The holidays are almost here — which means that the season of eating is about to begin! DC EcoWomen board member Erica Meier shares how you can make a difference for our planet during this holiday season by choosing to eat a plant-based diet.
By Erica Meier
The forecast is bleak: Worsening weather extremes and severe storms, disease outbreaks, altered coastlines, and more, with negative consequences on human health, particularly those in impoverished or marginalized communities. Specifically, according to Oxfam, women around the world, including in the US, will continue to be disproportionately affected by climate change. Which is why climate action must engage and benefit women and girls.
As alarming as this message is, however, it’s not new. There’s been growing scientific consensus on this topic for years, if not decades, with environmental advocates and others waving red flags the whole time.
The good news is that there’s something more immediate and tangible we, the people, can do right now that will have a lasting collective impact: Eat plants.
There is widespread agreement in the research community, including reports from the United Nations, that raising animals for food is a leading cause of pollution and resource depletion. One of the most important actions each of us can take to reduce our environmental footprint is to choose plant-based foods.
For example, did you know:
It takes 420 gallons of water to produce just one pound of grain-fed chicken?
The amount of manure produced on factory farms is three times greater than the amount of waste produced by humans — and there are no sewage treatment plants for animal waste?
The production of animal feed, including pastures for grazing, takes up almost 80% of the world’s agricultural land resources?
The cattle industry is responsible for 80% of the forest clearing in the Amazon?
In addition, hidden cameras are routinely capturing the immense suffering forced upon billions of animals each year behind the closed doors of the meat, egg, and dairy industries — and more recently the aquaculture industry.
Imagine how much more efficient and sustainable our food system could be if we ate plants directly rather than funneling them through farmed animals. A recent report by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences put a number on it: the production of plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy is two- to 20-fold more nutritionally efficient per unit of cropland than our current resource-intensive animal-based system.
As stated by the United Nations in 2006: “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems.” In 2010, the UN further declared that “a substantial reduction of impacts [from agriculture] would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change away from animal products.”
More recently, a lead researcher on a report published in Science summed it up in The Guardian by concluding: “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth … it is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.”
And yet, the herbivorous elephant in the room remains largely ignored in discussions about how to fight climate change. The answer is literally in our hands: We can use our forks!
As we continue to work towards policy change and corporate reform, we can also take direct action by diverting our monetary support away from foods that are destroying our planet and causing animal suffering, and instead green our diet with more plants.
Without a doubt, our food choices matter. Every time we sit down to eat, each of us can stand up for the planet, our health and animals. We can start today simply by making our next meal a plant-based one.
Erica Meier is a DC EcoWomen board member. She is also the president of Compassion Over Killing, a national animal protection organization that hosts the annual DC VegFest and promotes plant-based eating a way to build a kinder, greener, and healthier world for all.