Earth Day and your diet

What if there was one small change you could make that would add up to a big difference to the health of the planet? Would you try it? Moving toward a plant based diet with fewer animal products is a powerful way to work toward a better future and a healthy planet! Why?

In a nutshell:  

The world’s population now exceeds seven billion people, but the number of farm animals reared for food globally is just over 70 billion. That’s 70 BILLION land animals raised for food (not including fish and seafood). Feeding and processing those animals requires an unsustainable level of land, water and energy use, contributing to devastating amounts of air and water pollution, climate change, greenhouse gases, soil erosion, antibiotic resistance– basically every major environmental problem that threatens our planet:

  • Greenhouse gas. A widely cited 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Livestock’s Long Shadow, estimated that 18 percent of annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, pigs, and poultry. That’s more than the entire transportation sector (13%)–train, cars, buses, trucks, or planes. An updated study from Worldwatch report, “Livestock and Climate Change” estimates that livestock and their byproducts actually account for 51 percent of annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.  
  • Water scarcity. All plants need water, and agricultural production consumes more freshwater than any other activity in the US. But meat production requires so much water it is staggering. This is not only due to the amount of water that 9 billion livestock in the US need to drink, but also the amount of water needed to grow the food to feed livestock (or the rainwater that falls on grassland that feeds pasture raised livestock). Consider: the water needed to produce 1 pound of wheat: 25 gallons, but the water needed to produce 1 pound of meat: 2,500 gallons! If water used by meat industry was not subsidized by US taxpayers hamburger meat would cost $35/pound.
  • Energy usage. Food takes a lot of energy in the form of fossil fuels to produce, even plant food, but we put about 10 times as much energy into animals per unit of food than we do for plant crops. Simply put, it takes about 10 calories of feed to make one calorie of meat, depending on the animal being raised. Beef uses the most, and chickens near the least, but the same rule applies: you have to feed livestock far more calories (or pounds) of grain than you get back in calories (or pounds) of meat.
  • Land use/deforestation. Of all the agricultural land in the U.S., 80% is used to raise animals for food and grow grain to feed them—that’s almost half the total land mass of the lower 48 states. Moving away from factory farming and back to grass fed/pasture raised livestock will only work if we also reduce our consumption of meat and dairy. We simply do not have enough land to grass feed our current appetite for meat and dairy. In Central America, 40 percent of all the rainforests have been cleared or burned down in the last 40 years, mostly for cattle pasture to feed the export market—often for U.S. beef burgers. Deforestation also leads to loss of vital trees that mitigate the impact of greenhouse gases and leads to soil erosion, nutrient depletion and flooding.
  • We feed more animals than people. In the United States, the livestock population on average outweighs the human population by about 5 times. At present, the US livestock population consumes more than 7 times as much grain as is consumed directly by the entire American population. The amount of grains fed to US livestock is sufficient to feed about 840 million people who follow a plant-based diet.

The list goes on (fisheries collapse, ocean dead zones, mass species extinction, antibiotic resistance, animal waste pollution, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease, world hunger for some, an obesity epidemic for others) and I hope you will read further on this subject. Below are a few articles that have been used for this post. You don’t need to become a vegan or vegetarian, but reducing the amount of animal products in your diet can make a powerful difference!  

A Leading Cause of Everything: One Industry That Is Destroying Our Planet and Our Ability to Thrive on It

Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change are…cows, pigs, and chickens? 

U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat, Cornell ecologist advises animal scientists

Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption

Animal Agriculture is a Climate Change Culprit 

The high price of cheap meat

Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment

Compassion in World Farming Strategic Plan 

“Albert Einstein, who was better known for his physics and math than for his interest in the living world, once said: ‘Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.’ We don’t think he was just talking about nutrition. Notice that in this article we haven’t said much at all about the role of meat in nutrition, even though there’s a lot more to talk about than heart disease. Nor have we gone into the ethics of vegetarianism, or of animal rights. The purpose of those omissions is not to brush off those concerns, but to point out that on ecological and economic grounds alone, meat-eating is now a looming problem for humankind. You don’t have to have any conscience at all to know that the age of heavy meat-eating will soon be over as surely as will the age of oil.”  Is Meat Sustainable? Now, It’s Not Personal! But like it or not, meat-eating is becoming a problem for everyone on the planet.


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