Climate Change and The Foods You Choose

How to Make a Difference

When I ask people, “what is the one thing you can do now to combat climate change”? Most tell me “buy an electric car or stop driving and use public transportation”. The reality, however, is that if you want to combat climate change the best step you could take right now would be to stop or drastically cut back on your consumption of factory raised beef and pork. In 2019, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change stated that agriculture is responsible for about 19% of global warming, less in regions where vegetables and fish are a large part of the diet and somewhat more in areas where animal protein is a significant part of the diet.

While burning petroleum and coal do relentless harm to the environment, the damage, which they do, pales in comparison to the tons of methane gas released into the atmosphere daily by factory farming operations. Methane is multiple times more destructive to the ozone layer than are carbon emissions.

The producers have to deal with 500 million tons of solid and liquid waste generated annually by the animals. Generally, the waste is placed in large holding tanks or even open pits in the ground, some the size of four football fields. During heavy rains they can flood and overflow into nearby streams and rivers. On some occasions these tanks have been known to leak, allowing toxins to leech into the water table itself.

Finally, numerous studies conducted over the past decade show that it takes between 800 and 1400 gallons of water to produce one pound of factory meat. Every year our planet is getting warmer and dryer. This is not sustainable.

So, what can you do? You aren’t going to swear off beef and pork forever. There are however some simple, painless steps that you can take to help. First, you can switch to eating only pasture raised, grass fed beef and pork. Meat, which is raised on a real farm, is part traditional agricultural systems, which actually promote soil rejuvenation as opposed to harming the environment. This year’s manure becomes next year’s hay instead of an ecological problem. Grass fed meat is generally considered lower in cholesterol and saturated fat and is raised without antibiotics and growth hormones. Pasture raised meat costs more than factory meat (small farms simply can’t produce as efficiently as CAFOs can), but the benefits to your health and the environment are worth it.

Something else you could consider is ‘Meatless Monday’ or some similar program, which you and your family implement. Experiment with tofu or tempeh or create a meal around protein rich grains such as farro or quinoa. You could also try one of the plant based ‘meats’ such as Beyond Meat or Impossible Burger. One study recently concluded that the same resources needed to create 1 pound of beef can produce over 12 pounds of the plant-based options.

Another alternative is to eat more fish and seafood, which is less caloric and more heart healthy than meat. Wild caught fish and seafood (if caught in a responsible manner) are eco-friendly and sustainable. There are those who balk at farm raised fish, but this is quickly becoming a thing of the past. While some poor aquaculture techniques still exist, huge progress has been made and some farmed fish are every bit as clean and healthy as their wild caught cousins.

Ultimately, if you care about climate change, the first thing you can do is eat less beef and pork, and make sure it’s raised on a farm not a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). The third most effective action to take is to buy a hybrid car, drive less, carpool, use public transportation, etc. The second most effective action would be to add solar panels to your home and /or to convert all of your light bulbs to eco-friendly LEDs or the “squiggly” type. It’s up to all of us to save our planet and with a few modifications; you can play your part.

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