Don't Have a Cow! Vegetarian Diets for Green Living
Holy Cow! What are we Eating?
Want to live green? Well, don't have a cow!
No, I mean it. Don't eat red meat. Forgo the foul. And you'd better not wish for fish.
A plant-based diet is shown to be significantly more healthy and eco-friendly than one that includes beef, pork, chicken and even fish. Perhaps you've heard that claim and wondered about why vegetarian diets are a significant component of green living? In large part, it has to do with the way we raise our food today, compared to past practices.
With the rising demand for cheap meat, we have arguably reduced ourselves to the level of animals. We squeeze in hundreds, if not thousands, of livestock into small pens. There, we provide them unnatural feed (for example, corn instead of grasses), and then we vaccinate them so that the close quarters in which they live do not result in a spread of illness. Oh, and don't forget the hormones used to build a bigger, fatter steak or drumstick.
Have you heard of the chickens so heavy that they cannot walk?
Not only are these practices inhumane, but they harm the environment in which they are found. Methane gas emissions from cows are said to rival CO2 emissions from cars, trucks and airplanes when it comes to greenhouse gases. Antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria may be emerging from the fact that we attempt to kill off every bug that could impact the food supply.
Let's review some of the environmental concerns with factory farms, antibiotics, and animal feed.
There's plenty to go around. Just don't be a hog.
Is it More Eco-Friendly to Eat Plants?
Ask anyone you know who enjoys bacon or burgers, and you're bound to get a negative reaction to the idea that its more eco-friendly to live vegetarian.
However, there is plenty of evidence to support that theory.
If you're concerned about your carbon footprint, one of the most effective steps you can take to reduce it is to stay away from animal-based foods (meat, eggs, dairy). This is in large part due to the fact that it takes much more energy to feed and maintain livestock than it does to grow plants.
A 2005 University of Chicago study [entitled "Diet, Energy and Global Warming"] found that a vegetarian diet (one that includes milk and eggs) produces around 1.5 metric fewer tons of carbon dioxide a year, roughly the same impact as switching from a Chevrolet Suburban to a Toyota Camry. If milk and eggs are removed from the vegetarian diet, the energy savings are even greater.
Overall, livestock is said to result in a larger contribution to global climate change than transportation, producing an astounding 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition to cow farts and belching to clog the air, enormous amounts of water are consumed to raise livestock. Compared to people that stick to a vegetarian diet, the average carnivore's diet requires fifteen times more water.
Geesh! I thought watering plants was resource-intensive....
And yet, there are two sides to every argument. In some areas of the world, it may actually be more environmentally-sound to raise chickens or cattle where the soil quality is poor, rather than grow crops.
Nonetheless, I'm betting that those regions are not serving up bacon double-cheeseburgers to their residents!
Eating Green Can be a Real Pleasure!
Just How Much of a Difference Can a Vegetarian Diet Make?
Given the average carbon footprint of raising meat for consumption, its not too difficult to see how your diet can make a global difference.
According to the Environmental Defense Fund:
If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains, for example, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads. And speaking of cars, it takes fuel to transport food, so buying from local farmers and ranchers cuts emissions even if you don’t cut out any meat.
If that estimate is not impressive enough, consider this:
If every American had one meat-free meal per week, it would be the same as taking more than 5 million cars off our roads. Having one meat-free day per week would be the same as taking 8 million cars off American roads.
These figures are based on the University of Chicago's "Diet, Energy and Global Warming" research paper, cited above.
If you are considering, or already live a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, you are in great company.
A recent Harris Interactive Inc. survey for Vegetarian Times magazine estimates that 7.3 million Americans older than 18 are vegetarian, and more than a million are vegan -- 3.2 percent, and 0.5 percent of the population, respectively.
In part due to the growth of the vegan/vegetarian population - and also probably in an effort to encourage people to live a greener lifestyle - many grocery stores now carry impressive selections of soy-based products, meat alternatives and other inventories. You can find a great selection at Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's in the U.S.
According to the president of the American Vegan Society, Freya Dinshah, its much easier to live a vegan lifestyle today than it was 40-50 years ago. In the United Kingdom, as well, it is estimated that the market for meatless foods will grow 22% in the period between 2006-2011.
What can we do about our Fast Food Nation?
How Green Can you Go?
No matter your reasons for considering a vegetarian diet, you can be certain that it will be a green decision!
Even if you are merely cutting down on meat consumption, it can have a big difference- not only on the global community, but also on the green in your wallet.
What about Fish?
Fish has omega-3 acids and is much healthier than red meat or poultry, right? In theory, yes, but today's fish farming practices also have a negative impact on the environment.
Farmed fish may escape from pens and breed with wild fish, diluting stock and raising the incidents of illness and disease. In addition, some fish farms allow fish waste, uneaten food and chemicals to pass into surrounding waters, harming eco-systems and negatively affecting water quality. In other areas, wildlife that enjoy dining on seafood (seals, sea lions, birds) are harassed to keep them away, which can have an adverse impact, as well.
Be a wise consumer and research the source of your seafood and aquaculture practices employed.
© 2010 Stephanie Hicks
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