When people first start examining their environmental impact, it can get really overwhelming. Some people want to jump right into a perfect zero-waste, vegan, low-impact lifestyle, but get discouraged quickly, and some would rather stick their head into the sand. I’ve put together this series of articles to help you take small steps to a brighter, greener lifestyle and a brighter, greener future.
People always ask me why I went vegetarian, and then vegan. Now, my reasons are manyfold: I love having a lower environmental impact, I feel better knowing that I am saving animals, and I feel so much healthier, both physically and mentally. But when I first decided to stop eating meat at age 16, I don’t think I could pinpoint an exact reason. Mostly for ethical purposes— I’ve always been extremely empathetic— but I later learned that many people who suffer from disordered eating are also vegetarians and vegans, as a way of controlling their diet in a socially acceptable way.
Now, I’m proud to be on the road to food freedom and self-love, but I can’t imagine going back to eating meat, especially not after everything that I’ve learned about industrial agriculture.
However, I understand that meat is a large part of many peoples’ diets and cultures, and the idea of cutting it out completely can be daunting. In the following article, I want to explain the ways that meat (and seafood) consumption are harmful to the environment and your health, as well as some easy ways to cut down on meat consumption.
Meat and The Environment
Modern agriculture is a vast, multibillion-dollar business that is wrecking the environment. A 6 oz steak requires about 674 gallons of water to produce. That’s about as much water as running your shower for 5 days in a row (at an average flow of 2.1 gallons per minute). If you’re looking to cut down on water usage, skip the steak at Chipotle instead of cutting into your valuable shower time.
Did you know that around 4/5ths of deforestation in the Amazon is linked to cattle ranching? Western demand for cheap beef (and lots of it) is a major factor in deforestation, which leads to habitat loss for many endangered animals, and cuts nature’s ability to scrub CO2 from the atmosphere, which is… less than ideal.
Speaking of CO2, producing a kilogram of beef releases around 27 kilograms of CO2 into the air— compared to just 2 kilograms for the equivalent volume of beans and tofu (source).
You know how every few months, there seems to be a big E. coli scare, usually for raw greens? That’s because the veggies are contaminated with irresponsible runoff from cattle farms. This runoff can also release antibiotics into the water, posing serious health and environmental risks (source).
Many people who avoid meat still eat fish, but commercial fishing is incredibly destructive to our oceans. A study of the Great Pacific Garbage showed that 46% of the plastic waste was from discarded fishing gear. These lost nets, called ghost nets, can strangle and kill many marine species (source).
Meat and Your Health
A major 24-year study of over 100,000 individuals showed that eating a single serving of processed red meat (like sausage, bacon, and hot dogs) increases the risk of premature death by 20%. Unprocessed red meat, like steak and pork, increases the risk by only 13%, which is still substantial (source).
Most Americans only consume 15 grams of fiber per day, compared to the recommended 25 to 38 grams per day. By cutting down on meat, and replacing meat-based meals with foods like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, you can easily up your fiber intake without resorting to supplements (source).
How do I cut down on meat?
- If you eat meat at every meal, try to cut down to once a day. Switch out sausage and bacon at breakfast for waffles and eggs, or a bowl of cereal. Pack a salad loaded with legumes and healthy fats in lieu of a sandwich, or stick to a nice PB&J.
- If you still eat meat every day, adopt Meatless Mondays. If seven people eat meat only 6 days a week, that’s the equivalent of one person being completely vegetarian! Try a baked potato with vegetarian chili, a veggie pizza, or pasta for your Monday night dinner.
- Try out the alternatives! Veggie burgers may seem weird and daunting at first, but switch out a meal or two a week with plant-based proteins. Check out your grocery freezer section for meat alternatives, or check out some recipes online. I love Morningstar Farms veggie burgers because they’re really tasty and widely available. Most of their products aren’t vegan yet, but several are, and all are vegetarian.
- Cut down to eating meat once a week. My mother and little sister follow this approach. My mom likes to eat a Philly cheesesteak sub every Tuesday, but that’s her only meat for the week. My sister is less consistent, but usually sticks to eating meat once or twice a week, and really likes these veggie corndogs.
In my ideal world, everyone is vegan and owns a pet cow, but I understand that not everyone is there yet. But if you’re scared of running a marathon, just take that first step, and keep going. Pretty soon you’ll focus on the distance you’ve traveled, and the length still to go will seem insignificant.