Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Eating meat leads to... global warming?

If you call yourself an environmentalist, why do you still eat meat?

That was a slogan I commonly heard during college that was tossed around by the well-intended veggie lovers in attempts to convert omnivores that were otherwise fairly "like-minded".

So, while it's clearly not a spanking new idea, I am glad that it's getting more press again. I don't want to get into ethical debate about whether it's wrong/right/inhumane/human-nature to eat the flesh of other animals, I think it is important for the public to know that the choices we make about eating are just as important (if not more important!) as the decisions we make about the cars we buy or the light switches that we turn off.

If we were to have a dialog about eating meat today, it would not just a health discussion or a debate about animal rights, as it may have been years ago. It would also be a conversation about environmental consequences that have great impact on the earth we live. Case in point: It is said that reducing your consumption of meat by one day a week has the same amount of impact on reducing CO2 emissions as driving a care 1000 miles fewer per year. I paraphrased this from Mark Bitten's recent book Food Matters. Please forgive my lack of preciseness (I don't have the book in front of me), but you probably get the point about the picture Bittman is trying to paint. The resources that go into modern meat production, such as water and oil, could be used more sparingly if instead they went into growing vegetables, grains, and legumes (thus, feeding more mouths).

Given the amount of resources needed to produce a pound of meat, it is not sustainable for humankind to continue eating meat at the rates we do. (Think about it: Over 5000 gallons of water are need to produce a pound of beef, while only 25 gallons are needed to produce a pound of grain according to California Soil and Water specialists.) What's scarier to think about is that meat consumption is increasing as less-wealthy countries become both more wealthy (in terms of good ole cash money) and more Westernized. We are literally eating ourselves to death, in the literal sense for many individuals (due to health consequences like diabetes and heart disease) and in a metaphorical sense as we tip the world's biological equilibrium further away from being balanced.

Post your thoughts below--whether you agree or disagree. I have a feeling this will be an increasingly hot topic, as climate change because a greater concern to the public. It will also be interesting to see how the Obama administration addresses this part of the issue (if at all).

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