When I think about sustainability in relation to food, the meat industry comes to mind. In the West meat plays a very important role in our food culture. For most of us meat is seen as one of the primary parts of dinner, if not lunch and breakfast as well. On average, Americans consume 8 ounces of meat per day – 45% more than the USDA recommends. So what is the deal with meat, and are there benefits to going meatless?
One of the more widely known reasons to go meatless is for our health. Going meatless once a week is said to reduce your risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. I think for many students’ college acts as a trial period where we develop our independent decisions not only about diet, but our lifestyle. As a 2003 article in the Journal of American College Health reports, “a hallmark of most student diets is fast food that is high in fat and sodium content.” With most students choosing fatty comfort foods, the vegetarian lifestyle and options are often seen as a boring alternative. Because college is such a critical point in the development of lifelong habits, especially ones concerned with well being, it is the perfect time to start thinking about all of the ways food impacts us.
Now you might be wondering why eating meat affects the environment. According to a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a meat diet causes more greenhouse gases than either transportation or industry. Producing meat requires much more water than any other agricultural activity. According to the vegetarian author John Robbins (The Food Revolution), the production of a pound of beef requires 12,000 gallons of water. The link between large-scale meat production and greenhouse emissions is typically not something that crosses our minds before eating a good hamburger, but in reality reducing your meat consumption can be a very effective and simple way to cut your carbon footprint without adopting a strict vegan diet. So if cutting out meat entirely is not a viable option for you don’t fret. Just like reducing any other type of energy conservation methods, such as home energy use, you can improve your health and reduce your carbon footprint by joining movements like Meatless Mondays.
For most of us our week begins with Monday, and it happens to be the when we plan out the next six days of the week. On Monday we move from the autonomous nature of the weekend back to the structure of work or school. From an early age we have internalized the process of planning ahead on Mondays, and studies suggest that a behavior begun on Monday is more likely to be maintained throughout the week, making Monday the perfect day for action!
For me personally Meatless Monday has been challenging at times, not only do I love a good turkey sandwich for lunch, but the main reason I struggled is directly related to my reliance on a university dinning plan. Yes, there are vegetarian options such as a salad or a veggie burger, but when those are the only options for both lunch and dinner meals can get bland very quickly. An alternative method I try to implement, if I cannot completely eliminate my meat intake on Monday, is to limit the number of times I eat meat a day. By designating only one meal per day to enjoy meat I can still actively participate in improving my health and reducing my carbon footprint.
Let’s say limiting your meat intake to one meal per day still doesn’t sit well with you, there are still a variety of ways to become a smarter carnivore. Buying only absolutely antibiotic and hormone-free meat, choosing domestic meat, and eating seasonally are all ways to take action. You can imagine how eating lamb from New Zealand might affect your carbon footprint, or realize that there is a specific reason we have turkey at Thanksgiving–the birds mature in the fall. Recognizing the impact of meat and implementing any of these actions can help; it just takes time and dedication, something we all can and should sacrifice for the betterment of the environment.