By Michelle Kretzer
We all ponder the question, “Am I selfish?” from time to time. And the answer is simple: Yes, probably. If you claim to care about the environment, animals, world hunger, skyrocketing healthcare costs or pretty much any of the major crises that we face today but are still eating meat, then yes, you are selfish.
Because we could drastically slow down climate change, feed the entire booming population, fix the broken healthcare system and save millions of lives right now if we wanted to. But we don’t. Not enough anyway. I mean, sure, we want to solve those problems. But … bacon.
Researchers from Oxford University’s Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food just published the results of their study on the impact of the meat industry on the environment and our health.
They found that if the human population made a global shift toward the dietary recommendations that we hear at least once a week about eating the minimum suggested amounts of fruit and vegetables, limiting red meat and sugar, and cutting overall calories, we could cut food-related greenhouse-gas emissions by 29 percent. That number jumps to 63 percent for a collective shift toward vegetarian eating. And if everyone on Earth went vegan, we could slash food-related greenhouse-gas emissions by 70 percent.
Simply following health recommendations to eat more plants and less meat could also prevent 5.1 million deaths by 2050. And if everyone chose vegan foods, we could save the lives of 8.1 million people. Healthy plant-based eating could save us $700 billion to $1 trillion every year on health care and lost working days. And the economic savings of significantly cutting our greenhouse-gas emissions could be as much as $570 billion.
Their results mirror the findings of pretty much every food study ever.
According to the filmmakers behind the documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, “Animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption and pollution, is responsible for more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry, and is a primary driver of rainforest destruction, species extinction, habitat loss, topsoil erosion, ocean ‘dead zones,’ and virtually every other environmental ill. Yet it goes on, almost entirely unchallenged.”
The meat industry wastes a tremendous amount of water at a time when waging war over fresh water is no longer seen as a movie plot but as a very real threat. Animals raised for food are the primary consumers of water in the U.S., and if the rest of the world ate America’s meat-heavy diet, the Earth would have run out of fresh water 15 years ago.
Turning animals into meat is also a grossly inefficient use of other limited resources. It takes up to 13 kilograms of grain fed to farmed animals to produce just 1 kilogram of meat for the world’s wealthiest citizens. With 795 million people currently going hungry, the only way to produce enough food, according to Worldwatch Institute, is “to cut back sharply on meat consumption, because conversion of grazing land to food crops will increase the amount of food produced.”
Every day, one vegan saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forest, 20 pounds of greenhouse gases and an animal’s life.
By saving the Earth and animals, we also save ourselves. Numerous health studies have found that vegetarians and vegans enjoy lower rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, strokes, obesity and Alzheimer’s as well as lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and better overall health.
So, are you selfish? Think about it as you head off to fry some bacon … and the planet.