For about the last 10 years, essentially since leaving my parents’ meatloving kitchen and striking out on my own, I’ve been a somewhat reluctant, on-again off-again vegetarian, mainly because neither of the traditional two reasons for going vegetarian, the moral reason – food animals suffer unjust treatment, animals have feelings, etc – nor the health reason – a meat-free diet will presumably be lower in fat, and will include more fruits and vegetables – really ever had me convinced. However, there is quickly emerging a third reason for going veg that should, and will, make anyone with an eco-conscious outlook reconsider eating meat: the environmental impact that the meat industry has on our country and the world. From a recent New York Times article (via Reality Sandwich) titled “Rethinking the Meat Guzzler”:
Growing meat (it’s hard to use the word â€œraisingâ€ when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases â€” more than transportation.
To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan â€” a Camry, say â€” to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.
So essentially, you can bike to work all you want, but if you eat a burger for lunch, you might as well be driving a Hummer. Food for thought…