Monday, November 1, 2010

How’s Your Food Karma?, Part II: Eco Impacts

The famous writer, Michael Pollan—himself a meat eater—said, "a vegan driving a Hummer has a smaller carbon footprint than a meat eater driving a Prius." While this comparison may be closer to a tie, the reality is our current and projected consumption of animals and all that entails—massive water consumption, nitrate pollution, methane emissions, and concentrated factory farming practices to name a few—is taking an enormous toll on our natural environment and contributing significantly to global warming.

My intent is not to make enemies out of those who—out of habit or conscious choice—consume animals for food. My intention is to point out some of the consequences and encourage people to at least practice and promote consuming less meat.

The United nations FAO undertook a comprehensive study—Livestock's Long Shadow - Environmental Issues and Options—regarding the environmental impacts of consuming animals for food in 2006. Based on that study, the FAO concluded that livestock are responsible for a larger share of greenhouse gas emissions than even transportation—18%. Further, the report estimates that livestock contributes to about 9% of total anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, 7% of methane and 65% of nitrous oxide emissions. They further conclude that we must take urgent action to correct the massive negative impact that animal production is having and is his projected to have on the environment.
Intensive animal farming produces massive amounts of waste

I remember being shocked years ago by the fact from the book Cadillac Desert that the largest water user in the state of California was not the city of Los Angeles but growing grass to graze cattle. A few other facts about animal consumption and its negative impacts on the environment include the following (from John Robbins’ Diet for a New America):
•    Three times more fossil fuels are needed to produce food for a meat centered diet than a meat free diet,
•    85% of topsoil loss is directly related to raising livestock,
•    55 square feet of tropical rainforest is destroyed for every ¼ pound of rainforest beef produced,
•    300,000,000 pounds of meat are imported to the US annually from Central and South America,
•    More than half of all water used in the US for all purposes is used for livestock production,
•    It takes 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat, it takes 5000 gallons of water to produce a pound of California beef,
•    If every human follows a meat centered diet the world's known oil reserves will only last 13 years, if human beings no longer ate meat they would last 260 years,
•    33% of all raw materials consumed in the US are devoted to production of livestock, 2% of all raw materials consumed in the US are needed to produce a complete vegetarian diet,

It's your choice what you eat, but let's make it a conscious choice based on the facts. We all have to decide for ourselves, and everyone has a different approach. I chose to give up animals for food all at once; some choose to wean themselves off of meat slowly. I hope you will consider giving up meat consumption entirely, and if that doesn't work, I hope you will choose to consistently reduce your consumption of animals starting now by going meat free one or two days a week, increasing the number of days each month from there.

There are lots of great resources for how to eat healthy, tasty food free from animal products. One good source is Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which has a free vegetarian starter kit.

According to Captain Paul Watson, "The bottom line is that to be a conservationist and an environmentalist, you must practice and promote vegetarianism or better yet veganism."

Here are some related links:
vegan hummer vs meat eater in a prius:
NYT article: Rethinking the  Meat Gussler

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