So you want to save the planet? You recycle plastic and consider your carbon footprint but don’t know exactly what that means or how to change your shoe size. You want to leave a better place for your kids so you try not to waste water or electricity, you carry a designer tote bag to the store. But really, how much impact can you have doing laundry with “green” detergent, driving fewer miles, using LED bulbs or buying that gas-sipping eco-car to visit the recycling center? The truth? Not much. The greatest thing you can do to save the planet is to put your tongue to the task. What you choose to eat has greater impact than any other choices you make, bar none.
America wallows in a diet of cheap, questionably obtained, industrially produced animal protein that restaurants, supermarkets and schools provide under the nickname of “meat.” Assembly line, confined animal production has been the target of scathing reports at least as far back as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, first published in 1906. No other sector of individual human endeavor impacts climate as much as eating meat.
Livestock production steals 70 percent of all agricultural land, over one-third of all ice-free terrestrial surface of the planet, is responsible for 55 percent of our surface erosion, 37 percent of pesticide use, 70 percent of all antibiotics used and one-third of the nitrogen and phosphorus load that pollutes our freshwater system. The annual amount of manure produced by animal confinement facilities exceeds that produced by humans by at least three times. Untreated animal waste is spread over the landscape, sprayed into the air and toxic chemicals, drugs and heavy metals leach into the soil and water supply.
A Pew Charitable Trust report stated clearly: “The current industrial farm animal production system poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals themselves…changes must be implemented and must start now.”
Confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) congregate tens of thousands of animals together in buildings, with conditions as bad as you can imagine. Employees venturing into vast windowless buildings housing 10, 20 or 30 thousand chickens wear Haz-mat suits or die.
Eating meat is deficit spending. Livestock uses more human food than it gives back. Worldwide, livestock consume 77 million tons of protein (grain, corn etc. that could feed humans) but produce only 58 million tons, a net loss of 19 million tons.
The world’s total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. By 2007, it was 284 million tons; last year, 309 million tons. Per capita consumption has more than tripled over that period. In China, India and Brazil, consumption of red meat has risen 33 percent in the last decade. It is expected to double globally between 2000 and 2050. But Americans are still King Carnivore. We average nearly half a pound of meat a day — about twice the global average.
“I’m not sure that the system we have for livestock can be sustainable,” Dr. R.K. Pachauri has said. He suggests that an individual lifestyle change of one meatless day a week can be as good for the environment as driving a hybrid car. Consider this example: a meat-free meal of three cups of mixed vegetables (broccoli, eggplant, carrots and cauliflower) over rice has 25 times less carbon impact than a single six-ounce beefsteak.
The traditional method of raising livestock in pastured, grazing settings may hold some hope. Not only is the environmental impact much lower but the nutritional profile of the livestock products — meat, eggs, milk — has been shown to be healthier.
Eat less meat but better. Steve McDonnell of Applegate Farms is a meat producer of products humanely raised without antibiotics or processing chemicals and sold in grocery store chains across the United States.
“I know it raises eyebrows when a meat producer says we should eat less meat but it’s true. It should be better meat though,” he said. McDonnell is one of many who feel that the meat-centric diet should be a thing of the past. Public demand for higher quality, traditionally raised meat and livestock products is growing. The number of farmers markets in the country has doubled in the past few years and the organic food sector is the most robust part of the retail food industry.
Grass fed, pastured livestock products may have an initial higher cost but those are offset by reducing the hidden healthcare costs and global environmental impact. Many who believe the “eat less but eat better” meat philosophy find that high quality beef, chicken and pork with a better nutrient profile satisfies the appetite with smaller portions. That’s exactly the transitional approach that can allow humans to still eat meat while improving their own health and remaining responsible stewards of the environment.
It’s disheartening to hear someone suggest that the historians of the future will be shocked to see how we treated the environment. Really? Does no one realize there will be no “historians of the future.” Our historic record will not be observed by anyone. There will be no species to dig up the ruins of our suicidal civilization. In less time than it took for Europeans to settle North America, the Earth will more closely resemble the thick, fuming atmosphere of Venus with its 800-degree constant temperature. No Earthly species will survive that.
There’s no running away from it now. The planet is in dire straits. Yet no major public figure is promoting or even noting the single-most effective way we can make change and possibly avert the death of a planet.
Heartland Healing is a metaphysically based polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. Important to remember and pass on to others: for a weekly dose of Heartland Healing, visit HeartlandHealing.com.