The 22nd of April is celebrated as a day dedicated to planet Earth since 1970. Celebrations take place in many countries around the world and it is supposed to be a day of awareness about environmental issues. Here, at the non-hip hippies, it is also the day that we celebrate our first year of eating a plant-based diet. You might think that the two are not related, but you are mistaken, my dear friend.
Why high meat consumption ruins the Earth
Many of the biggest environmental issues of our days are directly linked to the type of food that we consume and the way that it is produced. People who are eating the SAD (Standard American Diet) are consuming meat on a daily basis, some more than twice a day. Beef is the least sustainable meat choice for a couple of reasons:
-Cow emissions are more damaging to the environment than the emissions from cars and even airplanes. Check out this Independent article for more information.
-The high demand for meat translates into a high demand for animal fodder. And this often leads into deforestation, in order to plant more fodder crops. Unfortunately, it is often rainforests and other fragile ecosystems that are being destroyed. Take a look at this Guardian article, which details how importing animal crops (namely soy) from South America to feed cows in the United Kingdom leads to a great damage to rainforests.
-Fodder crops are of course not regulated the same way that crops for human consumption are. This means that they are treated with huge amounts of insecticides and pesticides. Deep tillage is routinely used as well. This leads to erosion, dead top soil and soon enough to huge areas that cannot be used for farming any longer, because they cannot hold any micro-nutrients.
-Another huge issue linked to high animal consumption is the pollution from the waste of factory farms. Factory farms are large scale breeding businesses that raise thousands of animals in confined spaces for human consumption. The amount of the manure from these animals is hard to grasp. And it is also very hard to manage. Many of you might have read that animal manure is a great natural fertilizer. The issue here is that there is much more manure produce than we could use for agriculture. This Natural Resources Defense Council article is very rich in facts and figures that might help you understand how big the issue of pollution from factory farms is.
Luxemburg is the nation with the highest meat consumption per capita (136 kg per year!) and the United States of America follow with 122 kg per capita per year. Of course, with the USA population being 315,718,000 and that of Luxemburg being 524,853, we can deal with The Grand Duchy of Luxemburg later. The good news is that beef consumption in the USA steadily declines the last few years. According to the USDA Livestock Dairy and Poultry Outlook, released on November 2012, Americans will eat 500 million fewer chickens, and 400,000 fewer cows than they did in 2006. Less pigs and turkeys are also expected to become meals in 2013. There is a debate about the reasons behind this. Could it be the higher feeding cost that is leading to higher prices, which led to a lower demand? Or are people becoming more aware of the environmental, financial and health impact of high meat consumption? Whatever the reason, the environment can greatly benefit from this decrease.
Why conventional crops are a tiny bit evil too.
Apart from meat, conventionally grown produce has many times similar effects on natural ecosystems as fodder crops. Chemical pesticides and insecticides are broadly used, especially in large scale farming businesses. Additionally, chemical fertilizers deplete the Earth’s natural resources, as many require potassium and phosphorus, which are far from unlimited. Would small scale organic farms be able to feed the earth’s population today? Probably not, as our ancestors were each growing their own food and nowadays we are busy being computer programers, lawyers, engineers, actors, designers, pole dancers and so on, way too busy to cook our own food let alone grow it. Still, for those of us who are privileged enough to have a computer and internet connection, we probably also have access to organic produce. Spending a bit more money to invest in organically grown food will not only help the environment, but also our health.
What can we do?
I am not claiming that the non-hip hippies are a version of food-saints who only consume organic and have never eaten meat in our lives. On the contrary. For 27 years in a row I have been eating anything all types of meat and never thought of organic fruits and vegetables as anything more than a fancy version of the natural produce. Researching the food industry however has opened my eyes. Sure, most of the time we will buy organic only about 30-40% of our groceries. But it is better than nothing. We have also stopped consuming meat and dairy products cold-turkey. But you can start slow. And if you do not have health or moral concerns (more on that in another post) you do not even have to cut out meat. Just reducing its consumption to 1-2 times per week and buy organic whenever you can afford it can make a huge difference for the Earth.
(Oh, and keep in mind that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is fiction and if we destroy this one, there is no other available to move to. At least for our generation.)