Why Meat is Not Sustainable

“Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” ~ Albert Einstein.

There are many reasons people decide to go pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan, often having something to do with health or cruelty to animals. Legitimate reasons, to be sure, but they’re not what pushed me over the fence. It was realizing how grossly unsustainable it is to raise livestock for human consumption, especially with the number of people currently living on earth and the current practices that are employed by the vast majority of cattle farmers.

Cattle are definitely the worst offenders. Producing 1 kg of beef (a/b 2.2 lbs) emits greenhouse gases that equal about 34.6 kg (76.3 lbs) worth of global warming potential. Think of every cow as an extra car on the road driving about 7,800 miles per year. There are approximately 1.4 billion cattle in the world, 25-30% of which are dairy cows.

That’s a hell of a contribution to global warming, and that doesn’t include the other forms of environmental damage that result, like deforestation for the purpose of creating pastures. That also doesn’t include the contributions from other livestock, like sheep, goats, and pigs. The more you reduce the amount of meat and dairy in your diet,  the more you will reduce your personal carbon footprint.

Grapes to the rescue?

We need to work out other ways to reduce the impact of livestock on the environment, and more widely implement those we have. Grape marc is a by-product of wine-making. It’s the parts of the grape left over after pressing out the juice. It’s high in both dietary fat and tannins, both of which reduce the amount of methane a cow produces. When a study was done in Australia, it was found that feeding marc to dairy cows reduced their methane output by 20%. There were other benefits, too, such as reducing the concentration of saturated fatty acids, and increasing linoleic acid which is known to fight cancer, heart disease and arthritis. All that needs to be done for this to work is to create a supply chain between vintners and cattle farmers. It would at least be a start.

It’s also possible to use the manure from the cows to produce electricity, as pointed out by erisa1602 in a comment on my composting post. It strikes me that, as a society, we really need to work on interdisciplinarianism, cross-pollination of ideas, and plain old working together to create better solutions.

Full disclosure

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I am not a vegetarian. I’m actually a pescatarian, though I don’t eat seafood as often as I’d like and I’ve reduced my dairy intake to almost nil these days, almost by accident. One of the things you can do to decrease your meat consumption is to replace some of it with seafood, which doesn’t have as devastating an effect on the environment, if you choose responsibly. The Blue Ocean Institute has a fantastic resource to help you make sustainable seafood choices, while warning you of fish that may contain levels of mercury or PCBs.

It comes down to simple choices, every day, that can make very real differences – instead of making meat lasagna, make eggplant lasagna. Have a bbq with veggie burgers and veggie hot dogs. They’re way better for you anyway, and if you get the right brands they taste really good. There are also serious health benefits to lessening or eliminating meat consumption. I highly recommend looking into the China Study.

It’s hard to change your habits and your lifestyle patterns, but it’s so vital to the future of us all that we each try our best to contribute as little as possible to global warming. For most of us, that does mean we have to make changes. We can no longer afford to think, or eat, selfishly. It’s not sustainable.

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