Agriculture is one of the most environmentally unfriendly industries, if not the most. Pesticides, fuel, synthetic fertilizers, processing, waste and transport add up to a hefty carbon footprint to conventionally grow our food.
According to the Huffington Post and the Environmental Working Group, the list of the worst foods for the environment contains one vegetable, two dairy products and seven animals. What does that tell you?
Meat consumption and sustainability
Most of the world’s agricultural land is in livestock production, yet a pound of beef takes 16 pounds of grain to produce. You can feed more people with 16 pounds of grain than you can with a pound of beef! With the world’s growing population and it’s dwindling open land, we should be eating less beef!
Feeding, milking and butchering create 1/5th of all greenhouse gas emissions. That figure does not include fuel for transport or energy for storage of a highly perishable item.
The EPA says meat and dairy cattle are the largest emitters of methane gas, too. Methane is more detrimental to the environment than CO2, since it is better at trapping heat, and it creates ozone.
Meat seems to be the thing to cut from your diet if you are trying to be more earth friendly. We’ve been brainwashed about needing animal protein in our bodies, but you can get all the protein you need from a plant based diet.
Sustainable diet options
I stopped eating meat in the early ’70s, and I bought Frances Moore-Lappé’s famous book, Diet for a Small Planet. This was the bible of the vegetarian community, and it set the standard. Moore-Lappé knew back then that the meat industry wasted too many resources and that we had to change our diets to help the environment. Her work was based on the idea that food combinations were the most effective way to replace all eight amino acids in meat protein.
Ten years later, she recanted that theory. There are volumes of scientific evidence that a plant-based diet will provide enough protein for the human body. If you take in enough calories, you will get enough protein. Eating a variety of foods, as always, is the best way to get all you need.
We do not need as much protein as we have been told. The Vegetarian Resource Group recommends .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. The average adult woman would need about 45 or 50 grams per day. Do your own math. These are all estimated figures.
Kale, broccoli, spinach, corn and asparagus have 2-5 grams of protein per cup. One avocado has 5 grams. A cup of pinto beans has 15 grams. A slice of whole wheat bread has 4 grams, and a cup of brown rice has 5 grams. It’s not hard to get enough protein!
Being vegetarian means no meat. Actually, there are several different types of no-meat diets, but I am simply referring to cutting out meat. Not just red meat, but all meat. Remember those seven animals in the top 10 list?
Ideas for meatless, or less-meat diets
It’s up to you to decide what to eat. What makes your body feel good? That’s the guideline. There is no one-size-fits-all diet. I don’t eat meat, but I do eat cheese and eggs. My body feels good with heavy protein like that, but I don’t eat them more than once a day and not always every day.
My diet consists of rice, salads, vegetables, nuts (peanut butter, cashews, almonds, walnuts) and seeds (sunflower, pumpkin). I try and stay away from wheat, since it is heavy in my stomach, but once in a while, I’ll make tortillas or buy whole wheat bread. I do eat corn bread and 100% rye bread or crackers, which don’t bother me as much as wheat. I love potatoes, but I don’t digest them very well, so I’m always sorry after I eat them.
If you are trying to reduce your carbon footprint to live lightly on the planet, giving up meat is a good option. Get started at Meatless Monday. You don’t want to cut meat out overnight. Do it gradually, and it will become a habit. Hang out with like-minded people for support and meal ideas, and it will be much easier. It won’t be long before you don’t miss meat at all. And think of all the CO2 emissions and grain you will be saving! That’s rewarding in itself!