With media outlets like Forbes and the Economist dubbing 2019 “the year of the vegan,” plant-based diets have gained mainstream notoriety. People choose to cut animal products from their diet for a variety of reasons, be it personal health, ethical concerns, or an understanding of the environmental ramifications of animal agriculture. While we can bike to cut down our carbon emissions, utilize reusable bags to cut down on waste, take shorter showers to reduce our water use, and adopt a variety of other sustainable habits, reducing the amount of animal products one consumes drastically curtails all aspects of one’s environmental footprint.
The meat industry poses enough of a threat to multiple aspects of the world that, when addressing climate issues, it is necessary to focus on the ways that one’s diet can either enhance or reduce humanity’s impact on the planet. For instance, the United States Department of Agriculture found that the agriculture industry is responsible for 80-90% of US water use, with 56% being allocated to growing feed for livestock. Not only are livestock some of the largest consumers of water, but the animal agriculture industry is also one of the largest contributors to water pollution. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that materials tied to livestock production, such as animal waste, uneaten feed, antibiotics and other administered hormones, are top contributors to water pollution.
Additionally, the meat industry has expansive negative impacts on the world’s land. With 75% of the earth’s agricultural land being used solely for livestock production, the breadth of arable land that could be used to grow produce to feed the world is instead being allocated to producing livestock that can only feed so many. When looking at grazing practices or the industrialized growing of feed, one discovers that 1/3 of the world’s land has been degraded due to livestock. Recently the Amazon Rainforest has received a great deal of media attention due to expansive wildfires, and livestock production has been cited as a major influencer in this disaster.
In light of the negative consequences a diet of animal-products has on the earth, many are adopting a “Meatless Monday” approach. It has been argued that if the world’s population stopped eating meat for just one day a week we could significantly reduce our environmental footprint. However, it begs one to question if Meatless Monday here on campus has any positive influence. While the cafeteria makes a point to promote meatless options on Mondays, it does not remove meat options from the menu nor are students made aware of the benefits a reduction in meat consumption could have for them and the planet. Additionally, Environmental Concerns Committee (ECC) chair, Hali Wilder, sights food waste as a major concern for our community.
So, while there are good intentions behind Meatless Monday, if meat options are still available then perhaps our institution can find additional ways to reduce its negative environmental impact, such as finding ways to reduce food waste or to effectively remove it (i.e., composting).