This past January, my meat-loving family tried an experiment: For the first month of the new year, we didn’t eat meat. We’d read about the health benefits of reducing meat consumption, and wanted to see for ourselves.
At first, this was challenging, both for our taste buds and for our social life: At a work event, I stressed about whether there would be something to eat; I felt self-conscious warning sleepover-party hosts that my kids wouldn’t eat burgers; and it felt weird being at a football party without nibbling on those tempting buffalo wings.
But when the month was up, we all decided that we liked our new plant-forward lifestyle, even my hot-dog-loving daughter, and we’ve been flexitarians ever since. We haven’t cut out meat entirely: We just eat a lot less of it, which means we can afford higher quality — and more ethically and sustainably raised — meat. So it’s a real treat when we do enjoy steaks or burgers for dinner!
While I liked what going meat-free did for my waistline — I lost 6 pounds without even trying — I liked even more what it did for the environment.
Reducing your consumption of meat and dairy is one of the best ways you can help protect the environment.
Not convinced? These facts might help sway you to make some changes on your dinner plate, even if it just means observing Meatless Monday every week or choosing more responsibly raised steaks. Small changes can make a big positive impact!
1. Red meat production pollutes the most
Livestock farming is responsible for as much as 40X the amount of greenhouse gases of common vegetables and grains. This pollution is caused partly by the pesticides and fertilizer needed to grow the feed for cattle and pigs, but mostly from manure and methane emissions from the living animals themselves, which is made worse by industrialized meat-production practices, which consolidate herds (and their refuse) into small concentrated areas.
Scattered manure dries out and returns to the earth, whereas huge deposits of it create emissions problems. Of course, then there’s the energy consumption and pollution caused by transporting the meat to your plate, often overseas from South America, where about 16 percent of the rainforest has already been cut down to make room for cattle grazing.
2. Livestock feed makes emissions worse than they need to be
Cow and other ruminant animals' digestion process create methane, the second-largest contributor to global warming. Meat production is the primary source of human-created methane being released into our atmosphere. But easier-to-digest foods, as well as certain additives, can reduce the amount of methane that a cow emits. Recently, scientists discovered that adding seaweed to a cow’s diet could decrease a herd’s methane emissions by as much as 30 percent! This method has yet to be adopted on a large scale, however.
3. Grass-fed beef is not necessarily better for the environment
While grass-fed beef has been shown to contain more nutrients and carries a smaller risk of bacterial contamination, the jury’s out on whether it’s better for the environment. Cattle grazing in pastures will spread manure more evenly, reducing water pollution and enriching the soil. And pastured cattle require less energy than cattle raised in a feedlot. That’s positive, but, since grass-fed animals mature at a slower rate, they tend to emit more methane over the course of their lifetimes.
4. Animal proteins are not an efficient way to feed the planet
To produce one pound of chicken or beef, it takes multiple pounds of grain. A United Nations study calculated that, if instead of feeding livestock with this grain, we fed it to people: We could feed an extra 3.5 billion people!
5. Toxins from livestock production are creating “Deadzones”
First there was the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, now there’s the Gulf of Mexico’s “dead zone”, a stretch of more than 8,700 square miles where pollution from agricultural runoff has caused algae blooms that harm marine life. Chicken and pork producers, among others, are believed to be among the biggest contributors to the pollution of these waterways.
… A global flexitarian diet could change the world.
According to a recent study, a global shift to a flexitarian (mostly plant-based) diet could cut agricultural greenhouse-gas emissions in half! This would mean everyone eating healthier, by consuming significantly less beef and pork, and half as many eggs. To get started, here are some plant foods than provide more than enough protein and other nutrients, including vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds.
These days, a trip to our favorite burger joint means my family is ordering plant-based “meat” patties like the Impossible Burger — which tastes amazing — and feeling good about doing our part to help curb the negative impact mass-meat production has on our planet.