Saturday, May 17, 2008

Nature's Gas Guzzlers

Photo Created by Grover Casey

Several years ago my husband suggested that we begin searching for a car to provide us with better gas mileage. He was becoming quite active in the "social justice scene" and wanted to make a difference in our world. Plus, he also watched Who Killed The Electric Car? which served to strengthen his awareness about the choices we make as a society and the often unforeseen consequences that follow.

As with any major purchase, I usually overdo it on the research until I start to question everything....but to make matters worse, while tackling this fuel saving topic, I ran across additional information directly connecting consumer choices with the hugely negative impact they have upon the environment. Only this time it had nothing to do with automobiles--this time it was about our diets. It soon became evident that my husband actually needed convincing that his very own meat-based diet impacted the planet more negatively than his driving habits.

Being an avid organic gardener and a self-titled "food snob" I read through the newly acquired information with intense curiosity. Sure, I had become a strict vegetarian while in college many years ago, but that was simply because I was really sensitive and could not stand the sight of dead animal parts on my plate. Back then my decision was based purely upon visual reasons, but now I was happy to find that a plant-based diet has other positive advantages--including benefiting the planet as a whole and for our own personal health and well being.

A major report published by the World Cancer Research Fund in 1997 recommended that we lower our risk of cancer by choosing a predominantly plant-based diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, legumes and minimally processed starchy staple foods, and to limit the intake of grilled, cured and smoked meats and fish. Yet, in spite of this information, the production and consumption of meat worldwide has more than tripled since 1961. In the year 2007 alone, there was approximately 284 million tons of meat produced in the world. This has lead to a vast decline in small, family-owned farms, and an explosion in the development of large, inhospitable Agri-Farms.

What's more is that these giant, modernized industrial farms keep livestock crammed in horrendously uncomfortable and unnatural conditions which do not allow for the animals to freely graze on grasses (which are their natural diet). Plus, to increase the size and production of cows, farmers feed them a diet full of grains, fat, and soy products (or some similar combination). The animals are also provided with much needed daily doses of antibiotics to help digest this non-typical diet because it induces too much stress and upsets their internal system. This, in turn, leads to needless over-usage of antibiotics which are indirectly consumed by people eating meat leading to strains of new bacteria which are resistant to our current antibiotics.

This type of mega-meat production system also wreaks havoc on the environment by creating huge amounts of waste, polluting surrounding water sources, and using tremendous amounts of energy. Agriculture associated with meat production in the United States, contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The meat industry alone consumes over half of all water used for all purposes in the United States. For example: Water utilized to produce 1 pound of meat amounts to 2,500 gallons. In comparison, the water utilized to produce one pound of wheat amounts to 25 gallons. As a result of this, major deforestation is occurring to make way for pastures. This, in turn, robs the planet of the very trees which are perfect for absorbing carbon dioxide. In fact, meat production is so demanding that Brazil alone lost 1,250 square miles of rain forest in five months due to crop production and the need for grazing land.

When it comes to deciding whether to cut back on your fuel usage or your meat consumption, you should be aware that cattle and sheep release vast amounts of methane, which is proven to be a potent greenhouse gas. A recent study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations produced startling findings: The animals' gas outputs, the nitrous oxide gases from their decomposing manure and other factors, including the energy needed to store and transport meat, were responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions --which is more than the entire transportation sector produces.

To put this in layman's terms, states that, eating one pound of meat produces the same amount of greenhouse gases as driving a Hummer 40 miles.

And guess what? Meat production is also subsidized by our government--just like oil is. So, in all actuality, the massive amounts of livestock are also our nation’s “gas guzzlers”. Plus, we Americans represent approximately 5% of the world's population and eat around twice the global average of meat each day. So the cost of production of all of the crops which are needed to feed livestock and the amount of land needed for growing these crops is ever increasing. What's even more though provoking is that if we took all of the food produced which is lost down the throats of livestock, we could feed millions of people on this planet.

In July of 2007, after hearing a former cattle farmer (now an animal activist, turned vegan, who cured himself of heart disease) give a speech on his first hand account of the negative impacts of the meat industry and the ways in which we, as consumers, can put a stop to this--my husband finally decided to join me and 'go veggie'. So, instead of rushing out to buy that idealistic hybrid car, we chose instead to make a difference by regularly purchasing more environmentally friendly and organic products, shopping at local farmer's markets, supporting our local CSA's (Community Shared Agriculture), utilizing sustainably produced eggs and dairy, and striving to be the shining example we wish to see.

**Make a Pledge to Eat Conscientiously for Animals and the Planet