Meat-free diet for environmental responsibility

By Jaime Rinaldi
Published: March 2009

It’s no secret that global warming and climate change pose one of the gravest existing threats to our future as a species. Most of us realize that we need to change our habits to lessen our impact on the environment. In most cases, we do what we can; turn off the lights when we exit a room, bike instead of drive, carry our plastic containers home instead of throwing them in the school trash bins. However, the larger solutions are a bit more obscure. Most of us would gladly drive a hybrid vehicle, but few of us have the money to buy a brand new car. Installing solar panels for your house is attractive, but simply too cost prohibitive. Many of us would be up for the Herculean task of embracing alternative energy sources and ending our dependency on foreign oil, a goal clearly outlined by the new administration, but the question remains, where do we even start?

Interestingly, the easiest solution is far closer to home than most sources would have you believe. According to a United Nations study published in September 2008, the single most problematic contributor to global greenhouse emissions is the production of meat. This process accounts for nearly 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which includes the numerous forests cleared for grazing space, the transportation of grains and other feed to pastures, the transportation of animals to processing plants, and the transportation of meat to stores. By contrast, oil-fueled transportation, which often receives the most scrutiny in discussions on climate change, makes up 13% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, a Noble Prize winner and chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggests that introducing meat-free meals into your diet is the single greatest step one can take to combat global warming. Vegetarian products simply don’t require the same multi-staged preparation process (essentially a multi-stage process that clears land and guzzles gas) to arrive at the grocery store. A vegetarian diet requires a much simpler production path, and in turn leaves a far smaller environmental footprint.

To many, this seems like an unreasonable sacrifice. Global meat consumption is at an all time high. Meat is at the center of most western cuisines, and many developing nations are embracing a more meat-centered diet as their increasingly industrial economies allow for the large-scale production of inexpensive meat products.

Yet, one cannot deny that for a majority of people living in the industrialized world, meat is also a luxury. Although the human body requires adequate protein supplies, most meat-eating Americans consume more than 150% of their daily requirement of protein. Numerous nutritional studies have proven that eating a completely vegetarian diet heavy in soy, legumes, and nuts can provide more than enough protein for a healthy diet. Meat is no longer a requirement for human survival; our society has outgrown its necessity. We have now arrived at the point where this luxury directly threatens our environment.

For ten years, I’ve shared the belief that Dr. Pachauri outlined in his UN findings’€we need to abandon meat in our diets. As a strict vegetarian, I can attest to the simplicity and ease of a meat-free diet.

Rather than moralize, I would like instead to suggest a more pragmatic path: reduction. If we believe the evidence of meat production’s role in influencing global climate change, then we owe it to ourselves, to our communities, and to future generations to reduce our intake of meat.
Even adopting one meat free day, according to the Pachauri’s UN study, would significantly reduce human contributions to climate change. A greater change in our diets could have even more dramatic effects.

A meat-free diet should not replace other efforts at an environmentally conscious lifestyle though. We need to continue our efforts at energy conservation and we all need to seek alternative transportation. The current administration and the American population should jointly reduce our dependency on foreign oil.

However, we also need to accept the immense role global meat production plays in causing global climate change.

We need to take responsibility for this impact in the simplest way possible, by dramatically reducing our meat consumption.

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