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Easy Greening: Skip the Meat, Save the World

by Jenny Abel

Beef CutsIn perusing articles about which personal actions can have the greatest impact on reducing our carbon footprints, I keep reading reports of how becoming vegetarian is one of the major contributions we can make to environmental preservation. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a vegetarian (although not a vegan—I eat dairy products and eggs) for almost 23 years, so I admit to having a bias on this issue.

According to "Livestock’s Long Shadow," a report from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the meat industry generates 18%--or nearly one-fifth--of the human-caused worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. The production of beef, especially, is a tremendously inefficient use of resources. Between 1,800 and 2,500 gallons of water are used to produce one pound of beef compared to 220 gallons needed to produce a pound of tofu. Approximately 40 calories of fossil fuel energy are needed to produce one calorie of feedlot beef in the U.S. compared to 2.2 calories for every calorie of plant-based protein.

Growing demand for meat also exacerbates our inability to feed a burgeoning population. According to a 2010 United Nations report, over half of the crops cultivated around the world are fed to livestock and 30% of the earth’s land is devoted to raising these animals. The same report estimates that our reliance on meat-based diets will result in serious worldwide famines by 2050 when the planet’s population is expected to reach 9.1 billion people.

Turning once again to the United Nations, in a 2006 report they stated that “raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all of the cars and trucks in the world combined.” Granted, these data are six years old and one could argue that the demand for cars in growing economies like China may have outpaced livestock production. Nevertheless, this and the other statistics listed above are indeed sobering.

If these stats aren’t quite sobering enough to make you give up hamburgers, steaks, chicken, Thanksgiving turkey, etc., the folks at Meatless Monday suggest that kicking the meat habit one day a week could have a large impact. Their movement is growing globally and includes restaurants, schools, and food service companies. I was in an Arlington high school recently where the students told me that their cafeteria offers only meat-free options on Mondays. The Meatless Monday folks have an extensive list of mouth-watering recipes with everything from Acorn Squash Chickpea Bulgur to Zucchini Tomato Curry:

Now I recognize that in terms of my own habits I could have way more impact on this issue if I became a vegan. Not ready to give up my yogurt and cheese, I have decided that I could skip them at least one day a week, so I’m hereby pledging to go dairy-free on Mondays. I hope you’ll consider joining me somewhere along the spectrum of this meat-free/dairy-free/egg-free movement as an easy way to protect and preserve our environment.


This content was originally published in the Summer 2012 issue of the Mount Vernon Sierran, the e-newsletter of the Sierra Club's Mount Vernon Group.