Food for Thought

Illustration by Matt Bodkin
Illustration by Matt Bodkin

As Vegetarian Awareness Month was coming to a close in October, the World Health Organization reported on the dangers of eating red and processed meats. Days later, Anonymous for Animal Rights released the disturbing YouTube video Through Their Eyes, highlighting an undercover investigation from a baby chick’s perspective.

Meat production is projected to double by 2020, according to Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, and it’s impacting our planet.

To meet the rising demand, livestock production has grown increasingly more industrialized and accounts for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, according to the Livestock, Environment and Development (LEAD) Initiative.

The average Westerner consumes 176 pounds of meat annually and more than two-thirds of all agricultural land is devoted to growing feed, while only 8 percent is used to grow food for human consumption, LEAD reported. Researchers also found that the livestock industry uses dwindling water supplies, destroys forests and grasslands, and pollution as well as fertilizer and animal-waste runoff create dead zones in coastal areas. Since livestock accounts for 50 percent of antibiotic use globally, there’s also concern over increased antibiotic resistance.

To put this in perspective:

• Approximately three times more chickens roam the earth than humans.

• 5,000 gallons of water are required to produce one pound of beef.

• Each cow produces 100 gallons of the greenhouse gas methane every day, which is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide and comparable to the pollution of a car.

• Eliminating two pounds of beef conserves enough water for a five-minute shower every day for an entire year.

Many advocates believe that any move toward a plant-based diet results in healthier humans and a healthier planet.

If we are what we eat, instead of selecting foods out of habit, we should think about the impact of our choices. We can shift the focus from meat as the main ingredient to incorporating it as a complement to our meals—and substituting the many healthy, cholesterol-free and delicious alternatives. With Thanksgiving around the corner and a turkey shortage looming, Tofurky anyone?

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