Eating less meat is a powerful way of decreasing your environmental footprint
I am sure many of you wish this was something you didn’t have to consider, but this is one of the most meaningful ways in which you can drastically decrease your environmental footprint… so… It is time to talk about the cow in the room! 😉
For me personally, this has been one of the moves I have struggled with the most. Eating meals heavily charged with meat is so ingrained in some of my happiest childhood memories. I remember when our family would gather to enjoy my grandfather’s BBQ beef loin or wood fire made sancocho and can’t imagine my life without these dishes. Believe me, I understand how difficult of a request this is.
Let’s start by talking about some of the reasons why cutting back meat consumption is better for our planet. We now know more about this, thanks to an interesting and pertinent study done by scientists Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek, published in the journal Science in 2018, where they created a huge data set from farms all over the world to come up with reliable measurements for the impact of food on the planet.
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
This is probably the most important aspect and reason to eat less meat. You see, the food we eat is responsible for releasing a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions in our planet, and if you break it down further, we now know that 58% of those greenhouse gasses come from farmed animal products. Of which, by far, beef is the worst! If you sum the greenhouse gas emissions that come from beef production, you get an average of 25kg of CO2 eq per 100g of protein, which is 3.8 times more than pork, 7 times more than fish and 15 times more than tofu! And if you compare them in terms of weight of the product instead of protein content, the difference is even more alarming! And yes, sustainable “grass fed beef” is better than non-sustainable beef, but it is still much worse than most other protein sources. But, why is that? Partly because of the fact that cattle produce a lot of methane and also because they need so much land or grain to grow, which brings me to the second point.
- Reducing deforestation
In recent history, farming practices have changed, which allowed meat to be produced and sold in a more affordable way. As more people had the option of eating meat, the demand for it continued to increase and more and more forest land (including areas of high biodiversity, like the Amazon forest) got turned into treeless land for cows to live on. This, of course, has a detrimental impact on our planet, not only because it destroys the habitat of so many species, and may ultimately make them extinct, but also because trees are what we call carbon “sinks”, they basically take up carbon and store it inside their cores. When we cut them up, this carbon gets released in the air all at once. Livestock now actually take up twice as much land as that taken for crops for human consumption! In general, agriculture now takes up half of all the habitable land in our planet which only excludes deserts and land covered by ice.
- Reducing toxicity of water
Have you heard of Eutrophication? This is when excess nutrients used for farming, like nitrogen, contaminate the water. This is a major problem because it leads to excess algae growth and decreased oxygen in the water. Once more, beef is up there on the list, with the highest amount of eutrophying emissions compared to other animal and plant farming.
- Decreasing fresh water demand
In this case, some food might be worse than beef, like nuts or cheese, depending on how you are measuring the amount of fresh water needed per kg of product weight, protein content or calories of the product. But in general terms, farmed animal products will need more fresh water than most farmed vegetables.
- Preserving the biodiversity of species in our planet
This is one of the most shocking data results from the study. Did you know that, excluding humans, 94% of global mammal biomass comes from livestock?! That leaves only 6% made up of all the other mammal animals on the planet. I get tearful while writing this…
As if all of those reasons weren’t good enough to make the decision to cut back meat, we can also add to them the fact that consumption of red meat is proven to increase your risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and even some cancers. So, it turns out that, once again (as seen in other butterfly move posts) what is good for the planet, is also good for you, because we are all connected!
Bottom line is, if you want to decrease your environmental footprint fast, decrease the amount of animal sources of food in your diet. Try just increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat, this will fill you up so you don’t eat as much meat, or limit your meals containing animal products to only a few times a month or a year… or if you think you can do it… try going vegetarian or even vegan!
Phew… I know, I am also glad that we are done talking about the cow in the room! Let us know how it goes for you with this move.