In this guest article, Virginia Bell investigates whether barbecues could be more ecological and healthier.
Barbecues are frequently organised as a parish event. Unfortunately, as with most human practices, barbecues have an ecological cost which is usually ignored.
As we begin to respond to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor it useful to consider the effect on others and on the planet of whatever we do. If the effect is harmful, we should look for ethical and sustainable alternatives.
The Vatican’s Laudato Si Action Platform is encouraging us to make changes in our parish life to help tackle the environmental crises that we are facing. One thing we can do is reduce our consumption of meat at BBQs and other parish events, and instead offer healthier and more sustainable alternatives. It is likely that parishioners will appreciate the concern that this would show for their health and for the environment.
The problem with meat at BBQs.
Health The World Health Organization has designated bacon, ham, hot dogs, lunch meat, sausages and processed meats to be Group 1 (carcinogenic to humans) and red meats to be Group 2A (probably carcinogenic to humans) . Fish can also be problematic with potentially elevated levels of heavy metals, and persistent bioaccumulative and toxic substances .
Meat is unsustainable . Meat, dairy and fish production and consumption is a main cause of all the environment crises that the planet is suffering: climate change; antibiotic resistance; pandemics; rainforest destruction; desertification; pollution of land, oceans, rivers and air; loss of biodiversity; waste of resources. Concerning waste of resources, we have enough food to feed the world, but it is fed to animals instead. Between a third and a half of the world’s grain harvest is fed to animals. Meanwhile 800 million people go hungry, many are starving. Eating meat means starving people.
Because of all these problems, the lead researcher of an important paper looking into greenhouse gas emissions from meat and dairy farming in the journal Science  concluded that “[a] vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth”. And the United Nations Environment Programme named meat “the world’s most urgent problem” in September 2018 . They continued, “[o]ur use of animals as a food-production technology has brought us to the verge of catastrophe”.
Other problems with BBQs
Air pollution is a serious problem, affecting many and killing many . Charcoal is air polluting. And burning meat produces Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), some of which are considered carcinogenic .
Fire risk. Disposable barbecues are a fire risk, having caused many wildfires. The London Fire Brigade called for a ban on disposable barbecues on 29-7-22 .
Let’s encourage healthy and sustainable alternatives
Beef and other animal-based foods aren’t the only options when barbecuing. There are delicious vegan alternatives to meat burgers and sausages. If you like flipping burgers on the barbecue, you’ll love the popular vegan Beyond Burgers, which generate 90% fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than a typical quarter-pounder. Try grilling corn on the cob, portobello mushrooms, zucchini or potatoes. Also marinated vegetable kebabs. Roasting fruit and vegetables caramelises their natural sugars and brings out their flavour.
Even better, instead of barbecuing foods, heat by other means or maybe cold offerings could be provided – flans, pizzas, salads, healthy snacks of fruits and nuts.
Virginia Bell, October 2022
 World Health Organization, Cancer: Carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat, Q&A, https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/cancer-carcinogenicity-of-the-consumption-of-red-meat-and-processed-meat, 26 October 2015
 Dórea, J. D., ‘Persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances in fish: human health considerations’, Sci Total Environ. 2008 Aug 1; 400(1-3): 93-114, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18653214/, 2008
 UNFCCC, United Nations Climate Change, ‘We need to talk about meat’ blog post, https://unfccc.int/blog/we-need-to-talk-about-meat, 19 May 2021
 Poore, J., Nemecek, T., ‘Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers’, Science 360, 987–992 (2018), https://josephpoore.com/Science%20360%206392%20987%20-%20Accepted%20Manuscript.pdf, 1 June 2018
 UNEP, UN Environment Programme, https://www.unep.org/championsofearth/news-and-stories/tackling-worlds-most-urgent-problem-meat, 26 September 2018
 World Health Organization, Air Pollution, https://www.who.int/health-topics/air-pollution