Earth Day 2: The Most Inconvenient Truth Of Them All…

Last night, I started reading a new book, The Face On Your Plate: The Truth About Food, and it came back to me, as it always does when I study the subject that, as author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson writes in a chapter entitled “The Only World We Have”…

“The most inconvenient truth of them all is the effect that eating meat and other animal products is having on our planet.”

Typically, I shy away from my vegetarianism (and near-but-not-total veganism) at this site. After 25 years of it, I’ve come to view it as a lifestyle choice and prefer not to engage in debates, let alone arguments. I live in an area populated by fishermen (the trout season opened on April 1, and the Esopus Creek is already full of contented adults in their tall wellies casting for what apparently is some of the finest trout in the States) and hunters (some of whom kill deer for food) and I have no desire to make enemies of them all. (Except those of you who kill animals for sport: you I hold in contempt).

My decision to stop eating meat began as a moral choice, and you could argue that for that reason it should remain private, assuming you feel the same about someone’s views on abortion or gay marriage. Once I realized how much better I felt for a vegetarian diet (after I gave up the endless cheese omelettes that initially replaced the meat), it became a health issue as well, and you could likewise argue that it’s each individual’s interpretation as to what constitutes a healthy diet just as that, perhaps, none of us should even be advised whether to eat healthily or not. (Then again, someone has to pay the hospital bills for all the strokes, heart attacks and other illnesses brought on by obesity and unhealthy diets.)

And yet these days, every time I bone up on the facts about vegetarianism – or rather, the facts about the meat and dairy industries – I return to what ultimately became a third and equally important reason for my lifestyle choice: the environment. As you celebrate Earth Day, please ponder this:

Possibly the single greatest contribution you could make to saving the planet would be to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet.

An easy-to-digest book that may help you think about your diet. More info here, but please consider ordering from your local independent book store.

And to help you along, here are a few facts to consider:

1) The planet’s 2.5 billion pigs and cattle excrete over 80 million metric tones (or 1,763,200,000,000,000 pounds) of waste nitrogen annually. The planet’s entire human population produces just over 30 million metric tons.

2) According to the United Nations, livestock accounts for 37% of all human-induced methane, which has 23 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, 65% of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the gwp of carbon dioxide, and 64% of ammonia emmissions, which contribute to acid rain.

3) Put another way (and again according to the United Nations), livestock accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions in terms of carbon dioxide than all transportation, including cars, ships, airplanes and trains.

4) Animal farms in the USA produce 5 tons of animal waste for each person in the USA every year.

5) A typical pig factory farm generates as much waste as a city of 50,000 people.

6) It takes 2600 gallons of water to produce a single serving of steak. (It takes 6 gallons to produce a head of lettuce.)

7) Producing 2 pounds of animal protein requires about ten times more water than producing 2 pounds of grain protein.

8) Nearly 40% of world grain is fed to livestock rather than humans.

9) The equivalent of seven football fields of land is bulldozed every minute to create more room for farmed animals. 50,000 square miles of tropical rain forest is cleared every year in the world.

10) According to the United Nations, “livestock production accounts for 70% of all agricultural land and 40% of the land surface of the planet. Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and its potential contribution to their solution is equally large.”

I will leave it there for now. Many of these facts and figures were drawn from the first two chapters of The Face On Your Plate, all of them annotated with source information. And this is without even getting into the vast transportation costs involved in the meat and dairy industries. For moral, ethical and health reasons to consider adopting a vegetarian, vegan and preferably organic diet, I invite you to visit the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary’s web site, which has a couple of easy-to-use, if painful-to-digest FAQ sections: this one on factory farming, and this one on how to go about a vegan diet. Happy Earth Day.

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November 2021