In October 1994, I decided to stop eating meat. Back then, I was concerned with only one aspect of my choice: what it meant for animals. I made my decision while sitting in my college dorm lounge. The TV news was on and it showed some footage of pigs who had been shipped overseas for the pork industry. It wasn’t graphic, but for the first time I fully understood that behind every piece of meat is a face, a life extinguished. That was it for me. My heart had been touched and there was no turning back.
Over time, I realized my decision did have other implications besides what it meant for animals. After taking a nutrition class with a registered dietician, I learned that by giving up animal products completely I had greatly reduced my chances of developing heart disease, cancer and other illnesses later in life. And I had totally eliminated dietary cholesterol. Up to that point I believed in my diet for purely “philosophical” reasons, so it was icing on the cake to learn that I had done so many favors for myself health-wise. These days you don’t have to look very far to find studies that show the health benefits of “going veg.”
But one of the most compelling reasons to stick with a plant-based diet became apparent to me just within the past few years: what it means for the environment.
In 2006 the UN released a report on environmental degradation via the livestock industry. The announcement warned that environmental costs per unit of livestock production must be cut by one half, just to prevent the damage from worsening. Yet just last month the UN reported that demand for livestock products is growing alongside human population growth. “Demand” is pretty straightforward: it’s a consumer issue. Rather than heed the UN’s 2006 warning and demand less for the sake of the environment, we are asking for more. At this rate the UN estimates that global meat output will increase from 228 million tons to 463 million tons by the year 2050.
I’ve tried to improve my lifestyle in order to lessen my footprint on this Earth. We use low energy light bulbs, love our Prius to death, recycle, reuse, buy less packaging, pick up litter, etc. but according to everything I have read none of these steps come close to the impact of cutting out animal products. I simply had no idea about the implications of that decision all those years ago. I only wish I had made the choice sooner.
In New Jersey where I live tiny buds are starting to appear on the flowering trees. Bright green shoots are peeking through the dry, brown leaves on the ground. Nature is such a gift, but it is fragile. There isn’t an endless supply of everything. When we read reports about what animal agriculture is doing to the planet, we must listen to what our hearts are telling us to do. The hidden costs of eating animals aren’t reflected on the price tags at the store. We are paying for these foods with our water, our land, our air, our precious Earth. It’s not too late, but if we don’t change what we are eating– someday it will be.
Guest post by Megan, a reader of The Good Human. Editor’s note – Yes, I still eat meat and try to only eat meat raised sustainably, cage free, and grass fed. But I applaud efforts like Megan’s here, as she is definitely doing her part to help clean up the environment!
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