We all know that meat is a regular part of our human diet. As omnivores, our bodies are built to live off of a balanced diet of meat and plants. This being said, average meat consumption per person in the US has increased by about 40% within the last 40 years—that’s around 45 pounds of meat per person every year! Eating more meat isn’t just unhealthy for us, it has a harmful effect on the environment.
What’s Happening: The Breakdown
The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that as energy is transformed, the amount of energy remains the same, but 90% of that energy is lost. While this sounds complicated, what happens is actually pretty simple. For example, when cows eat grass, the cow can only use 10% of the calories in the grass—the remaining 90% percent of calories that are in the grass are used to help it grow. Then, when humans eat that cow, we can only use 10% of the calories in the cow (remember, the other 90% was used to help the cow grow). When we eat plants, on the other hand, we skip that middle step. That means that we can use 10% of calories in the plants rather than 10% of the calories in the cow. Let’s put it all together. If there were 100 calories in the grass, the cow only got 10 of those calories, and when you ate the cow, you only got 1 calorie! But, if you decided that you were going to eat a salad instead of a burger, you would get 10 calories instead of 1. So, eating plant-based food can give you a lot more energy than eating the same amount of meat!
But why do we want to reduce our meat consumption? You may not know that livestock—or any animal raised for human use—are large contributors to global warming via the greenhouse gas effect. Cows are especially guilty—they produce 80 million tons of methane each year!
Unfortunately, there are even more issues with livestock. Farming uses up 70% of freshwater on Earth, and most of that farming is actually to grow plants for livestock to eat! Think back to the Second Law of Thermodynamics: we don’t need to be farming that much if we just eat plants! And as kids who live in a state that has suffered from droughts for far too long, we are well aware of how precious this water really is.
If this wasn’t enough already, 25% of all land use in the US is used for cattle grazing. Cattle grazing causes all sorts of problems: habitat loss for animals that already live on the land, water pollution due to the waste that cattle produce, and erosion and decrease in soil health. If we decrease our animal product use, we decrease our need for cattle grazing, and therefore fight all the issues it causes.
What You Can Do
We truly believe that the key to a more sustainable future lies in reducing livestock consumption. And there are things that every person can do individually to make a difference. While going vegan—which generally means not eating animal products or food made with animal products—is probably the best thing to do, don’t worry, we aren’t suggesting that (but, if that’s something you think you can do, that’s awesome!). Participating in Meatless Mondays, for example, is a great start! Or even the next time you find yourself wanting a hamburger, go for a veggie burger or try a plant-based patty that’s meant to taste like meat instead (our favorite is Impossible Burger; look for it at your local grocery store!). Anything you can do to reduce the amount of meat, or dairy products, that you eat can make a difference!
Our Previous Knowledge
Brooke’s AP Environmental Science Textbook: Friedland, Andrew J., and Rick Relyea. Friedland and Relyea Environmental Science for AP. W.H. Freeman and Company, 2010.