What you eat affects your world.
Due to the advent of trendy vegan and vegetarian restaurants it is easy to dismiss the vegan diet as little more than a food fad — a here-today-gone-tomorrow movement with little scope beyond the instagrams of teenagers. And yet, this popular misconception allows many to dismiss the movement without ever really considering the many ethical reasons for going meatless. The truth is that the meat industry, especially in America, is a contributing factor to many of the environmental problems we face today.
Much of the problem lies in an overconsumption of meat. According to the New York Times, Americans eat about 8 ounces of meat a day — almost twice the global average. Americans also consume 110 grams of protein per day (75 of which are from animal protein) which is twice the level recommended by medical professionals. This overconsumption does not come without a cost. According to the UN’s food and agriculture organization, 30% of the earth’s ice-free surface is now dedicated to livestock production. The same study also says that the livestock industry is responsible for a fifth of the world's greenhouse gases, more than the entire transportation industry.
The meat industry also uses far too much water. One cow can drink up to 50 gallons of water per day and it takes 2,400 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. (Compare this to the 244 gallons of water needed to produce a pound of tofu.) Run-off from factory farms is also a significant factor in river and pollution within the United States. Often factory farms dispose of animal waste by spraying it in a mist over fields, allowing the toxins and pathogens in the waste to permeate the surrounding environment.
In addition, while 800 million people worldwide suffer from hunger and malnutrition, most of the corn and soy grown goes to feed chickens, pigs, and livestock. This is despite the fact that it takes 5 times more land and 12 times more water to produce animal protein as opposed to plant protein. If meat production were decreased and crops of plant based proteins increased, hunger could be reduced.
There are many possible solutions to the meat problem. A good first step would be to eliminate the government subsidies which make up 31% of the global income of livestock companies. Another step could be to reduce meat intake by simply by eating less of it. It should be stressed that it is not necessary to become a vegetarian to reduce meat-related emissions. Merely cutting back on our daily meat intake can have a powerfully positive effect on the environment. Researchers at Oxford have found that reducing meat intake to levels prescribed by dietary professionals could help reduce food-related emissions by a third by 2050, while vegetarianism could cut emissions by 63%.
In America’s capitalist society, the best way to vote is with your money. By becoming a vegetarian, or merely reducing your meat intake you have the power to create a healthier, greener planet. Dr. Marco Springmann, lead author of the Oxford study put it best when he said, “We do not expect everybody to become vegan. But the climate change impacts of the food system will require more than just technological changes.” Adopting healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets can be a large step in the right direction.
EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. She has worked as a volunteer in Guatemala City and is passionate about travel and social justice. She plans to continue traveling wherever life may take her.