at the Nutrition Resource Centre this past fall. Nawal is interested in investigating environmentally sustainable diets. Here, she reports on a unique case of carnivorism and its importance in maintaining biodiversity as shared by Dr. Artuso at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair’s Food and Nutrition Forum this past November.

Converting to vegetarianism or cutting down on meat consumption has been touted by the media as the solution to climate change. From utilizing less land and resources for farming to emitting fewer greenhouse emissions, the media makes the point that going meatless should reduce your ecological footprint.

However, Bird Studies Canada’s Manitoba Projects Manager, Dr. Christian Artuso, suggests that, when it comes to protecting our planet, it is not as simple as going vegetarian—at least, not in Manitoba.

“[Grassland birds] that used to be seen in Manitoba, can be hardly seen anymore,” said Dr. Artuso at the Food and Nutrition Forum at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair this past November. These species need grazed fields to come and mate. With cattle ranches being the main source of grazed land, these birds tend to settle there. “Those birds have—for thousands and thousands and thousands of years—responded to grazing as an ecosystem process…There used to be bison…but there are not a whole lot of bison grazing today,” said Dr. Artuso. With cattle ranches slowly disappearing from the prairies, the birds are disappearing as well.

Bison and cattle grazing

Aside from epidemics, such as mad cow disease, which have driven cattle ranchers out of their fields over the years, Dr. Artuso suggested that Manitoba is also suffering from a “green field crisis”. Given the recent push for “environmentally friendly” gasoline alternatives, corn fields have been increasing in number and replacing some cattle ranches so farmers can grow corn for ethanol.  “[It] is marketed as green but, interestingly enough, you have to destroy a lot of habitat—and destroy what used to be cattle ranches—to grow corn to drive cars,” claimed Dr. Artuso. The decrease in grazed fields leaves less land for the endangered bird species.

It was this ecosystem shift which lead Dr. Artuso, a vegetarian, to covert back to carnivorism. “I had been a vegetarian…for environmental reasons…[and] I [stopped] being a vegetarian for environmental reasons…In this case, in this habitat, in this context, [vegetarianism] just doesn’t work”.

Dr. Artuso emphasized that while this case of balancing sustainability and biodiversity might be unique, he urges Canadians to do their homework when seeking a more sustainable diet. “Think about your environmental ecosystem context and how food production in the area that [you] live in fits into the bigger picture,” said Dr. Artuso.

The endangered Chestnut-Collared Longspur

The case of Manitoba’s threatened biodiversity is an eye opener. It provides an additional lens to consider in the conversation surrounding sustainable diets and eating meat. Before Canadians quit carnivorism, they must examine the ecological and biological implications such dramatic actions may entail.


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