By Rachel Roberts
With the holiday season just around the corner, we often find our dinner tables filled with a variety of seasonal dishes including turkey, ham, chicken, and beef. Some personal favorites of mine are my mom’s pot roast, my dad’s chili, and my roommate’s pumpkin waffles. With food taking center stage during the holiday season, what better time to discuss some of the implications behind our current livestock farming and agricultural production system.
There are a number of serious environmental problems associated with livestock farming including climate change, deforestation, species extinction, and air and water pollution. In 2013, the Worldwatch Institute released a report naming agriculture as the third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. There are a couple reasons for this—when livestock digest and excrete organic materials, a significant amount of methane is produced; methane is incredibly efficient at trapping radiation contributing significantly to climate change. Another reason is that carbon dioxide is released when forests are cleared in order to create land for grazing or growing feed crops. In the United States, about 150 million acres of land are allocated for the production of feed for cattle.
In 2005, the Worldwatch Institute reported that an average person living in a first world country eats about 85 kilograms of meat—almost half a pound each day. This is a rate that nearly triples the amount of meat consumed by an individual in a developing country.
In 1961, the world’s total meat supply was 71 million tons. By 2007, it was estimated to be about 284 million tons. The United Nations believes that this number could very well double again by 2050. In sum, we consume a lot of meat, and it’s a practice that is becoming increasingly unsustainable. Fortunately, there are a couple of small changes we can all make to help curb the amount of greenhouse gases released in agricultural production.
According to a study in the journal, Environmental Science and Technology, cutting meat out of just two meals per week has a greater ecological benefit than buying all locally sourced food (however that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing both). What’s more is that the American Dietetic Association has confirmed, “Vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
If each American cut meat and cheese from their diet just one day a week, it would be equivalent to taking 7.6 million cars off the road. If you’re looking to make a change in your diet this holiday season, Meatless Mondays is a good place to begin. Check out cooking and food blogs, such as this one, for some tips and ideas.
Bittman, Mark. “Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 26 Jan. 2008. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/weekinreview/27bittman.html?pagewanted=all>.
“Eat Less Meat to Curb Global Warming – NRDC.” Eat Less Meat to Curb Global Warming – NRDC. National Resource Defense Council, 1 Nov. 2007. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <http://www.nrdc.org/thisgreenlife/0711.asp>.
“Methane Emissions.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <http://epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/ch4.html>.
Peeples, Lynne. “Eat Less Meat And Cheese, Environmental Group Recommends.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 18 July 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/18/environment-eat-less-meat-cheese-dairy-health_n_901464.html>.