Diet plays a role in climate change, deforestation and water conservation, yet it is an aspect of sustainability which is rarely discussed. That is why College of Natural Resource seniors Deaken Boggs and Megan Zielke are working with student government to bring Meatless Mondays to Campus.
The initiative, which encourages omnivores to go vegetarian one day a week, brings a new perspective to the United State’s meat hungry society.
According to a 2007 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, an average U.S. resident consumes 270 pounds of meat a year. This ranks the United States as the second highest meat eaters in the world, consuming over 38 times as much meat as residents of India.
But what is the issue with this seemingly harmless protein source? It turns out meat production is environmentally harmful in a variety of ways.
Raising livestock is less efficient than other methods of food production. It requires more energy inputs than plant-based food because of the feed, water and transportation necessary to raise animals.
Livestock, such as cattle, are a key source of the greenhouse gasses which cause climate change.
A 2006 FAO report attributes 65 percent of all human-caused nitrous oxide production to the livestock sector. This is a greenhouse gas which has 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide– making it far more damaging.
Research published in the Climatic Change Journal found that a vegan diet was associated with about half the greenhouse gas emissions as a meat eater’s diet.
Meat production also threatens water sources.
In the United States, the USDA estimates that agriculture accounts for 80 to 90 percent of consumptive water use. A significant portion of this water is used to water livestock or irrigate feed crops.
Furthermore, livestock is a potential source of water pollution. This can occur through manure runoff or over-grazing which can lead to topsoil erosion and increased sedimentation in nearby water sources.
These statistics frame meat as the bad guy. Nevertheless, taking a vegetarian-or-nothing stance oversimplifies the issue, as these studies fail to differentiate between different sources of meat.
The vast majority of beef in the United States is produced through factory farms with high concentrations of mainly corn-fed animals. However, there are a small portion of small farms with grass-fed animals.
Most studies do not examine the potential difference in environmental degradation between small scale and conventional livestock management. Nor do they address hunting and fishing as a meat source.
Ultimately, it is a complicated issue, but it is fair to say that most meat is not produced sustainably.
That’s where Meatless Mondays come in. Boggs and Zielke stressed that their initiative is not about forcing people to become vegetarian, instead, they aim to raise consciousness about food choices.
One way they plan on doing this is by promoting the movement on campus through social media.
Throughout the semester, they also hope to hold events to spread awareness of the vegetarian diet and the effects of meat consumption. These could include showings of food documentaries and vegetarian cooking events.
Boggs and Zielke hope to partner with dining services to increase the visibility of the vegetarian options already offered on campus through increased advertising and meatless specials.
In addition, they aim to involve the community by working with local restaurants to highlight vegetarian options on their menus.
Meatless Mondays aim to help students live more sustainably by providing the knowledge they need in order to choose to make a positive environmental change.