cross posted at DailyKos
One common value throughout the Democratic party is the high esteem we hold of the environment. There are many great reasons to value the environment-- nature is beautiful, other forms of life depend on a healthy environment, our own health depends on a healthy environment, and many facets of our economy depend on a stable environment. The government makes its own laws to protect the environment the best they can; but ultimately, it is our duty as citizens of the Earth to do make lifestyle choices that keep our planet safe and clean. The USD Democrats acted on this principle last spring when we promoted CFL lightbulbs, bike riding, and awareness about global warming. Lacking in the USD Democrats' dialogue-- as well as other mainstream dialogue including An Inconvenient Truth-- is a call to adopt a vegetarian diet.
How does a vegetarian diet make a substantial impact on improving the environment? This diary will demonstrate that vegetarians have smaller carbon footprints, consume less resources, and promote the availability of more land than their non-vegetarian counterparts.
According to a recent U.N. report, "Livestock's Long Shadow-- Environmental Issues and Options," raising animals for food creates more greenhouse gases than all the trucks and cars in the world combined. Research from the University of Chicago echoes that sentiment in stating that going vegan (no meat, eggs or dairy) decreases one's carbon footprint more than switching from an American car to a Toyota Prius (while this research includes eggs and dairy beside just meat, the major point still stands that raising animals impacts global warmng). How is this?
There are a few reasons that the meat industry contributes so much to global warming. For one, animals emit methane as part of the digestion process. Methane is known to be a more potent greenhouse gas than even carbon dioxide; consider that billions of animals are reared worldwide for our consumption and that methane adds up fast. Furthermore, animals consume a ridiculous amount of resources for the "resources" that we obtain from the slaughtered animal. This brings me to my second point that vegetarians consumer far less resources than non-vegetarians.
According to Alan Durning from the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C., one pound of steak taken from a steer from a feedlot costs five pounds of grain, 2,500 gallons of water, the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline, and thirty-five pounds of eroded top-soil1. This makes sense. An animal is constantly consuming food and water that would otherwise go more-or-less directly to humans. The plants that animals eat require resources of their own to grow. In the end, we get what some call "a protein factory in reverse2." Another of these resources is land.
I was inspired by an article in the Guardian today, linked at DailyKos in the midday thread, to write this entry. The article condemns the World Bank for pledging to combat deforestation while supporting the meat industry in South America. Why is this position inconsistent? Because industrial slaughterhouses are the number one culprit of the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. Aside from destroying Earth's richest ecosystem, the destruction of the rainforest is credited as one of the major causes of global warming.
I have successfully demonstrated that including meat in one's diet (1) contributes substantially to global warming, (2) consumers far more resources and (3) promotes the destruction of natural habitats, including the Amazon rainforest. So what should we, as concerned stewards of the environment, do to alleviate this problem?
The answer is clear: we must reduce our consumption of animal foods as much as possible. This includes adopting a vegetarian diet and (although much more difficult to do) reducing or eliminating our consumption of eggs and dairy. Meat is relatively easy to replace in a diet; there are many other ways to get protein including whole grains, soy/tofu, mushrooms, beans, and nuts. Even in rural South Dakota one can find a plethora of vegetarian substitutes for meat (including fake ground beef, veggie burgers, veggie sausage, veggie roasts, veggie chicken patties, and more).
Eggs and dairy, because they are found in so many foods (like bread and pasta even) are much harder to eliminate and stay healthy. Complicating the transition to a no-egg and no-dairy diet is the fact that it is difficult to transition to a meat-less diet already; eliminating all at once would be very difficult indeed! As such I would personally recommend a graduated elimination/reduction of animal products. Reduce and then stop eating beef, then pork, then fowl, then fish. Then start buying soy instead of normal milk; cage-free eggs instead of factory-farmed eggs (cage-free chickens require less farmed resources since they can roam on their own and have less of an impact because they are populated less dense), switch to vegan cheese instead of normal cheese; soy yogurt instead of dairy yogurt. Unless you have a lot of money and access to a big-city vegan health store, this is probably the furthest you will get. Don't fret; if you've made it that far then you are doing all that you can reasonably be expected to do to fulfill your mandate to protect the planet.
Most likely, the biggest obstacle will be mindset. I am a vegetarian myself and struggled with mindset the most. My mom came from a family-farm in Minnesota that raised animals for food. Rather than looking backwards at tradition, we must look forward to the future. It matters not what our family has always done or what we have always eaten; what matters is that we build a world for the future-- for our children and for ourselves-- that is better than the world we inherited. There should be absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind at this point that a vegetarian diet will contribute to a better world. Not only will your personal boycott of meat have an impact on the demand-- and thus supply-- of meat, but you will influence your children and the people around you as well. I leave you with a plea that everyone reading this, who values the environment, honestly and deeply reflect on this issue.
1. Science News, March 5, 1988, p. 153, citing Worldwatch, January/February 1988.
2. Frances Moore Lappe, Diet for a Small Planet