Change the world. When we’re young, it’s something we think we’re going to do. As we get older, we realize that it’s a pretty lofty goal. But maybe it’s not as hard as we think. There are small things each of us can do in our daily lives that can make a huge difference in the world, starting with what we put on our plates. Millions of people around the world are making that difference by participating in Meatless Monday, a campaign that encourages people to go meat-free one day a week to improve their health, the environment and animal welfare. As we approach Earth Day, there’s no better time than now to try it out.
So, how can going meat-free one day a week have such a positive impact in so many ways? Here’s how:
Meat production is incredibly resource intensive, using up land, water and other natural resources, far more so than plant production. Consider this: When we eat vegetables, we just eat, well, what grows from the Earth or a fruit that it bears. When we eat meat, we have to first grow grains and legumes (like corn and soy), then process and transport them to feed to animals for months or years before they are slaughtered and processed. Multiply that process by billions of animals who are raised for food and it becomes clear how producing meat is exponentially more wasteful than producing food made from plants.
Factory farming is also responsible for about 15 percent of all human-induced global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. That’s more than the entire transportation sector — all planes, trains, cars and boats combined. According to a Carnegie Mellon study, we could do more good for the planet by eating entirely plant-based meals one day a week than by eating everything local for an entire year! It’d be a lot easier, too. One of the easiest ways to reduce our carbon footprint is by following the Three R’s of eating: reducing or replacing consumption of animal products and refining our diets by choosing products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards and shun factory farming conditions.
In addition to the positive environmental effects, reducing our meat intake can also improve our health. Study after study links high meat consumption to high rates of early mortality due to heart disease, stroke and cancer – our nation’s three biggest killers. Some of our most talented professional athletes recognize the benefits of a plant-based diet for their performance. Among them are Venus and Serena Williams and ten time Olympic medalist Carl Lewis.
Eating less meat also means fewer animals suffer in extreme confinement conditions in factory farms. We do not need to travel very far in Georgia to see that many small family farms have been replaced with large windowless sheds containing thousands of chickens whose lives are nothing like what we envisioned when we sang “Old MacDonald’s Farm” as children. Instead, these animals are denied the ability to engage in most of their important natural behaviors, and instead are breathing air filled with ammonia and never feeling sunlight on their backs.
We can’t change the world overnight, but we can do little things that make a big difference. Participating in Meatless Mondays is a small step that makes a world of change. It’s a way we can celebrate Earth Day all year long!
Kristie Middleton is the senior food policy director for The Humane Society of the United States.