When it comes to meat, most of us are aware of the cruel factory farm conditions that our livestock is being raised in. It’s easy to turn the other cheek and put those horrific images out of your head when you bite in to a delicious Big Mac— but the cruel reality of raising meat doesn’t stop at the farm. The harm that meat production has on our bodies and our environment is becoming more and more evident, and perhaps considering vegetarianism (or even reducing your weekly consumption of meat) sounds like an appealing— AND EASY— way to give back to your body and the environment.
For Your Health
Eating red meat is strongly tied to cancer. When meat is cooked, carcinogens can form on the surface of the meat. Carcinogens increase risk of DNA damage in our cells, causing the uncontrolled division of cells which causes cancer. Processed meats (salami, hot dogs, bologna) usually contain nitrosamines which are all carcinogens. Eating an alkaline diet (mostly vegetables) has been strongly linked to preventing and even fighting cancer… which means no meat.
When studies were released that saturated fats in red meats lead to higher blood levels of artery-damaging cholesterol and subsequent heart disease, many people were prompted to eat leaner meats and more skinless poultry and fish. This led to a nationwide reduction in coronary death rates with a drop in average serum cholesterol levels. Eating red and processed meat is also associated with elevated blood pressure.
About 80% of antibiotics sold in America are used on livestock, and those antibiotics get passed down to us. The stomachs of cattle aren’t made to digest grain— but feeding them grain versus grass means that they’ll gain weight more quickly. This causes numerous health problems, thus the administration of antibiotics is routine. The really crappy thing is that the FDA hardly regulates the antibiotics used on livestock, so we don’t really know how detrimental the effects are, even on humans. This lack of regulation also keeps us from having any idea how wide spread antibiotic-resistant bacteria are in our supermarkets.
For the Environment
Meat has makes more of an environmental impact than any other food we eat because livestock require much more water, food, land, and energy to raise and transport than plants. The global livestock industry also uses dwindling supplies of freshwater, destroys forests and grasslands, and causes soil erosion, while fertilizer runoff and animal waste create deadzones in coastal areas and smother coral reefs. Researchers at the University of Chicago concluded that switching to a vegetarian diet is more effective than switching from a standard car to a hybrid.
Raising animals requires butt-loads more water than growing plant products of equal nutrition. The biggest contribution to the total water footprint of all animal products comes from growing their feed. 68% of the grains produced in the U.S. are used for animal feed. Most livestock aren’t raised near their food source, which is usually grown in places without an abundance of water, ultimately depleting the global amount of potable water. When we eat a measly quarter-pound hamburger, we’ve just taken over 52 gallons of water from the Middle East.
Even though manure has huge environmental benefits when deposited responsibly, it is currently poorly managed in livestock operations and causes severe water contamination. Livestock grazing has negatively affected countless streams and riparian habitats, resulting in increased phosphates and nitrates, decreased dissolved oxygen, increased temperature, and reduced species diversity. Waste release from pork farms has been shown to cause large-scale eutrophication of large bodies of water in the U.S., including the Mississippi River and Atlantic Ocean. Eutrophication is when nutrients in water increases rapidly, causing an overgrowth of algae, depleting the water of oxygen, and causing the death of other organisms, such as fish.
Then there’s farting. Livestock produce 28% of global methane emissions from human-related activities, which is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change.
Make Your Impact
If you aren’t quite ready or your body doesn’t want to give up on meat all-together, perhaps just try to cut down!
The Meatless Mondays movement is pretty inspiring, and spreading quickly. Making a come-back from WWI’s family meat moderation days, Meatless Mondays is helping spread awareness of the overconsumption of meat… and becoming a standard fare in corporate cafeterias, restaurants, schools, and home kitchens.
“If all Americans did not eat meat for one day a week, they would save 99.6 megatons of greenhouse gas emissions. This would be the equivalent of removing 46 million round trip flights between Los Angeles and New York, or taking 19.2 million cars off the road for a full year.” — Huffington Post (read more about equivalents here)
Another great way to make your impact on your health and the environment is buying your meat local— plus, it supports your local economy! Local livestock farmers are usually involved in their animals’ lives from birth to slaughter, as they graze free-range and eat small amounts of corn. A local butcher cuts and wraps the meat and the animal has traveled under a hundred miles to get into your freezer. That’s not much of an environmental footprint per quarter-pound. Plus, the animals are much less likely to need antibiotics, the meat isn’t injected with dye to make it a deep red color, and it’s not full of preservatives.