Right Food to Eat: What more can we do for the planet if we already recycle the most we can and compost the rest? Greatly reducing, or eliminating, meat is one of the most effective actions to improve the fate of the planet. All agencies that oversee the health of the world are unanimous: the mass production of meat is one of the greatest environmental scourges. Here are a few things to mull over and take action about.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The Food and Agriculture Organization, a UN organization, sounded the alarm in a 2006 report: “The intensive farming of beef causes more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transport, cars, trucks and planes combined.” Cattle are responsible for 37% of methane emissions (one ton equals 23 tons of CO2) and 65% of emissions of nitrous oxide (one ton equals 296 tons of CO2).In the following table, we see that the beef is the big winner for its CO2 emissions: 65 times more than potatoes and 16 times more than wheat.
Equivalent Pounds of CO2 per Kilogram of Food
- 13 kg beef
- 6.2 kg pork
- 4.5 kg chicken
- 0.8 kg wheat
- 0.2 kg potatoes
Source: Cool Farming, Greenpeace
Poor use of grain
In 2001, the Department of Agriculture of the United States estimated the amount of grain needed to produce one pound of animal flesh.
Number of pounds of grain
- Lamb 21 lb
- 13 lbs beef
- 8.4 lb Pork
- 3.4 lb chicken
Worldwide, it takes nearly 55 billion animals per year to satisfy our taste for meat. If there were fewer animals to feed, then it would be possible to rebuild world grain reserves and ensure sufficient supply to countries where people suffer from hunger.
The average area of land devoted to agriculture in North America is 3.5 acres per capita. With a sharp drop in beef production, this area could be reduced to 0.5 acre per capita (seven times). Livestock production occupies 70% of agricultural land on the planet.
Space to Produce a Kilo of Food
- Beef 323 m2
- Pork 55 m2
- Chicken 53 m2
- Rice, pasta 17 m2
- Vegetables and potatoes 6 m2
Source: WWF Switzerland
If we produced less meat, we would have more space to produce a large variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds and legumes. Thus, we would have less need to get them elsewhere.
It takes 25 kilocalories (kcal) of fossil fuel to produce one kcal of meat, but it is only 2.2 kcal for a plant: that is to say, 11 times less. All that energy is required for the:
- Production of petroleum-based fertilizers;
- Machinery to grow the grain;
- Truck transport of grain, livestock, and processed meat;
- Refrigeration of meat.
The Committee on Sustainable Development United Nations estimated in 2004 that 7000 gallons of water are required to produce 100 grams of beef. Just incredible! About 40 pounds of manure is produced for each pound of edible meat too. These droppings cause serious disturbances in rivers, fauna, and flora.
A Topic Avoided!
Only 5% of articles on the environment talk about the importance of eating less meat. Yet it is an action available to everyone, and three times a day at that! In addition, it requires no investment and provides benefits in both the short and long term.
Not a Guilty Pleasure!
A vegetarian enjoys double satisfaction: a gustatory pleasure first, certainly, but there is also gratification in knowing that you are engaged in protecting the planet. One thinks further than one’s tongue. Yes, it would be fun to eat, but one must also consider the consequences of our food choices on the environment.
The Food and Agriculture Organization recommends reducing by half the global production of meat. Yet predictions are in the other direction: In 2050, we will be eating twice as much meat on the planet. Sound an alarm! It is time to seriously review our eating habits.
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