Up until now, this is what we’ve been told:
Meat consumption takes a hefty toll on the environment, bulldozing thousands of hectares of fertile land for livestock, and causing a detrimental amount of methane gas to be released into the atmosphere. According to studies (where statistics may vary from one to the other), one kilogram of beef takes 18 000 litres of water from calf to butcher, and the largest source of smog-making gas are not trucks, cars, or steam-engines, but cows.
Where becoming a vegetarian or vegan has been advocated as the environmentalist’s diet, both vegetarians and vegans are in fact as much of an ecological criminal as meat-eaters are, and here’s why.
Yes, the commercial meat-production market is a massively flawed one, and causes an extensive amount of damage to the environment. According to Peta, the caloric intake of the world’s cattle in equal to 8.7 billion humans, and around 80% of America’s corn is fed to cattle. At surface-value, cutting-out meat from our diets seems to be an almost undeniably beneficial move for saving our environments.
However, here’s the revelation: vegetables need land as well. In order to meet world corn demands, for example, mass amounts of land need to be cleared, so even if one is planting a field of corn, it probably used to be a biodiverse marshland, home to thousands of species. This rich natural phenomenon, however, was flattened and replaced by food for vegetarians (meat-eaters too, but I’m making a point).
Studies have also pointed to some flawed assumptions, and one in particular by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) made some interesting findings. Food waste causes environmental costs due to largely incorrect disposal, and of the food wasted by restaurants and homes, 40% is plant-based while only 30% is meat-based. This means that, regardless of the diet, people are guilty for polluting the environment with their food either way.
CMU’s research has also found that lettuce emits three-times more in carbon emissions than a pig does, and in order to reach one’s daily recommended caloric intake without meat, requires a lot more vegetables, legumes, fruits, grains, etc. In other words, vegetarians often eat far more produce than meat-eaters, and thus carry similar carbon-footprints.
However, this is not to say all vegetables or all meat products are better or worse than the other. CMU has clarified that the agricultural impact on the environment is not a simple one, but lumping all vegetables together and saying they’re better then all meat products achieves very little, if anything at all.
Ethical diets are another consideration, as not everyone becomes a vegetarian or vegan purely to “go green.” Some people are also unable to give up meat or dairy products for health reasons.
With all of this in mind, it becomes pertinent to stress that one’s diet is not what’s important. In order to eat for the environment, one needs to critically examine where one’s food comes from, rather than what one’s food is. If you’re buying from factory farms – be it meat or grain or vegetable – you are buying into a mass-produced system of environmental destruction. Buying local or organic are both great solutions, but it really boils down to being aware of where your food comes from. CMU even says that eating fewer calories in general would not only help our waistlines, but would be the best solution for the environment.
So whether you’re a veggie or a meat-freak, it’s OK. Just check the labels, and each meal you have could be one meal closer to a greener, healthier planet.
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