I’m leaning over a bowl of homemade guacamole. Shadows are growing longer on the back patio as the sun sets behind craggy foothills in the distance. The only sound in the kitchen is a monotonous munch. Three of us stand there deep within our own thoughts. To my right, stairs creak as heavy footsteps make their way back downstairs.
A somber dragging of feet, the result of facing a harsh reality, and a jovial dragging voice, the result of years of sarcasm, emerge from the dark hallway:
“So, you guys gave up meat too, huh?”
I nod resolutely: “Yup.”
We answered in unison. There was no other answer after what we just watched.
And, just like that I quit cold turkey. Cold chicken, cold beef, and any other livestock manufactured for consumption.
That question was the ice breaker. At the end of the documentary we peeled ourselves out of too comfy couches. Not a word was spoken as we began to process the images we saw and the information we learned. Days later I still had flashes of a constrained cow being kicked and punched by workers at a factory farm. They laughed and called her stupid. As if blatant animal cruelty wasn’t enough, the documentary went into detail about the adverse health effects of consuming animal protein and the catastrophic environmental effects of producing meat for consumption.
I know you’ve heard about the woes associated with burning fossil fuels. You know that they release greenhouse gases; carbon dioxide and other gases that trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. Did you know that animal agriculture is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases? The Food and Agriculture Organization, reports that animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of worldwide emissions. That number includes emissions associated with the day to day farming needs of raising livestock for consumption.
According to World Watch, livestock and their byproducts account for 51% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. That number includes emissions that the animals themselves release. See, when cows, goats, and sheep digest food they expel (a.k.a fart) methane into the air. Methane has a global warming potential 86 times that of carbon dioxide. The 51% also takes into account the emissions associated with manufacturing and transporting livestock byproducts such as meat and dairy.
If that doesn’t scare you enough, let’s consider water on this planet. Only 3% of the Earth’s water is fresh water. Of that, only 1% is considered drinkable or easily accessed for consumption. The rest is salt water and ocean-based. Animal agriculture uses 1/3 of that 1% and is expected to increase as the demand for meat production increases. In the U.S., 5% of water is used by private homes. 55% of water is used for animal agriculture. Has eating meat somehow become more important than accessible water?
You may begin to answer that question with a yes. You may start recalling that you need protein to be a healthy human being. You would be correct. We do need protein. However, animal protein is not the only way to get the required amount of protein in your diet. In fact, the links between consuming animal protein and the rise in Western diseases is astounding. We have been taught to associate protein with eating meat. Most people actually seem worried when they find out someone they know is becoming a vegetarian. Weight loss and deficiency related sicknesses are usually brought up as concerns.
Hopefully, this statistic does make you sick to your stomach. The Environmental Protection Agency states that a farm of 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people. There are over 9 million dairy cows and over 90 million cattle in the U.S. alone. Let that sink down in your stomachs. We are manufacturing these animals in greater numbers only to kill them and it is having proven effects on our planets’ ability to naturally regulate gases in the atmosphere. It is taking its toll on water resources through consumption and creating a problem of waste pollution in water streams.
No matter what worldview you subscribe to, it’s hard to deny that humans have a magical planet to call home. It’s beauty and variety is, thus far, unparalleled in this universe. If you’re a Christian then you are taught that humans are stewards of this Earth. Buddhism teaches that all things, including humans, are interconnected with nature. Beyond religion, you cannot deny the awe you feel when seeing a polar bear dive beneath a glacier. Can you recall a moment where time seemed to slow down as you stared onto a beach at sunset. We somehow forget these moments in our everyday actions as if what we do has no consequence on this planet.
Well, our actions do have effects and consequences. The studies, the journals, the articles, the documentaries are out there. Read the facts for yourself. Once I did, the decision became easy. After all, there is no way to unsee what open eyes have seen. There is no way to not know what an open mind has known. Now, the smell of bacon induces wanton nostalgia instead of want. I’ll even take it in candle form. Maybe, light it along with a maple syrup scented one and have a breakfast theme going. But, keep it off my plate unless it’s plant-based. I’ve decided to no longer contribute to manufacturing animals to kill them and this planet at the same damn time.
About the Author
We the Wildflowers is a lifestyle blog with an adventurous take on travel and sustainable living. Ariel is currently traveling the U.S. in a 21ft camper writing about sustainable practices she discovers in the cities she visits.