In praise of the Sunday roast

Germans like meat. But if the whole world ate like them, we'd need at least two planets to feed everyone. A proper Sunday roast free of toxic feed could be the answer, says Dagmar Dehmer from Der Tagesspiegel.

In praise of the Sunday roast
Photo: DPA

A good roast needs a lot of time and love. To make the effort worthwhile, you need good meat – so you should be prepared to spend a bit of money.

Only 30 years ago, in many German homes meat was only served on Sunday. A Sunday roast was a feast for the eyes, the nose, and the palate, and it was a social event. When there was a roast, the whole family would gather round the table to savour it, to talk and laugh.

In 1980, the average German ate 30 kilos of meat and sausage every year. By 2009, it was 88 kilos. That figure has occasionally climbed even higher in the intervening years.

It took the BSE crisis in the late 1990s and various other meat scandals to derail the steady rise in German meat consumption. But even in the years directly after the mad cow disease scare, the average was around 80 kilos.

The mass consumption of meat, eggs and milk causes a multitude of environmental problems, as well as some ethical ones. And as the current dioxin feed scandal shows – once again – the cheap industrial production of farm animals also creates a host of health issues.

If the entire population of the world – soon to reach seven billion people – lived like Germany and other industrial nations, we’d need at least two planets to feed everyone. Around a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from farming food.

The biggest threat for the climate, biodiversity and local water cycles is the transformation of jungles and marshes into farming land. This conversion is the largest single cause of climate change, estimated at between six and 17 percent. The actual agricultural production from this land accounts for another 15 to 16 percent.

Livestock play an important part in this, not only because cows, sheep and goats produce the dangerous greenhouse gas methane when they digest. But what is much worse for the climate is growing animal feed crops using chemical fertilizers, because artificial fertilizers produce nitrous oxide – also known as laughing gas – whose effect on the climate is even worse than methane.

Nitrous oxide is also released when marshes are drained, which is why transforming land for agricultural use plays such a big part in unbalancing our climate.

Keeping livestock is not only a climate problem. Huge quantities of water are needed to produce feed, and agricultural land is much worse at storing water than forests. And there are moral problems as well, because so many ways of raising farm animals amount to pure torture.

Pigs are kept in tiny boxes on their own until a bolt gun releases them from a wretched life. Chickens do have a little more space than they did in the old battery farms, but keeping smaller groups in cages hardly amounts to ensuring a good quality of life.

The pressure to produce feed as cheaply as possible is for many manufacturers little more than a welcome invitation to mix any old trash into the feeding troughs. It’s no coincidence that almost all the food scandals of the last 20 years had their origins in the animal feed.

But a good steak or a nice Sunday roast isn’t necessarily all bad. That is at least the opinion of Berlin veterinarian Anita Idel, one of the authors of the new global agriculture report.

Idel argues that cattle could even have a positive effect on the climate, if cows were allowed to be cows – that is, if cows, sheep and goats were fed only grass, for which they are optimally designed.

Around 40 percent of the world’s land surface is grassland. If it is not over-grazed, grassland can store substantial quantities of carbon dioxide. According to the pioneer of German climate research Hartmut Graßl, the world’s forests and grasslands can absorb between 2.5 and 2.8 gigatonnes of CO2 every year.

Alexander Popp, Hermann Lotze-Campen und Benjamin Bodirsky of the Potsdam-Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) argue that if we returned to the tradition of the Sunday roast – or any day of the week you might prefer – and consumed fewer dairy products, Germans could be healthier and do the atmosphere a service too.

But the scientists have calculated if people in the industrialize world do not alter their lifestyles, and if the developing nations catch up at the same breakneck pace they have done in the past 15 years, emissions of methane and nitrous oxide will have increased by 75 percent by 2050 compared to 1995.

Hartmut Graßl has been campaigning for the Sunday roast mainly because three important factors have already converged that “go beyond what the Earth can endure.” “The nitrogen cycle has gone out of control,” he says. The planet’s atmosphere is overloaded with greenhouse gases and the speed with which animal and plant species as well as whole ecosystems are disappearing is far outstripping the pace of evolution.

The Sunday roast is not the solution to all these problems, but a return to this stuffy ritual – which holds happy childhood memories for many people – could ease them a little. It’s a question of “setting a precedent,” says Popp. And not least it’s a question of health.

Eat less meat, and when you do buy the more expensive kind, farmed under animal-friendly conditions without poisonous feed. Go on, treat yourself and your family to something special.

This article was published with the kind permission of Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


What you should know about Germany’s plans to roll out e-prescriptions

Germany is taking a big step towards a more digital-friendly health system, with plans to roll out e-prescriptions nationwide. Here's what you should know.

A person holds the e-Rezept app in a pharmacy in Oldenburg, Lower Saxony.
A person holds the e-Rezept app in a pharmacy in Oldenburg, Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

What’s happening?

From January 1st 2022, people in Germany will receive their prescriptions digitally (known in Germany as an ‘e-Rezept’) from healthcare providers.

Patients should be able to get their prescription from their doctor via a QR code sent to an app, which can then be transmitted to a pharmacy. The pharmacy can then let the patient know whether their medicine is in stock (or if they want to order it), and when it is ready for collection. 

This model is to be mandatory for people with statutory health insurance from the start of 2022, replacing the good old paper prescription.

However, the QR code can also be given to the patient by the doctor on a piece of paper if a patient does not have access to or doesn’t want to use a smartphone. 

READ ALSO: The changes around doctors notes in Germany you should know 

How exactly will it work?

In theory this is the plan – you’ll visit the doctor or have a video consultation. After the examination, the doctor will issue you with an electronic prescription for the medication that has been prescribed to you. 

A prescription code is automatically created for each ‘e-Rezept’, which you will need so you can get the medicine at the pharmacy. As we mentioned above, patients in Germany can either open this QR code in the free e-prescription app developed by Gematik and the Health Ministry, or receive it as a printout from the doctor. 

Next, you can take the prescription QR code (either in the app or as a printout) to your pharmacy of choice to get the medication needed.

One of the major differences and timesavers under the new system is that you can also select the pharmacy you want to get the prescription from digitally, order the medication (if needed) and you’ll be alerted when the prescription is ready. You can also arrange to have it delivered if needed. 

A doctor’s signature is not required, as e-prescriptions are digitally signed. 

The aim is that it will save on paperwork, time at the medical office and trips to the pharmacy. 

Some patients have already been receiving digital prescriptions. The ‘e-Rezept’ was tested out successfully in selected practices and pharmacies with a focus on the Berlin-Brandenburg region of Germany. The test phase started on July 1st this year.

Pharmacies and doctors’ offices nationwide have also been given the opportunity to test the new system from the start of December. 

“This will enable practice providers and pharmacy management systems to better prepare for the mandatory launch on January 2022 1st,” said, the official health portal site for German pharmacies

The new e-prescription app.
The new e-prescription app. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

READ ALSO: 10 rules to know if you get sick in Germany

There is some leeway though – if there are technical difficulties, paper prescriptions can still be issued in individual cases until the end of June next year.

The National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians estimates that it could take until mid-2022 until all users are equipped with e-prescription applications nationwide.

The obligation does not apply to privately insured people from January next year. Private insurance companies can decide voluntarily to make the preparations for their customers to use the e-prescription.

What’s this about an app?

To be able to receive and redeem prescriptions electronically, people with statutory health insurance need the Gematik ‘das e-Rezept’ app. 

One issue is that the app appears to only be available at the moment in German app stores. We’ll try and find out if there are plans to change this and widen out the access, but it seems likely for that to happen. 

Germany’s Covid-Warn app, for example, was initially only open to German app stores but was gradually widened out to many others. 

As mentioned above though, those who don’t have access to an app will be able to use the paper with the code on it to access their prescriptions. 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

Has it all gone smoothly?

As you might expect, there have been a few hiccups. 

Originally, the introduction nationwide was planned for October but was postponed due to many providers not having all the tech requirements set up. 

Now though, more than 90 percent of the practice management systems have been certified by the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians – a prerequisite to issue the e-prescriptions.

The e-prescription is part of Germany’s far-reaching plans to digitise and streamline the health care system.

The head of Gematik GmbH, Markus Leyck Dieken, recently spoke of a “new era” that is “finally starting for doctors and patients” in Germany. 

Useful vocabulary:

Prescription – (das) Rezept

Doctor’s office/practice – (die) Arztpraxis

To order – bestellen 

Pharmacy – (die) Apotheke

Video consultation – (die) Videosprechstunde