By Claire Titcomb
Elissa Blair, a wildlife major at Humboldt State University, has been a vegan for 5 years and believes it’s amoral duty to cut back on meat for the good of the planet.
“The meat industry leads to the degradation of topsoil and massive amounts of [carbon dioxide] pollution. It bothers me to watch how it contributes to the harming of our coral reefs and other parts of the environment. We as humans have an obligation to treat the Earth with respect. It’s not like being vegan is difficult. I think people make it out to be a more difficult switch than it really is.”
Food activists contend that ours is a society obsessed with eating meat. Cultures use meat as a way to identify themselves: French with filet mignon, Italy with veal, New Zealand with lamb and North America with hamburgers, to name a few. But with the effects meat consumption has on Earth environmentally, is it worth it to still even eat it?
By the year 2050, the world’s average consumption of meat is expected to double in size. In 2007 the world’s total meat supply was 284 million tons. An estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization Research. Unless everyone around the world cuts down on animal products, food activists content that serious consequences could occur.
In an interview with The New York Times, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, explained that “if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius.” This is because the grain and meat industries suck up a ton of power, which in turn produces a dangerous amount of greenhouse gases. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than all of the world’s transportation put together.
The National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science completed a study in Japan where they estimate that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days. That is a huge waste of energy for a food product that is not a necessary staple to the human diet.
Then there are the skeptics. Mekayla Bunn, a geology major at HSU, believes that the link of meat consumption to the environment is overhyped and not worth her cutting back on how much meat she eats daily.
“I feel like a lot of this research isn’t backed up enough….too many ‘what if’s’ and not enough hard facts,” she said. “ A lot of American farms are actually finding new ways to convert animal waste into energy. I just watched a Dirty Jobs episode on TV where they went to farms around America that do this. Practices are improving. I believe in supporting local farms that use organic practices and try to make their farming habits more green.”