by Shannon Blankinship
In just 31 days, you have made a difference in the world in so many ways! Look at the numbers below, and ask yourself is the sacrifice made compensates for the reduction in deforestation, water use, waste disposal, energy consumption and communicable disease.
Per-capita meat consumption has more than doubled in the past half-century and as a result, the overall demand for meat has increased five-fold. That, in turn, has put escalating pressure on the availability of water, land, feed, fertilizer, fuel, waste disposal capacity, and most of the other limited resources of the planet.
Recent world harvests, if equitably distributed with no diversion of grain to feeding livestock, could provide a vegetarian diet to 6 billion people, whereas a meat-rich diet could support only 2.6 billion.
With a present population of over 6 billion, the question of whether we get our protein from animals or plants has direct implications for how much more of the world’s remaining forest we have to raze.
In Central America, 40 percent of all the rainforests have been cleared or burned down in the last 40 years, mostly for cattle pasture to feed the export market—often for U.S. beef burgers.
Complex grassland destruction followed, as herds of domesticated animals were expanded and the environments on which wild animals such as bison and antelope had thrived were trampled and replanted with monoculture grass for large-scale cattle grazing.
The standard diet of a person in the United States requires 4,200 gallons of water per day (for animals’ drinking water, irrigation of crops, processing, washing, cooking, etc.). A person on a vegan diet requires only 300 gallons a day.
Water experts calculated that we humans are now taking half the available fresh water on the planet—leaving the other half to be divided among a million or more species. Species by species, we find that the heaviest water use is by the animals we raise for meat. One of the easiest ways to reduce demand for water is to reduce the amount of meat we eat.
It takes 550 liters of water to produce enough flour for one loaf of bread in developing countries, but up to 7,000 liters of water to produce 100 grams of beef.
If you shower every day and your showers average seven minutes (flow rate 2 gal/min) then you use 5,110 gallons of water to shower every day for a year. Every POUND of California grass-fed beef uses 2,464 gallons. You save more water by not eating a pound of beef than you would by not showering for six months.
Rivers carrying livestock waste are dumping so much excess nitrogen into bays and gulfs that large areas of the marine world are dying.
Giant livestock farms, which can house hundreds of thousands of pigs, chickens, or cows, produce vast amounts of waste. In fact, in the United States, these “factory farms” generate more than 130 times the amount of waste that people do.
Nutrients in animal waste cause algal blooms, which use up oxygen in the water, contributing to a “dead zone” in our rivers where there’s not enough oxygen to support aquatic life.
The journey that steak made to get to your refrigerator consumed staggering amounts of energy along the way. First, growing the grain to feed the cattle, which requires a heavy input of petroleum- based agricultural chemicals. Then, fuel required to transport the cattle to slaughter, and thence to market.
Next, hauling the world’s meat thousands of miles often overseas to butcher and sell. After being refrigerated, it has to be cooked. It takes the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline to produce a pound of grain-fed beef in the United States.
It takes, on average, 28 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of meat protein for human consumption, whereas it takes only 3.3 calories of fossil- fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of protein from grain for human consumption.
One ton of methane, the chief agricultural greenhouse gas, has the global warming potential of 23 tons of carbon dioxide. A dairy cow produces about 75 kg of methane a year, equivalent to over 1.5 tons.
Livestock emit 16 percent of the world’s annual production of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
While 56 million acres of U.S. land are producing hay for livestock, only 4 million acres are producing vegetables for human consumption.
A report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 89 percent of U.S. beef ground into patties contains traces of the deadly E. coli strain.
Animal waste contains disease-causing pathogens, such as Salmonella, E. coli, Cryptosporidium, and fecal coliform, which can be 10 to 100 times more concentrated than in human waste. More than 40 diseases can be transferred to humans through manure.
Not only is mortality from coronary heart disease lower in vegetarians than in nonvegetarians, but vegetarian diets have also been successful in arresting coronary heart disease. Scientific data suggest positive relationships between a vegetarian diet and reduced risk for obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and some types of cancer.
While it may have been 31 days of struggle, you did a good thing. Applaud yourself, and consider going meat free more often. Don’t wait till next March to try it again, but consider Meatless Monday or limiting meat to only once or twice per week. You can do it!
*Note, these numbers are all averages. The data here was sourced from The WorldWatch Institute with a vision for a sustainable world and can be found at: www.worldwatch.org/node/549.