What we eat is affecting us all

What did you eat this past Thanksgiving? For some, plates were adorned with vegetables, mashed potatoes and gravy. But if your answer was meat, you were just one of the other 88 percent of Americans who also consumed it — resulting in the 44 million turkeys that were consumed on Thanksgiving Day alone.

Perhaps this statistic does not surprise you, but what is more shocking is that this statistic is just the amount of turkeys consumed in one day — not an annual number of all animal products eaten in America.

According to the Huffington Post and various other news sources, an estimated 193 lbs of meat was consumed annually in 2016. This is 193 lbs of meat per person. This high number of meat consumption per person across the U.S. should pose the question: “What is the impact?”

While often discussed by health experts and animal advocates, the meat issue can range from animal lives to consumer health. But a topic that is often not addressed is the impact that it is having on the environment. 

By the environment, I’m not just talking about the rise in animal agriculture, but  about deforestation, global warming and water use that livestock farming causes — an issue many people don’t think about when cutting a piece of steak on their plate.

Around the globe, many forests are being cut down to make room for livestock farming and this is extremely destructive to the ecosystems in those forests. With less land and a competition for resources, the plants and animals in those ecosystems are not able to thrive when their homes are converted into fields for cattle and other livestock. 

In the last 40 years, an estimated 40 percent of the Amazon trees were cut down and a large portion of that deforestation was not due to just housing and paper production — but to livestock farming.

Aside from the forests, livestock also produce a ton of greenhouse gases. When most people think of where fossil fuels come from, which are global warming emissions, they might think about factories or cars. But what is less known, is that many of the fossil fuels that are released into the atmosphere come from livestock farming. 

Methane, which is released from cows, is a greenhouse gas that has an incredibly larger heat-trapping power over carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. This is very dangerous and is one of the primary contributors of global warming. 

Livestock farming also uses a significant amount of resources. To produce just one pound of pork takes 576 gallons of water and to produce a pound of beef, takes upward of 1,799 gallons.  The amount used to raise these animals for their meat is leaving a globally large water footprint and this water, if not for cattle farming, could be used elsewhere. 

While this information barely touches the surface of livestock’s impact on the environment, it should prove shocking. Meat consumption continues to rise annually and this will in turn greatly effect deforestation, global warming and water resources.

So what can we do to help? Most obviously, not eating meat would be the biggest way you can make an impact, but going completely vegetarian or vegan is not an option for everyone. Instead, you can reduce your daily meat intake and chose to do “Meatless Mondays.” You can also educate yourself and others on the environmental impact of the meat industry, which is a really beneficial exercise. There are many documentaries such as “Cowspiracy” that discuss the meat industries impact in depth.

Becoming aware of the impact we have by raising livestock and consuming high quantities of meat is key to making a change and helping the environment.