Cutting meat consumption curbs climate change

By Bri Boland | Contributor

Although recycling helps in the fight against environmental negligence, research suggests a more impactful lifestyle change: eating less meat. However, this may be a challenge for some.

Meat consumption has always been an integral aspect of American culture. Recent estimates by The Organisation for Economic Co-operation show Americans eat about 60 pounds of beef or veal per capita per year, while the world average stands around 32 pounds per year.

Asbury, N.J. freshman Emerson Hershfeld exemplifies the American taste for savory products.

“It would be difficult to stop eating meat because it is a food I’ve been eating since I can first remember really, and I honestly love the taste,” Hershfeld said.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also recognizes the strong voice of culture in the push against the decades-long love affair between America and her cattle industry.

According to the IPCC, achievement of a dietary shift “depends on consumer choices and dietary preferences that are guided by social, cultural, environmental and traditional factors.”

Although culture plays a significant role in our dietary dialogue, change is still necessary to avoid a human and environmental crisis in the coming decades. We must alter our relationship with food, even if it requires personal sacrifice.

“It is vital that we change our relationship with meat, especially red meat,” Tim Benton, a professor of population ecology at the University of Leeds, told The Guardian. “But no expert in this area is saying the world should be vegan or even vegetarian.”

Katy junior Andreina Coronado, who is a vegan, recognizes the difficulty in adopting a counter-cultural diet.

“Some difficulties is eating out with friends, the cravings and desires to just order a ‘normal’ meal with your friends,” Coronado said. “Overall, it is really not very difficult once you get in the groove.”

The current food system is insufficient in a world with a rising population.

According to the UN, the world population is projected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050. Due to this rapid increase in population, nations and their leaders must find a way to efficiently maximize land-usage to feed the earth’s influx of people.

A study from the American Association for the Advancement of Science found that the production of meat and dairy takes up a vast majority of farmland — about 83%. Yet those products account for just 18% of all food calories and 37% of all protein.

In other words, the production of meat and dairy take up the majority of arable land and only feed a fraction of the hungry masses. This gap will only continue to grow as the population rises.

The current food system contributes greatly to greenhouse gas emissions.

According to a study conducted by the IPCC, “25-30% of total GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions are attributable to the food system. These are from agriculture and land use, storage, transport, packaging, processing, retail, and consumption (medium confidence). This estimate includes emissions of 10–12% from crop and livestock activities within the farm gate.”

Studies conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report that methane emissions from cows and fertilizer create as much greenhouse gas as all the world’s cars, trucks and airplanes.

Organizations and lawmakers have recently been attempting to address the issue by advocating for diets high in non energy-intensive, plant-based proteins and meat substitutes. Others have suggested more radical measures such as implementing taxes on meat products and eating crickets.

This is not a call to throw out bacon at breakfast. Instead, consider the effects of your consumption. Perhaps start slowly by reducing the portion of meat on your plate.

“Even though one person may seem helpless, every meal counts,” Coronado said.

Bri is a freshman journalism and history major from Charlottesville, Va.