Vegetarian: Becoming a part-timer because of the environmental impact

Before you read about my choice to become vegetarian, please think about what really matters to you.  Do you care about environmental sustainability?  Do you care about the rights and suffering of animals?  Do you care about the impact of food on your own health?

Whatever you care about most, I hope, drives your day-to-day decisions about the food you eat.

What impacts my decision to become vegetarian?

What I care about most is environmental sustainability – which has driven my choice about becoming vegetarian. Secondarily, I also care about my personal health, as well as having a concern about the treatment of animals in food production. On a scale of one to ten, this is how much I care about each of these three areas:

8/10 environmental sustainability
6/10 personal health impacts
3/10 treatment of animals

In May this year (2012) I chose to change my eating habits considerably. I chose to be a part-time vegetarian. The most important factor for my choice was my awareness of how much impact meat production has on climate change. I was flummoxed when I saw the evidence.

If you want to make one change to your lifestyle to significantly reduce your environmental impact, it’s to stop eating beef and dairy!

What I learned about meat production

  • Significant amounts of forests are cut down each year to make room for more land to produce more meat and dairy. 70% of the Amazon’s deforestation is used for pasture land.
  • When you cut down trees and burn them (which is the fastest way to clear land), you release all the carbon they captured from the atmosphere right back into the atmosphere as CO (carbon monoxide) and CO2 (Carbon Dioxide), which increases the carbon levels in the atmosphere and raises global temperatures. There is 50% more carbon stored in trees today, than there is in the atmosphere.
  • When you produce meat (especially beef) it takes a lot of water and energy. It takes approximately 16,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of beef. If you just switched from beef to pork, you would use 60% less water per kg of meat you ate.
  • Cows are remarkably bad for greenhouse-gas emissions. When they produce excrement they also produce methane. Methane is more than 20X more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse-gas.
  • Cattle excrement is a extreme pollutant to streams and waterways. It has a high amount of nitrogen in it, and when it gets into the waterways it reduces the oxygen in the water which makes being a fish or water-plant incredibly hard. We know all about this problem in New Zealand.

There are so many factors that just start to add up against consuming meat.

I’m a huge fan of making small changes in lifestyle that make a huge impact. So, when I found out that if I stopped my meat consumption, I could massively reduce my environmental impact, I was all for it.

By the way, I haven’t given up meat entirely, but I have reduced my consumption of meat by 80-85%. Now, as a vegetarian I eat lots more legumes, beans, eggs, tofu and meat substitutes.

I hope after giving you some food for thought, you will consider giving up meat (even, if only part-time), because “if all of us eat half as much meat, it would be like half of us are full time vegetarians.”

If you’re a big fan of videos (especially TED Talks), there’s a wonderful presentation by Graham Hill on why he is a week-day-vegetarian.

P.S. Here’s an infographic by GOOD IS that demonstrates just how much of an impact being vegetarian could have on your water footprint.

Oh, we’re building technology for vegans too. Check out Copono for more info.

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