“Livestock production may have a bigger impact on the planet than anything else.”
-The Triple Whopper… Global Meat Production
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), 37 percent of human- induced methane comes from livestock. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas and warms the atmosphere much more strongly than CO2. However, it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as CO2 (its’ half-life in the atmosphere is only about 8 years, compared to 100 years or more for CO2). Significantly, this means that we can reduce the dangerous greenhouse gases in the atmosphere much more quickly by reducing methane, than by reducing CO2 (see –Livestock and Climate Change). This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t focus on reducing CO2, it just means that in addition to our CO2 reduction measures, we can get more bang for our buck by reducing methane. The way to do that is one of the easiest things you can do: purchase less beef and dairy (milk, cheese, butter, yogurt). If you want to be an ally in the reduction of climate change reduce your consumption of meat (especially beef) and dairy. If you want to be a climate hero go vegan! It is a rapidly growing trend that we can all support by not ridiculing vegans or vegetarians.
Going Vegan or Vegetarian
Just as there is much misinformation about human induced climate change, there is also plenty of misinformation about vegan and vegetarian diets. I’ll try to clear up any questions or confusions you may have. I’ll start by saying that Vegan and Vegetarian diets are arguably the most healthy diet one can have. It’s not hard to find someone who will tell you how their health has been turned around for the better by adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet. Studies indicate that these diets prevent heart disease, strokes, as well as various diseases. In short, you can be strong, healthy and long-lived as a vegan or vegetarian. We have centuries of proof.
First what is the difference between Vegan and Vegetarian?
Vegans do not purchase or consume animal products and byproducts such as meats of any kind, or milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs or butter. Strict vegans are careful to check products for any animal products, this includes some vitamins and many packaged goods. Vegans can, nonetheless, consume the many plant-based meat and dairy substitutes which are increasingly available. Milk alternatives are made from soy, almond, coconut, cashew, rice, hemp and more. Silk brand makes milk substitutes from soy, almond, cashew, and coconut. Daiya makes better than average cheese substitutes. Some of the meat substitutes available are made by Yves, Morning Star, Beyond Meat, Field Roast, Tofurky, Trader Joes, Lightlife, Boca Burger. Did I miss your favorite? Tell me about it in the comments.
If this sounds too great a challenge or you’re not ready just yet to abandon butter or cheese, consider going vegetarian instead. Vegetarians also include one’s who avoid eggs and milk, but there are also many vegetarians who consume milk, eggs, and butter. What all vegetarians avoid is meat of any kind, beef, chicken, fish, lamb, other seafood. As mentioned above, there are increasingly good substitutes available. Many which require no sacrifice in taste or enjoyment. You should, however, educate yourself on how to best meet your nutritional requirements. A good rule of thumb is to include a good variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet (colors and textures) as well a consistent protein source (beans, peas, tofu, nuts, substitutes). For more info visit: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Being a Vegetarian
The Alternatives to Beef and Dairy Are Healthy and Delicious
Beef and dairy can be replaced with protein found in vegetable sources. These sources of protein are better for the environment as well as socially responsible. The production of beef generates twice the greenhouse gas emissions of pork, four times as much as chicken, and 13 times that of vegetable proteins found in beans, lentils, and tofu.
Still feel you are not up to taking the plunge? Feel free to try it out to the level that you are comfortable. You can take it slow by having “Meatless Mondays.” That one day a week can be completely meat free and give you a chance to explore and experiment with meatless alternatives. After a few weeks or months, you may have naturally begun to eat more meals which are meat free. If not, make a conscious effort to have another day or several meals meatless every week. Or, go further and limit yourself to meet and dairy on two or three days of the week. Whatever it takes to begin to make that shift. But start right away. There is no time to lose.
If you continue to eat meat you should choose responsibly. That means eating pork or pork products and chicken RATHER than beef or other meats. Pork and poultry are the most climate-friendly (they account for only 10% of total livestock greenhouse-gas emissions while contributing more than three times as much meat globally as cattle). “Pork and poultry are also more efficient for feed, requiring up to five times less feed to produce a kg of protein than a cow, a sheep or a goat.”-Livestock and Climate Change
So, the calculus is pretty simple. The less beef and dairy you consume, the greater contribution you make to reducing your personal carbon footprint. If you eliminate beef and dairy completely like hundreds of thousands of people have, you will be a climate hero. Heroic action requires struggle and sacrifice–but going vegan has gotten easier than ever!