At this point in our college careers, most of us believe in global climate change. And, I am willing to bet, most of us believe that it is caused by human activity. With the overwhelming amount of science on our side, not to mention recent natural disasters such as hurricanes and forest fires plaguing our nation, combined with the current President & his administration’s terrifying environmental actions, it seems more critical than ever that we all take steps on our own to combat climate change. However, the steps that we often take, like recycling and carpooling, simply do not have that much of an impact. If we want to really reduce our carbon footprint and take steps to combat climate change, the answer lies right on our plates.
Many people do not realize the effect that their diet has on the planet. Let’s start with water. Many people think they can help conserve water by taking shorter showers. But the bulk of our water usage doesn’t go to showers. Almost 50% of the water used in the United States is used to raise animals for food. One pound of beef, on average, requires 1,800 gallons of water! And it isn’t just beef; pound for pound, meat products have a higher water consumption than vegetables, grains, or wheat. In fact, you would save more water by not eating one pound of beef than you would if you didn’t shower for six months. Skipping meat one meal a day, or swapping out your beef patties for black bean ones can have a huge impact.
Water isn’t the only thing to consider. When discussing greenhouse gas emissions, it is rarely reported that animal agriculture is a huge contributor; a recent report found it responsible for at least 51% of all emissions! Methane is a particularly notable one here, because it is 21 times better at trapping heat into our atmosphere than CO2, and cows on factory farms produce 150 billion gallons of it per day. So while driving your car less and taking public transportation can help the environment, the biggest change you can make is to decrease your meat consumption, which can in turn decrease animal agriculture.
All that talk about save the rainforests? You can do that if you eat less meat too! Every minute, about seven football fields of land are bulldozed around the world to make room for more farmed animals. You read that right. And it gets worse— more than 90% of the Amazon rainforest cleared since 1970 has been for meat production. And in case you thought this problem was strictly overseas, about 260 million acres of forests in the United States have been cleared to create feed for farmed animals–because all of them have to eat too!
This feed that farmed animals eat could be put to better use. About 795 million people do not have enough to eat, even though we as a planet grow enough food to feed 10 billion people- way more than the current population of Earth. The animals raised for food consume a bunch of our harvested grain, and we get significantly less food as a result than we invested. If we took all the grain we use to raise farmed animals, we could feed an additional 800 billion people.
The information here is just some of the environmental impacts of factory farming and animal agriculture, but there are more and I encourage you to do some of your own research. The situation seems dire, and it is. But the good news is that we have the power to lessen our environmental footprint every single day, every time we sit down for a meal or grab a snack. By choosing veg meals, participating in Meatless Mondays, going vegetarian or vegan, or even just swapping out burgers for veggie burgers when you buy groceries or vegan cheese for mozzarella on your Commons pizza, you absolutely have the ability to make a difference and make positive strides towards protecting our environment. If we stop supporting animal agriculture and make more sustainable and compassionate choices, we can help our planet.
Many people think that cutting meat out is difficult, or even impossible, but once you start you may find it easier than you think! I haven’t eaten meat since I was 11, and now avoiding it is second nature. I am healthy, I get all my vitamins and minerals, and yes, I get enough protein. I find there are many options on campus for students who want to lessen their environmental impact: the black bean burger in the Union, pizzas with vegan cheese in Commons, some pasta or something from the wonderful salad bar, and the list goes on.
I’ve also learned the pros of effective grocery shopping; there is a vegan or vegetarian version of basically everything (truly, everything) that you can use when cooking! Most importantly, I am proud of the fact that when I choose these options, I am helping the environment (not to mention animals) and showing others how easy it is to do the same. Every day, we have the choice to make these positive changes. If you have any questions about how to start cutting out meat or transitioning to vegetarian or vegan you can join the Veg Out Davidson group on Facebook or Davidson Animal Welfare Group (DAWG)–the environment will thank you for it!
Bridget Lavender ’18 is a Communication Studies major from Greensboro, North Carolina. Contact her at email@example.com.