Studies suggest that curbing appetites away from meat is probably the most unpopular way to reduce our environmental impact.
It’s one of the hottest days of summer and you can see the smoke from the barbeque before you find the latch to open the gate to your bro’s back yard. You grab a cold beer, settle into the relaxed atmosphere and head over to see what you’re nommin for lunch. You open the lid and briefly close your eyes as you’re blasted with sweet and salty heat. Mouth watering, you hungrily gaze at the skewers and patties organized carefully on the grill.
…But something isn’t right.
Wait.. why is the chicken white and cubed…
Where is the meat!?
Let’s face it. If this isn’t the reaction you’d have, then at least you know someone who brags they’d die without meat.
However, the purpose of this article isn’t to force you to cut out meat completely!
It’s to show you can be creative with your diet, and how cutting out meat, as little as once a week, can have a profound environmental impact.
If I’ve scared you away, or you don’t have time to finish the article, at least watch this 4 minute Ted Talk. Graham Hill is a Weekday Vegetarian. Find out why!
The Facts about Agriculture and Climate Change
Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O-M-G…
Most of us know that the energy sector is a mess when it comes to producing carbon emissions. But did you know that 8 years ago, a study published in Climatic Change, found that 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions were from livestock production? That is more than the transportation sector’s (including planes). Click here for more facts.
Yes, the effects of eating meat are more harmful than driving your car to work!
Are you familiar with cow farts?
You’re about to be.
Here are the main drivers of greenhouse gas emissions when it comes to animals raised for our hungry appetites:
- methane (CH4)- from enteric formation.
A quick wiki search explains that cows, sheep and goats, compared to single stomach animals (pigs and chickens), suck at converting food in their bodies, so they burp and fart a lot.
I’m not joking.
Enteric formation, or cow farts, releases methane into the atmosphere.
- Deforestation and land degradation –
[This argument is the main reason I decided to go veg because it is the only effect that I can physically see with my own eyes.]
Grazing animals need a lot of space to munch on grass and.. cud. Grazing land for cows, sheep and goats covers more than 25% of global land surface, meaning 1/4 of the Earth’s surface is designed specifically for them to eat and fart, before they get eaten! What a life.Not only that, but grazing animals cover 70% of global agricultural land.
The land used for eating and farting didn’t just happen overnight. It has to be converted from forests.
Removing forests has a whole list of negative impacts, including, but not limited to soil erosion, increased landslides, poorer water quality, and of course, less clean air. National Geographic referred to the current deforestation for agricultural use, a “Modern Day Plague.“It doesn’t end there.We have to feed these animals right? Deforestation is not just to provide space for these animals to graze, but also for them to eat. Crops are raised for the purpose of feeding animals, and not for human consumption. We are tearing down beautiful rainforests all over the world to feed chickens, cows and pigs! Oh my!There are still millions of hungry people in the world, who most certainly can’t afford to eat the animals the crops are feeding.
According to the UN, the population is expected to rise to 9 billion people by 2050, and we must ask ourselves:
Doesn’t that seem a little wrong to you?
I could go on about biodiversity loss, but I will spare your heart and save it for another another day.
- nitrous oxide (NO2) – from manure and fertilizer
We already know the animals fart and burp, but they also poop. I can’t even imagine the alarming amount of poop one farm of 10,000 cows must produce…
The fertilizer is used on the crops produced for livestock, and creates major problems of its own. Especially when fertilizer makes its way to waterways, along with manure.
- carbon dioxide (CO2) – land-use change and agricultural energy use.
As mentioned before, less trees, means more CO2 in the atmosphere. Not only that, but the amount of air that livestock respires is nothing to laugh about and should be measured according to the Kyoto Protocol.As Andy Vrbicek quotes in his article on climate change, “Livestock [like automobiles] are a human invention and convenience, not part of pre-human times, and a molecule of CO2 exhaled by livestock is no more natural than one from an auto tailpipe… Today, tens of billions more livestock are exhaling CO2 than in pre-industrial days….”
Bet you didn’t see that one coming!
- water –In the USA, nearly half of water available goes to livestock production.
Not only that, but the US Environmental Protection Agency has said that animals raised for food produce about 130 times as much waste (poop) as the whole human population. Not only that, but animal farms pollute our waterways more than every other industrial source combined. The worst part is, “run-offs of animal waste, pesticides, chemicals, fertilizers, hormones and antibiotics are contributing to dead zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reef and health problems.”
Yes, eating meat, and therefore supporting livestock production, is even harming the ocean.Sighhh. There’s a reason you didn’t watch Cowspiracy. It’s too depressing.
Here’s what you can do.
I know you’re nervous.
She’s gonna say to stop eating meat altogether..
In reality, our impact as an individual boycotting meat, and therefore relieving the pressure on livestock production, is pretty ideal… I’m speaking for all ecosystems and all humans at this point. I didn’t even mention that reducing meat is better for our health and our wallet, and didn’t even touch on animal cruelty!
It’s time that those of us that can afford to eat meat regularly should cast aside our entitled and self-indulgent attitudes, and start seeing the whole picture. Our diet choices are affecting every living thing.
However, if ending your relationship with meat will take some time to grieve and process, there are some ways you can continue to eat meat in an informed way.
1. What’s your beef? Beef.
According to a 2014 study by Gidon Eshel and his colleagues, calculations of the environmental costs per calorie of consumed dairy, poultry, pork and eggs are quite similar, and much lower than the impacts of beef. Basically, if we’re gonna point an angry finger at anyone… or any animal.. it’s cows.
You read about the cow farts right? Along with sheep and goats, cows are the most smelly and most cruel to the environment because of their basic anatomy. They also happen to be the animal that we consume the most of.
The Guardian recently published an article stating that giving up beef will reduce more carbon than cars.
So if you’re still not convinced and you still don’t wanna give up meat altogether, why not try to avoid eating beef?
Chicken, fish, bison, veggie and vegan burgers are delicious alternatives to the classic hamburger. And when it comes to steak, if you cannot adhere to the bolded words above, consider only eating meat that has the smallest footprint possible.
So far I’ve found that Whole Foods has extremely high and practical standards for meat consumption.
2. Meatless Monday
After the recent COP12 in Paris, Meatless Monday was born. It’s easy to participate, just don’t eat meat on Monday!
This is a great test to see how you fair without meat (I promise you’ll do great). Get your friends involved! Experiment with vegetarian recipes together every week!
Check out the official website to read recipes and see how schools, workplaces, restaurants and organizations all over the world are participating.
You can do this one.
3. Weekday Veg
In his 4 minute Ted Talk, Graham Hill suggests a very practical way to help the environment: don’t eat meat on weekdays.
Hill manages to do so by buying and cooking meat alternatives during the week, and on weekends he eats meat if he feels like it.
This is a great transition into a meatless life. This diet reduces your carbon footprint and doesn’t inconvenience you too often, as we normally eat more meat on weekends with our friends and families.
Remember to make sure you’re still consuming protein through out the week, and you’re good to go.
4. Get creative
No matter what you read, it’s your choice to eat what you eat. Make informed decisions and get creative!
While I lived in Vancouver, Canada, I considered myself a flexible vegetarian. I would sometimes buy sustainable harvested seafood, and would eat other meat if I knew where it came from and how it was raised, (and if I had the money), etc.
Now I live in South Korea, where it is next to impossible to eat vegetarian, unless I want to eat seaweed, kimchi or rice for every meal. I’ve adapted by bringing a vegan or vegetarian lunch to work, but eating meat at staff meals and when I’m out with friends.
Now you know a little about the effect of livestock production and climate change, and it’s up to you to make choices as a consumer. Whether it’s only beef, once a week, twice a week, or whenever you’re feeling particularly chummy with the environment, choosing vegetarian is now the best option we’ve got.
If you decide to go vegetarian…
Be a smart vegetarian.
When people initially remove meat from their diet, they fail to replace the same amount of protein in their diet with foods like eggs, dairy, nuts, beans, seeds, and soy products.
What often happens is they are more hungry, and fill up on carbs instead. Carbohydrates are important, but too many can lead to energy crashes and stored sugars that turn into fat. Aka, tiredness and weight gain. If you menstruate regularly, no matter what your sexuality, make sure to eat plenty of iron rich foods to avoid becoming anemic.
Be a smart vegetarian, and check out these websites to learn how to get your proteins and vitamins.
Featured image: Mishka Henner’s satellite photo of Texan feedlots, wherein the US, 99% of all cattle are raised before their slaughtered.
Absolutely worth a read by clicking here.
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