It seems that every day a different fad diet is being forced down our throat, or a certain food is found to be the best way to prevent every disease/cancer from ever happening to us. As someone who is conscious about what I put into my body, filtering through the jargon became more difficult as I grew up, moved away from home, and began making my own dietary choices. It wasn’t until I not only considered the health of my own body but of the environment and community that I came to a conclusion: a plant-based diet is the best choice for me and, more importantly, for the environment.
There are a number of environmental benefits of adopting a vegetarian diet, so lets break it down:
1. Climate Change
Dr. Campbell and Dr. Esselstyn of Forks Over Knives, a documentary in favor of pursuing the plant-based approach to good health, found that factory farms are more responsible for climate-heating gases than all carbon dioxide emitting vehicles combined. To quote Dr. Campbell directly, “Cows are worse than cars.”
Looking at the issue in numbers, the livestock sector as a whole accounts for:
- 10% Carbon Dioxide emissions
- 37% methane emissions (23 times more harmful than CO2)
- 65% nitrous oxide emissions (296 times more harmful than CO2)
- 64% of human-induced ammonia emissions (causes acid rain)
These gasses are naturally occurring on the earth, though at MUCH lower concentrations. A plant-based diet makes for less of a demand for the factory farms that produce the high levels of ozone-hurting gasses as well as encourage new growth rather than new pollution.
2. Water Use and Pollution
When looking at the world as a whole, it seems that having access to water always be available. However, of the world’s freshwater supply, less than 1% is available to be used by humans. By eating a plant based diet, you can reduce your water use dramatically and make a major contribution to water conservation! Following are some quick points to make it a little easier to visualize:
- One pound of processed beef uses 2500 gallons of water -> one pound of soy uses 250 gallons of water -> one pound of wheat uses 25 gallons of water
- Livestock’s rangeland is overgrazed and repeatedly walked over, causing high erosion of the soil. With no fertile topsoil for the farmer to then grow crops, what’s the answer? Chemicals! Because they are needed at such high volume, these chemicals then run off into nearby streams, contaminating the water of up to 4.5 million peoples drinking water.
3. World Hunger
While it is easy enough to find a PETA pamphlet and be saddened by the pictures of mistreated animals, very seldom do you run across a depiction of what impact our eating habits can have on our own people. Attention desperately needs to be shifted to the growing population in a world where 925 million are already going hungry. Jeremy Rifkin notes:
“Cattle and other livestock are devouring much of the grain produced on the planet. It need be emphasized that this is a new phenomenon, unlike anything ever experienced before.”
When you think about food waste, most think about not finishing the food on their plate and throwing it in the trash. Now, lets think about this in another light: animals need to eat, A LOT, to live. For every pound of meat, 20 pounds of grain is needed for feed. Considering the average cow will provide about 500 pounds of meat, roughly 10,000 pounds of perfectly edible grains are essentially wasted. After a single person decides to adopt a vegetarian diet, land becomes available to feed up to 19 people!
Every person can make a bigger impact than they ever thought through a simple change in eating habits. To reiterate a previous point, it takes a lot of land, resources, food, and work to raise animals for human consumption. So if so much energy is being put into raising animals, why is a double cheeseburger so cheap in comparison to locally grown fresh produce? Subsidies. The government is able to place taxes on people to essentially help pay for the agribusiness. When calculated out, a pound of beef would cost up to $35 if left at market price in the supermarket.
In the end, it really comes down to personal beliefs and what works best for you. However, in a world where corporate powerhouses control the food system, it is hard to feel like we can individually have an impact on food justice and environmental health. By simply making the decision to eat legumes rather than a steak for protein, not only will your body thank you, but the environment will too!
A couple of my favorite places to find great recipes as well as tons of resources to understanding more about the vegetarian lifestyle, visit: