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The Meat Industry’s Secretly Harmful Effects on the Environment

Animal agriculture is responsible for around 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet it seems as though more emphasis is put on taking shorter showers than lowering animal product consumption. Issues like fracking and domestic consumption of water are often emphasized in the national conversation about droughts and water. However, while fracking requires between 70 and 140 billion gallons of water annually (which is definitely a lot), the livestock industry consumes over 55 trillion gallons each year. Aside from greenhouse gas emissions and water usage, animal agriculture utilizes nearly a third of the Earth’s entire land surface, is a leading cause of deforestation, and poisons clean water.

The benefits of simply eating less meat, if not no meat at all, are staggering. Globally, a transition to low meat diets could “reduce the costs of climate change mitigation by as much as 50 percent by 2050” according to a study published in the Scientific American.

So in a nation where 94% of Americans say they recycle, why is it that only 3.2% follow vegetarian diets? According to a study conducted by the Scientific American, the impact of reducing meat production on climate change was only clear to 6% of the US population and 12% of the Dutch population. Analysis of the study went on to elaborate that part of the reason for this ignorance may be willful, that those whose identities are tied with meat eating might not be as receptive when they hear about the meat industry’s impact on the environment. Part of this could be because of the way people approach conversations about meat eating.

So much of the conversation surrounding meat and dairy consumption is reduced to “finger-pointing” on each side. Meat eaters are often defensive of their habits. Personally, when I tell people I don’t eat meat, I’m quickly met with, “Well, I could never go without bacon,” or I’m told that salads aren’t real food (For the record, I agree. I hate salad, and yes, there are foods other than salad I can eat). But I don’t think this is because of any inherent prejudice people have towards vegetarians, rather when I tell people I don’t eat meat, they assume I’m judging them for their eating habits. Vegans and vegetarians are just as guilty. Many are quick to ignore how meat is an important part of many cultures and how class-based limits affect people’s diets. Some are also insensitive, comparing the meat industry to the Holocaust (which is crazy).

What it comes down to is food is personal.

Many green organizations underplay the impacts that livestock cultivation has on the environment, out of fear of offending sponsors or activists. Greenpeace, for example, addresses the impacts of the meat industry on climate change but does not emphasize a veganism-for-everyone solution because, “The ability to create change needs to be accessible to all, and work in a global context that incorporates cultural, class and accessibility issues.”

So how to we address the impacts of animal product consumption without pushing people away from our cause? Well, for starters, ignoring the issue does not bring us any closer to solving the issue of climate change. So educate!- but do so without being a jerk about it. Try going vegetarian or vegan! Going vegetarian can reduce your food-related water footprint by 36%. If meat is a necessary or important part of your diet, try to consume less red meat or to eat meat less frequently. Try drinking coconut milk or consuming less dairy. Even passing up one hamburger saves 660 gallons of water- the equivalent of 36 showers! Being aware of how our diets affect the environment is an important step towards a cleaner future.

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