Climate change is real. Relatively speaking, industrial farming is half-a-disaster, although very much essential for feeding future generations, and our daily diet choices have an actual impact on the environment.
All these statements have a high level of truth to them and are probably not new revelations to individuals generally conscious of environmental issues. Yet, most people are not fully aware of the effects of the choices they make concerning their diets. What is often understated (and more-so pushed under lobbying busses), is the amount of influence our food choices have on the environment.
A climate central article reporting on a study done by the World Resources Institute (WRI) discusses that cutting down the rate of red-meat consumption in half will reduce our per capita food and land-use related greenhouse gas emissions by 35%.
One might wonder how this is the case. The issue itself stems from the resource intensive meat production process, and the inherently inefficient nature of meat foods. Various studies conclude that about only 1% of the feed cattle consume end up as calorie intake in the meat from eating beef, and 4% end up as protein. With poultry, the conversion is 11% and 20% respectively.
The production of meat is costly and destructive to the environment. It requires large portions of land, water and fertilizers to grow feeds and to contain the animals. When reared in large numbers, the combined amount of methane released by the animals end up in the environment and contribute to higher climatic temperatures. Also, studies show that global food production accounts for about 80% of deforestation, a major driver of climate change, and constitutes up to 70% of our freshwater use.
It is virtually preached everywhere; our bodies do not need meat, meat is bad food. It is common for meat sellers and propagandists to attempt to make meat desirable in efforts to influence people’s views on meat, and in fact, their arguments are not entirely misplaced. Meat is tasty – supposedly – and the US meat industry in 2013 employed more than 482 000 workers in meat packing and processing alone. This is understandably a plus for the economy, however, these benefits are contestable.
The meat industry is making more meat than people are able to eat, and food waste is increasingly a major global issue. The 2016 WRI report showed that people very often eat more meat than they actually need, ending up consuming unnecessary calories. Beef has large amounts of saturated fat, a compound that has been linked to cardiovascular diseases, and with antibiotics being commonly used on factory farm animals, eating meat increases the likelihood of consumers becoming resistant to antibiotic medication.
It may be true that saturated fat is not sufficiently proven to be harmful; however, if one choses to consider, is eating meat really worth the potential risk of future cardiovascular distress? Do we go too far just for the experience of taste? Is it rational that we gather up tons of grains to fatten up cattle only to deliver 1% of the consumed food for human calorie intake? This is inefficiency and wastefulness at its most detestable and it is perhaps just as well ethically insensitive. We end up continuously harming our environment for the sake of our palates; meanwhile, there are millions of hungry people around in need of affordable food supplies.
If we cannot give up meat just for the sake of its savory delight, there are more alternatives to meat that are arguably more tasty, and exponentially healthier as a food option. Besides, this article really is not about abandoning meat for eternity; the sensible goal for us as consumers and as most environmentalists would agree with, is to cut down on meat consumption gradually, for the betterment and longevity of our health and invaluable home planet.
For individuals interested in exploring vegetarian or reduced meat diets, the USDA in its most recent nutrition guide provides valid recommendations. Alternatively, there are hundreds of healthy meatless recipes online, and individuals with professional nutritionist may as well explore reduced meat options.