I’m a vegetarian. Having been one for three years now, I know that saying this will always get me a couple of judgmental looks and the eventual question of:
It’s not because of religion and it’s not dietary. It’s also not because of the treatment of the animals involved. (Although you must admit those chickens are pretty cute.) I’m actually a vegetarian because of the environment.
Meat and livestock production have some of the most negative and ongoing effects on our environment and the situation is only getting worse. According to the Department of Agriculture, the average amount of red meat and poultry eaten in the year 2015 per capita in the United States was 209.4 pounds. In 2016, it rose to 214.5 pounds and the projected estimate for 2017 is 217.5 pounds. That also means that in 2016, each American ate the equivalent of 800 burgers in one year.
Now, why is this specifically bad for our environment?
Image Source: In the Mood for Food
First off, there’s the greenhouse gases. The David Suzuki Foundation states that 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions come directly from livestock production. This comes in the form of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. And nitrous oxide, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, is actually 300 times more detrimental in terms of climate change than CO2. Really then, instead of helping the planet by choosing to walk and not drive to the grocery store, we could make much more of an impact by watching what we buy when we’re there.
Image Source: Time Magazine
The next issue is what exactly goes into the meat we eat. For example, one hamburger (a quarter pound of beef) uses up 7200 gallons of water according to Ecocentrics from Gracelinks.com. In other words, that’s one year of eight-minute showers each day. This shocking figure still does not account for the amount of water that gets contaminated through the manure and chemicals from livestock production. Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, a Dalhousie professor with a research focus in food, calculates that your hamburger also required around two pounds of grains to produce, which you could have eaten directly. Don’t forget about the production and manufacturing energy that went into it as well. In reality, that hamburger cost a whole lot more to our planet than the five dollars you probably paid for it.
Another way that the production of meat is hurting our planet is through land usage. The David Suzuki Foundation has calculated that thirty percent of Earth’s surface is currently being used for livestock production. As the industry and demand grows, so too will this land usage that, instead, could be used for growing other types of food we need to survive.
The fact is, eating meat in the amount we currently are is hurting our planet beyond belief. Greenhouse gas emissions, water and energy consumption, and land usage are some of the biggest issues we hear about the environment. Yet livestock production and the overconsumption of meat is rarely mentioned as one of the causes.
There is some good news. Unlike factories, air travel, or other harmful things, there’s actually something we can do to solve the issue of livestock production: Eat less meat! Now I’m not saying vegetarianism is necessarily the solution. I know how good bacon is. I also know that it can be hard to entirely change you diet and lifestyle. As an alternative to vegetarianism, you can still make a difference by decreasing your consumption of meat by however much you can. Start with taking out meat from just one meal a week. Then maybe make it one meal a day or start designating Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as meat-free dinners.
Image Source: TryVeg
Yet there will be always be the argument that what you’re doing has no impact on society and on the planet. Let me show you how the impact does exist. Say that you cut out two meat dinners and three meat lunches a week. Over the first year, you would have saved over 260 servings of meat. What I’ve personally noticed is that once you start saying “no” to meat, your friends and family will want to try it too. Say three families in your area decide to decrease their meat consumption by those same five meals a week. That amounts to around 3000 servings of meat in one year. Go to your local grocery store and those numbers do make a difference in their inventory decisions. They order less, there’s less demand, and eventually we get to the point where less meat is being produced in the first place.
No one is saying the impacts will be immediate, but livestock production is rapidly hurting our planet more and more. If we wait too long, it will be impossible to create enough change to fix what we’ve done to our planet. We all know we need to help our planet and it can often seem like there are only either huge or insignificant changes we can make in our daily lives. Yet here is one of the biggest environmental harms that often goes unnoticed and that has a simple but legitimately meaningful impact on our environment.
Image Source: Daily Utah Chronicle
Vegetarianism isn’t for everyone – but helping our planet should be. Livestock production is hurting our world in so many ways and at such a fast rate. We need to acknowledge it for what it is and start slowly changing the status quo, one meal at a time.