Since we’re talking about what we consume and how it affects the planet, let’s talk about the overwhelmingly obvious: food. We can live without a lot of things – electricity, oil, modern transportation – but we can’t live without fueling our bodies. The problem, though, is we’ve moved from fueling our bodies to storing excess reserves which might not be used. Not only are we getting heavier and heavier every year because of the excess, we’re having a terrible effect on the environment.
Forget the health issues for a moment and focus on the environmental issues. We eat too much of everything, really, but specifically meat. We like it. We crave it. We order large slabs of it at restaurants. We have diets centered around it. We figure it’s our God-given right to slaughter a cow, put it on a spit, and eat it (steak sauce optional). Don’t get me wrong – I’m NOT against eating meat, never have been, never will be. I’m not a vegetarian because of the little fur creatures. But the amount of meat we consume comes from somewhere, and it’s the little (and BIG) fur creatures.
Consider what it takes to raise a herd of cattle for slaughter. An open field (space). Lots of water. Feed. If the herd is raised according to traditional modern measures, lots of antibiotics and hormones. What does the herd produce? Lots of meat, milk, and waste. So not only is the herd using the resources of space, water, and food, it’s producing waste which in turn pollutes the water and space it uses. Not only that, the antibiotics and hormones stay in the flesh and milk we consume, but also get into the ground and the run off water, which in turn affects the plants and wildlife which inhabit the space and waterways. Not to mention the herd is killing the native grasses and plants on the ranch (through grazing and treading), which in turn helps lead to erosion.
See the cycle? One herd of cattle doesn’t just affect the space it’s on in, it cycles the effects through a larger area of the environment.
“On average, land requirements for meat-protein production are 10 times greater than for plant-protein production.” (Leitzmann, 658)
We have a big country, true, but just because we have the space to raise animals for human feed doesn’t mean we should. That space could be used to build houses, replant native vegetation, or raise grain or vegetable crops for human consumption.
When I grow up (:::snicker:::), I want to help the homeless and the poor. I do this already, to a certain extent. This seems like a totally different direction for this post, but it’s not. The following quotes are what directly led me to becoming a vegetarian:
““About 40% of the world’s grain harvest is fed to animals. Half of this grain would be more than enough to feed all the hungry people of our planet.” (Leitzmann, 658)
“The amount of grains fed to US livestock is sufficient to feed about 840 million people who follow a plant-based diet.” (Pimentel, 662)
Leitzmann, Claus. “Nutrition ecology: the contribution of vegetarian diets.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. September 2003. 78:3. 657S-659S. http://www.ajcn.org
Pimentel, David and Marcia Pimentel. “Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. September 2003. 78:3. 660S-663S. http://www.ajcn.org
For me, and I’m sure countless others, not eating meat is an issue of stewardship. It’s not just about using our resources wisely, but using our resources in such a way as to help those in need. Some of you are thinking, “Yeah, sure. Do you really think that by you not ordering a steak or a side of pork ribs at Long Horn, some poor person is going to get fed?” Can one person make a difference? Yes. I think that if I cut or eliminate my comsumption of meat, I’m helping offset the planetary effects a bit, supporting grain and vegetable farmers, and helping influence other people to do the same thing. It also means I have the money to go to McDonald’s and but someone a burger and fries who might not otherwise eat.
Now I’ll be really honest here: I still eat fish. I like fish, eating it keeps me sane (especially when I’m craving a rib eye), and it makes dinner time easier on my omnivorous husband. I see the hypocrisy of saying “I gave up meat!” and yet still eating fish, and while I only eat fish and seafood a few times a week, I still have to be concerned about overfishing and what it’s doing to our environment. If we keep fishing the oceans and seas like we do now, we’ll have no fish in about twenty years.
Ok, deep breath. By now you’re either laughing at me or staring at this post in horror, vowing to give up meat from this day forward. Relax. If you really, truly feel called to give up meat, do it. Just make a decision to give it up for the rest of today. And then do it again tomorrow, and then the day after that. Soon it’ll be a week, and you’ll wonder why you thought it was so hard. But if you don’t feel called to become a vegetarian, that’s fine too. Can you reduce the amount of meat you consume each day? Do you REALLY need the award for eating the 60 ounce cut of steak? Instead of eating meat, pork, or poultry at every meal, try giving it up for a meal. Cut the sausage from your breakfast or the deli meat from your lunch. Eat more eggs, cheese, beans, and legumes. Be brave and try tofu, seitan, and tempeh. When you eat meat, reduce your protions.
It all adds up.