Tiny but useful: to live a more intentional lifestyle, there are plenty of tiny, but useful ways in which you can alter your everyday routine to live more sustainably. This recurring publication will focus on very small, simple and specific ways to treat our planet just a bit better each day.
It was a slow Sunday morning in college, and about 10 of my friends and I were squished around a table at Denny’s, studying the menu’s flashy new promotion for “Baconalia,” a celebration of – you guessed it – bacon.
We laughed as we read through the meal descriptions, each one more bacon-filled than the next–classic eggs with bacon, pancakes with pieces of bacon baked inside, meatloaf made of bacon meat, a maple bacon sundae (not kidding). “I’ll have the bacon and cheese omelet with the side bacon and hash browns, please,” I proudly ordered. If Denny’s was going all out with this meat extravaganza, then so was I.
After all, meat had been a regular part of my diet my entire life. I could barely recall a dinner growing up that didn’t revolve around chicken, turkey, pork loin or pot roast. As I’d set the table for our family meal each night, I would watch my dad diligently take the temperature of our steaks or chicken, making sure they were just right. I was fascinated by the sense of attention and urgency behind a perfectly-cooked cut of beef, and to show my appreciation, I’d race through my meals to grab second helpings.
In case people were doubtful of how many chicken fajitas I could put back (you don’t want to know), I even took my pro-meat stance to the streets. I’d scoff at any “vegetarian” at my high school, and relish the opportunity to say, “well then, more for me!” I even had a shirt (which I wore publicly) that had a picture of a cow, chicken, and pig on it, that simply read “Animals taste good.”
And to be fair, they do! Animals taste pretty good.
They make delicious gravies and get perfectly charred and crispy on the grill. Trust me, as a former Baconalia devotee, I know. And while there are a million different reasons one could consider meat inherently bad to consume (health and diet, ethics, personal financial cost), none of them really stuck with me (see: Animals Taste Good t-shirt) until I let myself learn about the impact that our meat industry has on planet earth.
According to the Huffington Post, “factory farms raise 99.9 percent of chickens for meat, 97 percent of laying hens, 99 percent of turkeys, 95 percent of pigs, and 78 percent of [the] cattle” currently sold in the US. And we are eating more meat than ever.
But what is so wrong with meat factory farms? We have become so distant from the food that we eat and where it comes from, that this question might feel hard to answer. Even animal welfare groups have had to take to virtual reality to get the point across.
Beyond the unnecessarily consistent diet of growth hormones and antibiotics, the oppressively small cages, and the rampant physical abuse of the animals, factory farming is pretty awful for the planet.
According to the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the meat industry “…has a significant impact on global warming. [As of 2011] Livestock production accounts for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, including 9 percent of carbon dioxide and 37 percent of methane gas emissions worldwide…”
And beyond the greenhouse emissions from meat production, we dedicate vast expanses of land to factory farming–two thirds of agricultural land is devoted to just growing feed for livestock, “while only 8 percent is used to grow food for direct human consumption.” And if the whole world were to consume “as much meat at the western world does [now at ~270.7 pounds per person a year] the global land required would be two-thirds more than what is presently used.”
The irresponsible use of land, immense greenhouse emissions, and runoff pollution from animal fertilizer and waste hurts our freshwater supply, destructs our forests and grasslands, depletes soil quality, and creates dead zones in our waterways.
In short, our meat is more than what we see in the grocery stores or on our plates: it is the product of extreme environmental devastation linked to overconsumption.
And while we likely aren’t going to stop the practices of factory farms without comprehensive policies that are held accountable, we can certainly control the amount of meat that we personally consume, and therefore, the money that we contribute to such an industry.
A tiny but useful way you can treat the planet better with your diet? If you don’t want to go meatless, just try to go less-meat:
- If you are a frequent or daily meateater, start by choosing one day of the week to forego the stuff and choose a veggie-based meal instead. #MeatlessMondays anyone?
- If you are already cutting back on your meat intake, see where you can cut back further. Maybe you can try to just eat meat when you go out to a restaurant, or only on the weekends.
- If you aren’t willing to give up meat at all, and if you can afford the higher costs, do some research to find meat that is locally and ethically sourced (and more likely to be environmentally friendly), but beware of the confusing semantics.
Change of diet is hard, especially when that change can be so wrapped up in personal, cultural, societal or familial identity.
Let yourself test the waters: make veggies the centerpiece of your meals, explore some meatless recipes (I love smitten kitchen), and see where you can view meat as a treat, not as a norm.