How eating less meat can drastically reduce your footprint

It’s week ten of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. Last week we talked about food waste in our society and how it causes greenhouse gas emissions. This week we’re going to look at another aspect of our food system which generates a huge amount of emissions. Let’s try eating less meat, for the planet.

You may, or may not have heard that the agriculture industry is the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. That’s right, more than the combined total of all transportation; 13% vs 18% from agriculture. And the cause of this is the mass production of animals raised to be eaten. You see, raising animals uses food, water, land and energy, all so that we can then eat those animals.

Not only that, but methane is produced by cow’s digestive system, between 70-120 kg of methane per year per animal. As mentioned in last week’s post; methane is more than 20x stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping heat. This means that livestock and their byproducts actually produce more than half of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

In the west, we eat a lot of meat, on average, American’s consume 122 kgs of meat per person per year. But when you look at the impacts of raising and eating meat it kind of seems crazy we go through this whole arduous process when we can actually just eat the plants we feed the animals instead!

Growing plants:

  1. takes up less land, which means less deforestation
  2. uses less water, which means less water shortages
  3. doesn’t require additional resources, like animal feed or antibiotics
  4. absorbs greenhouse gasses, rather than producing harmful ones
  5. Doesn’t create harmful byproducts, like manure causing ocean deadzones
  6. Food waste can be composted with greater ease
  7. And is simply better for human health

So this week’s challenge to eat less meat is a relatively easy one. Simply swap out meat for plant based alternatives in meals 2 – however many times you feel comfortable. Or start going with the trend of #MeatlessMonday at least.

If you’re under the impression that you can’t get your recommended protein requirements without meat, never fear! There’s plenty of protein in a variety of plant foods, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, soy and much more. Check out this guide to plant-bases sources of proteins on One Green Planet and get inspired by their huge library of yummy recipes. And remember, the recommended dietary allowance of protein is 0.8g per kg of body weight per day, on average 46g for a woman, and 56g for a man, depending on activity level. Chances are you’re eating over that recommended amount on the average meat-eating diet.

Not all meats are raised equal
Due to each animal’s needs and outputs, the carbon contribution of different types of meat differs greatly. So in cutting down on meat, you can also choose to cut down on carbon heavy meats first. For example just 1 kg of beef produces 34kg of CO2 emission, and lamb creates 17kg, whereas pork and chicken are far lower, at 6kg and 4kg CO2e respectively.

If you’re still unconvinced, or want to learn more about this issue check out the documentary film Cowspiracy.

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