At the start of World Meat-Free Week, our regular column by Alexandra Bourdelon focuses on going meat-free at least once a week to have an impact on the environment.
Armchair Environmentalist is a series on how you can help save the planet with as little effort as possible. Sometimes little things can have a big impact. This first instalment aim is to convince you to have meatless Mondays. Just not eating meat and dairy one day a week can have a massive benefit to the planet. It is a small thing you and your family can do that does not involve a huge lifestyle change. Most people don’t realise the extent of the harm raising animals for food and dairy has on the planet. So here is a breakdown on how and why:
- Livestock takes up a lot of space.
It takes about one acre of land to sustain a single cow. 26% of land worldwide is devoted to raising cattle. As the planet doesn’t have many wide open spaces for grazing, deforestation has become the answer. National Geographic estimates that at the current rate of deforestation we have about 100 years before rain forest vanish completely.
- Livestock has to eat
Globally, 85% of the soy beans grown is used for livestock feed. To meet these demands we, once again, turn to convert forest land into cropland … which means more deforestation. Worldwide that is an area the size of Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands, which has been converted to soy plantations. A staggering one-third of the world’s land mass is designated for growing livestock feed.
- Livestock uses a lot of water
It takes almost 1800 gallons of water to produce 1lb of beef. One-third of the 70% of water used by agriculture is solely used for livestock feed. The majority of water used isn’t even used to hydrate the animals. In a dairy production just keeping the milking parlours clean consumes approximately 150 gallons of water per day and per cow!
- Livestock produces more greenhouse gases and air pollution than your car
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that livestock production is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while others like the Worldwatch Institute estimates it is more like 51%! This includes the carbon dioxide produced from the animals breathing and from them passing ‘gas’ to the waste ‘lagoons’ to store their excrement. Aside from the foul smell, these lagoons have a very high concentration of ammonia, which mixed with bacteria forms nitric acid. Swine flu and Avian flu are transferable via air currents coming off these massive cesspools.
At our present rate of livestock production and consumption, scientists predict that we will exceed global targets for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That’s by livestock alone! Not taking into account other man-made emissions such as transportation, industry and electricity. If we estimate two billion more people by 2050, in order to meet demands, at our present rate, we would need 42% more land to grow livestock feed and the additional livestock are projected to add 58,615 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
So now that I have fed you facts and figures and possibly alarmed you and grossed you out a bit, I’m hoping not having meat and dairy one day a week doesn’t seem like such a big deal.
Meatless Mondays, is an initiative started by earthday.org. They state that if a family skip a steak once a week it would be the equivalent of taking your car off the road for nearly three months. If the entire U.S. did not eat meat or cheese for just one day a week (about 300 million people), it would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road. That means that if everyone in England did not eat meat or dairy just one day a week it would be roughly like taking 1.3 million cars off the road. Something to ponder.
Of course not eating meat has other benefits such as:
• Reversing heart disease
• Staying slim
• Saving money
• Reduce animal cruelty
You may have read all this and think “yeah, these are all good points, but I love eating meat and don’t think I can give it up, not even for one day”. I get it, I am also a fellow meat eater but there are some alternatives that quite frankly for one day a week you and the family wouldn’t even notice. Linda McCartney has a range of vegetarian and vegan sausages, meatballs and ‘chorizo’ made with rehydrated textured soya, available at shops such as Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Morrisons. While soy products aren’t perfect in terms of the environment, they are still better than meat or dairy. Also, these products taste quite ‘meaty’ and if you go to the company’s site you can also get recipes and inspiration.