Quick disclaimer, I won’t spend the following paragraphs coercing you to go vegan, I myself am not even a vegetarian (although kudos to those who are).
However, I will strongly advocate for less meat consumption, specifically beef, something that everyone can do and as a result experience many benefits. Although many headlines will scream at viewers to go vegan if they truly care about the planet, I think these demands can sometimes seem too harsh for readers and as a result scare many away. Although I firmly believe we must invest in big changes to our lifestyles to insure a sustainable future, what we eat is an individual consumer choice that does not have to be all or nothing. Of course the world would be a much better place if overnight we all went vegan, but since that isn’t realistically feasible, if most people met halfway the environment would reap many benefits.
Choosing to go vegan or vegetarian can be a huge decision for many people, cultures, and consumers. Especially in the United States, where the average American consumes nearly three times the global average (57 pounds per capita), conservatives will argue that eliminating the meat industry is a violation of their human rights. However, there are many steps one can take before cutting all animal products cold turkey, and there’s power in the masses.
Firstly, not all meat industries result in the same emissions and waste, or require the same amount of resources. The beef and lamb industry is by far the least sustainable, as they emit more methane, take up more land, and more water. Pigs are a little more sustainable, and chickens even more. To be clear, none of these products are sustainable at all, but some are worse than others and that’s important to consider.
Researchers from Bard College, the Weizmann Institute of Science and Yale University took on the task of breaking down all of the various livestock categories to identify each’s individual contribution to global warming in a new paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They focused on animals in the U.S. food production system.
While the team expected to discover beef leading the charts, they were surprised at by how much. They found that pork, chicken, dairy, and eggs, essentially are guilty for the same amount of environmental degradation, far behind beef, which required much more resources. The team calculated that beef requires 28 times more land, six times more fertilizer and 11 times more water compared to those other food sources. That adds up to about five times more greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, plant based products rained supreme for the best choice to fill one’s plate. On a calorie-to-calorie basis, potatoes, wheat and rice require up to six time less resources to produce than pork, chicken, eggs or dairy.
So if you aren’t excited about quitting all meats, here’s a stepping stone. Choosing to boycott beef, or at least make an active choice to eat less of it, is a strong step in the right direction. Even better, spreading the word and getting your friends to hop on will make an even bigger difference.
Aside from environmental benefits, limiting one’s meat intake can also be beneficial for your health! As processed fast food and meat industries grew many consumers began eating a lot more meat than ever before. Research shows that people who eat red meat are at an increased risk of death from heart disease, stroke or diabetes. Processed meats also increase the risk of death from these diseases. Making a conscious effort to add plant based food items emphasizes fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, legumes and nuts, stocked with vitamins and rich in fiber. The saying “everything in moderation” applies to meat, not vegetables. Research shows that vegetarians, and those with diets rich in plant based products, tend to lack the diseases of avid carnivores and in term, live longer.
A plant based diet can also save you money. Although some vegan options can prove to be pricey, bulk items like rice, lentils, quinoa, or oats can be bought in bulk and have long shelf-lives. Canned beans are also an affordable and healthy option. Even more, in the long run you’ll be healthier and have a decreased risk for enduring expensive medical bills.
Common sense also assures that eating less meat will benefit the billions of animals victim to the meat industry every year. While some brands are more “animal friendly” than others, not eating meat at the end of the day is the friendliest choice you can make (although avoiding companies infamous for animal cruelty should be a priority).
Bottom line, the meat industry has proven to pose consequences for the environment, animals, and our health, there’s so many reasons to change old habits and welcome a plant based diet. Whether it’s meatless Mondays (and Wednesdays, Thursdays, etc), or cutting out higher polluting products (beef, lamb), there are many steps an individual can make to eat environmentally consciously.
At the end of the day, our future can’t sustainably plan to maintain our current meat consumption, much less follow our population increase. There doesn’t need to be a polarization between determined carnivores and vegans, small groups on both sides of the spectrum will face a much more difficult path to a greener future. By encouraging the middle to sacrifice some meat and sway closer to the plant based lifestyle, the global population will experience the environmental benefits and the individual will live a healthier life.
References: https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/04/6-pressing-questions-about-beef-and-climate-change-answered#:~:text=A%202013%20study%20by%20the,which%20beef%20contributed%2041%20percent., https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/meatless-meals/art-20048193, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/21/lifestyle-change-eat-less-meat-climate-change, https://www.meatinstitute.org/index.php?ht=d/sp/i/47465/pid/47465#:~:text=The%20meat%20and%20poultry%20industry%20broadly%20is%20responsible%20for%205.4,of%20meat%20and%20poultry%20products., https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/beef-uses-ten-times-more-resources-poultry-dairy-eggs-pork-180952103/, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/06/choosing-chicken-over-beef-cuts-carbon-footprint-surprising-amount/#:~:text=Chickens%20are%20far%20more%20efficient,in%20a%20light%20carbon%20footprint.