Eating Right

Going meat-free offers environmental benefits across the globe

Apr 14, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Earth Day is upon us again, and every year at this time spring offers us the chance to start anew, to gain a fresh perspective on our goals and intentions. This annual holiday allows us to step back and evaluate our place on this planet and ask ourselves whether we are truly showing it the respect it deserves. Many of us seem completely overwhelmed at the task of keeping the environment intact and pristine, largely because control of what happens to the environment seems to happen on a large scale, with huge corporations destroying vast swaths of land and politicians standing by and voting in favor of these practices.

But there is one incredibly powerful way that everyone can have a direct impact on the environment and the world around us, and we can do it three times a day. Eating a diet free of animals and animal byproducts is much more than a the act of refusing to support industries or practices that devastate the environment, contribute to global hunger, or vastly disrupt the delicate balance of nature — it is an acknowledgment that we have the ability to be the change we wish to see, and that means a diet that has a much lower carbon footprint as well as a greater sense of compassion for all that live on Earth.

One might wonder how a diet that includes eating animals can be so damaging to the environment. We must remember that of the animal products eaten in this country, more than 95 percent come from large industrial factory farms similar to modern-day factories that process any other “commodity.” It is a business model built for efficiency and large output, with factors such as environmental protection or animal rights low on the priority list. This means that certain ways of conducting business as usual on these massive farms emphasize the rabid overuse of resources without a sustainable model which leaves the planet at our mercy to feed our insatiable hunger for animal products at a tremendous cost to the environment.

For instance, the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted while raising animals for food is greater than those emitted from all the cars, trucks, trains, busses, planes and ships in the world. The transport from the factory farm to the slaughterhouse is a grim example we can see every day on the highways as giant tractor trailers carrying a eight cows churns along at 12 miles-per-gallon.

Along with high greenhouse gas emissions, raising animals for food consumes more than half water in the United States, and the industry causes more water pollution than any other type of business. This water is contaminated by the millions of pounds of pesticides, herbicides and other toxic chemicals used on factory farms that eventually run into our streams, rivers and oceans. Animals on factory farms also produce 87,000 pounds of waste every second, enough to rebuild the Denver skyline every single day out of poop. And it all enters the water supply.

Producing only a single pound of beef requires 8,500 gallons of water, whereas producing one pound of wheat requires only 25 gallons. A meat-eating diet requires an average of 4,000 gallons of water per day, while a vegan diet usually requires about 300.

One of the most pressing issues of our time, the destruction of the rainforest, is occuring for a reason many people do not realize. The land is slashed and burned to clear areas in which crops can be grown en masse to feed animals. Again, the land is destroyed to grow food to feed animals that we in turn eat. Every eight seconds an acre is destroyed and the crops that are planted are often genetically modified and heavily sprayed with herbicides and pesticides. The animals eat those GMO crops which we in turn ingest after eating the animals. In order to understand how vast the demand for animal products is in this country, notice the fact that 80 percent of all the agricultural land in the U.S. is used to grow crops that are used solely to feed animals for our consumption. That is just less than half of the total landmass of the United States. More than 80 percent of the corn, soybeans and oats are used to feed animals, not humans.

There are many other examples that highlight how destructive modern day agri-business is for our environment, and this information may seem daunting and overwhelming. However, we as consumers do have a voice, and every time we buy groceries, order a meal, or prepare dinner we can try and do the least amount of harm by making choices that do not support factory farming.

For more resources and details on the environmental effects of the meat industry or if you are interested in learning more about adopting a vegan diet or joining local meet-up groups and potlucks, contact [email protected].

Check out CityBeat's full 2011 Green Issue here.