If every person stopped eating meat and dairy for just one day a week, it would be the equivalent of removing 7.6 million cars from the road, or not driving 91 billion miles. That is incredible. Seems simple, right?
Well the good news is that it truly is (simple)! And here I highlight why it matters and point out how easy it just is…
About the Author: Samantha Sullivan
Sam is currently studying for a master in Biology with a wildlife conservation focus at the Miami University in partnership with San Diego Zoo Global. Sam’s interest is to work within communities to inspire coexistence with wildlife through education and awareness. She is committed to bringing an understanding of wildlife, conservation challenges, and environmental issues wherever she is physically or virtually and whenever she can!
Climate change is on the mind of every person on the planet, whether you are eco-minded or not, the information is out there and we are all exposed. We are constantly bombarded with images of pollution, melting ice caps, species in peril, and plastic pollution taking over our beautiful oceans. The images are difficult to look at, heartbreaking, and they leave us wondering what we can do. While we may not be able to stop driving cars and lead a zero waste lifestyle, there is something everyone can do. Minimal commitment is involved, it is very easy, and the impact is incredible. We can all reduce our consumption of meat and dairy products. I know what you are thinking, and no, I am not asking every person on the planet to go vegan, far from it. However, reducing your meat consumption by just one day a week can have an incredible impact on our planet. In fact, if every person stopped eating meat and dairy for just one day a week, it would be the equivalent of removing 7.6 million cars from the road, or not driving 91 billion miles [EWG17]. That is incredible. Seems simple, right? Just one day a week without consuming animal products and that’s it?
It seems too easy, and in fact, it really is. Not only is it easy, but there are also countless benefits. The impacts of reducing meat consumption span far beyond the reduction in greenhouse gasses; there are numerous health benefits, environmental benefits that impact our entire planet, and it is ethical and more humane.
Let’s begin with the benefits for your health. Introducing a more plant based lifestyle into your diet, even once a week can help you maintain a healthy body weight and make it easier to consume the necessary intake of fruits and vegetables into your diet that you may be missing in a meat based menu. A healthy diet includes at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables. A vegetarian usually consumes an average of 6 servings of fruits and vegetables, and a vegan consumes an average of 7 [HSPH]. As a result of this healthier lifestyle, there would be a reduction in diet-related doctors’ visits, hospitalizations from poor diet and death from diet-based illness and disease. Eating less meat reduces the prevalence of chronic and non-communicable diseases that are associated with higher body weights and poor eating habits [V&E]. A recent study shows that by adopting a healthier diet globally by the year 2050, we could save over 5 million people annually.
A large number of cancers have also been linked to a high consumption of meat. There are connections between meat, dairy, and eggs to an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and diabetes [V&E]. A healthy adult who eats meat twice a day has a 25% increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome which is linked to cardiovascular disease and diabetes [AHA18]. Additionally, the American Cancer Society recommends limiting processed and red meats to decrease the risk of colon and prostate cancer. Those who only consume meat a couple of times a month were over 20% less likely to die from heart disease. Additionally, there is no cholesterol in plant-based products, not even a little bit. Switching to plant based diets are found to be equivalent to taking medication that is used to lower your cholesterol. Plant based foods are high in fiber, and animal products do not have any, if you are on fiber supplements, perhaps a plant based diet could be a more natural way to get the required amount of fiber into your body.
Helping the Environment
If your health was not enough to convince you, then consider the effects the meat and dairy industry have on the environment.
According to the Washington Post, if we can reduce the meat consumption on the planet, global greenhouse emissions produced by the food sector would increase about 7% by 2050, as compared to a 51% increase if we change nothing in our diets. How does a reduction in meat actually impact greenhouse emissions? While there are a few reasons, methane gas is at the top of the list. Animals such as cows and lambs release methane gas into the atmosphere as part of the digestive process [IV17]. Methane is 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide which has a greater effect on greenhouse gasses. Furthermore, meat consumption drives emissions through deforestation. Our rainforests, which absorb greenhouse gasses, are being cut down to create more space for cattle grazing and the production of grain fields to feed the cattle. As these rainforests are destroyed, not only are ecosystems and wildlife destroyed, so are the major storage areas for carbon on our planet [IV17]. Animal based agriculture is responsible for nearly 18% of the greenhouse gas emissions globally [EWG17]. To put this in perspective, it is more than the emissions from every car, plane, and train on the planet right now, combined [RE]. That is a staggering statistic. Here are a few more:
- The production of the 550 million Big Macs sold each year in the U.S. creates 2.66 billion pounds of carbon dioxide [GoEO].
- If everyone in the United States went meatless for one day, over 70 million gallons of gas would be saved [EWG17]. That is enough to fuel all the cars of Canada and Mexico combined and more!
- 2,000 pounds of grain are required to produce enough meat and other animal products to feed a person on a meat-based diet for a year. A mere 400 pounds are needed if that grain is simply consumed directly. [IDA]
- 800 million people could be fed if all grain that was grown in the United States was used to feed people and not the livestock industry. [PD97]
- A meat centered diet uses 4,000 gallons of water daily. A vegetarian diet uses 1,200 and a vegan diet uses only 300 gallons. To put that in another perspective: 2,500 gallons of water will produce 100 pounds of potatoes or 50 pounds of fruit or 1 pound of meat. [V&E]
Reducing Industrial Animal Suffering
If the facts about your health and the health of our planet were not enough, how about the ethics of animal factory farming?
It is not surprising to learn that if you reduce your consumption of meat, fewer animals will suffer, but did you know that on dairy farms baby calves are taken away from their mothers just a day after birth? If they are female, they will enter the same dairy production cycle as their mothers and if they are male, they are sent to slaughter as veal. Farm animals are not allowed to live out their natural lives, often heading to slaughter at a very young age. Additionally, many don’t even make it to the slaughterhouse floor. Around 1 million pigs are killed each year from the rigors of transportation alone [V&E]. Male chicks born in egg farms are killed immediately via suffocation or thrown alive into grinding machines [GoEO]. If we consume fewer eggs, dairy and meat, this would happen less. Still, many have managed to avoid the perils of factory farming through an ethical omnivore lifestyle. This includes buying from local, family farms as opposed to large corporate factory farms. Still, even with this ethical omnivore lifestyle, one of the largest components of this lifestyle is to reduce the consumption of meat and dairy.
And Easier to Do than You Think
Now you are convinced and you are ready to reduce your consumption of meat and animal products, at least one day a week. That is fantastic! Then what? How? The good news is, there are countless resources out there to help you.
The Meatless Monday campaign is one of them. Meatless Monday was founded in 2003 by Sid Lerner in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Slowly but surely this movement is gaining steam on a global level. In 2009, Ghent, a city in Belgium became the first city outside of the United States to follow the Meatless Monday trend. Sir Paul McCartney introduced it to the UK soon after! Now, the Meatless Monday campaign is active in 44 countries.
Restaurants and other representatives are constantly finding innovative ways to make meatless and vegetarian dishes a part of their culture. There is likely a restaurant in your neighborhood with a meatless Monday menu already! Stone Brewing Company in Escondido, CA has adapted their menu for Meatless Mondays, and there are countless more that can be found here. If cooking at home is more your speed, there are recipes here. Additionally, many grocery stores such as Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and even your local large chain grocer have fantastic vegetarian foods to choose from. The possibilities are endless, go create your favorite Meatless Monday dinner recipe.
So much to choose from!
So? Ready to Try? Trying is adopting –in this case, a much healthier, environmentally better and a more humane life style. A win for all!…
[AHA18] Burgers, Fries, Diet Soda: Metabolic syndrome blue plate special (2008). From the American Heart Association. Science Daily.
[EWG17] Conservation. From the Environmental Working Group.
[GoEO] Eat Less Meat. Go Humane. Go Healthy. Go Green.
[RE] Be a Part of the Solution: Join the Diet Challenge. From Racing Extinction.
[IDA] In Defense of Animals Works to Protect Farmed Animals (2017). From In Defense of Animals.
[IV17] Isher, Virginia A. (2017). Carbon, methane emissions and the dairy cow. Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences research and extension programs. Pennsylvania State University.
[PD97] Pimentel, David (1997). U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat, Cornell ecologist advises animal scientists. In Cornell Chronicle. Cornell University.
[HSPH] The Nutrition Source. From Harvard School of Public Health.
[PCRM] Vegetarian and Vegan Diets. From the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
[V&E] Vegetarianism and the Environment. From the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
June 1st 2017 | by Samantha Sullivan
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