The Power of the Fork
“Yet, as environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.” —Worldwatch Institute, “Is Meat Sustainable”
For most of my life when I thought of how to help the environment my mind would go to behaviors such as recycling and minimizing my personal water and energy use. I learned to question my own actions and recognize the impacts of my behaviors as an individual. I knew these small actions affected the environment and made choices to reduce these behaviors. Yet, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I was exposed to the greater effects of other behaviors I was choosing to engage in that caused environmental degradation an even greater scale. I learned that although transportation, fossil fuels, and other industries are large contributors to climate change, it is actually agriculture that causes the most harm in terms of the environment.
It can be very intimidating to look at an issue as large as climate change through an individualized lense. When we begin to analyze our own contributions to climate change it can be easier to shut these ideas down and create no change in our behavior at all. The increasingly detrimental and pressing state of our environment can present the idea that we need change much greater than individual action. This is true. We need to see changes in policy and on all levels of the agriculture system, but there is also great change that can occur from just one individual. It is impossible for one person to reverse the effects of climate change but there is still immense power and possibility in each person’s individual choices. Start small.
By choosing to not eat just one quarter-pound burger you can save 14.6 gallons of water, 13.5 pounds of feed, 64.5 square feet of land, .126 pounds of methane, and 4 pounds of greenhouse gases. Making the choice to refuse a burger is equivalent to not driving your car for 320 miles. Out of the many types of animal products, beef seems to have the most negative environmental impact. The typical American diet that includes the consumption of beef annually produces 1,984 pounds of CO2. Cattle naturally produce methane and in excess they have contributed to the agriculture industry accounting for 44% of anthropogenic methane emissions. There is a loss of resources at every level of raising and producing cattle for consumption. Taking steps towards reducing the amount of beef in one’s diet would have a great effect on reducing CO2 emissions, methane emissions, deforestation, water and land use, and other contributors to environmental degradation.
Projects such as Meatless Monday work to enforce this idea of choosing to abstain from animal products when you can. Any form of abstinence is celebrated and recognized as a step towards helping our environment and agriculture system. The Meatless Monday movement also recognizes the health and ethical benefits of eliminating meat from ones diet.
The more one chooses to pass up on a meal containing meat and instead chose a plant based meal the more environmental and health benefits one can cause.
In just one day of eating plant based, one can save 1,100 gallons of water, 45 lbs grain, 30 square feet of forest, 20 lbs of CO2, and 1 animals life.
In just one month of being vegan one individual alone can save 33,000 gallons of water, 1,200 lbs of grain, 900 square feet of forest, 600 lbs of CO2, and 30 animals lives.
On a greater scale, In one year one can save 401,500 gallons of water, 14,600 lbs of grain, 10,950 square feet of forest, 7,300 lbs of CO2, and 365 animals lives.
Make the choice to eliminate meat from your diet when you can. Even just one meal absent of meat or other animal products has an effect on our environment and its resources.
To learn more about transferring to a plant based diet check out: