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The animal agriculture industry is not exactly renowned for being planet-friendly. The process of rearing, feeding and slaughtering animals uses up far more water, land, and food resources than the process of growing plants for direct human consumption. A huge amount of the planet’s total land area is occupied by the livestock system, while 23 percent of global freshwater supplies are used to grow livestock feed. One person who chooses to leave meat and dairy off their plate could save around 200,000 gallons of water per year … which, given the fact that four billion people around the world suffer water scarcity for at least one month every year, could go a long way toward ensuring that our planet’s water resources are shared more equitably. In addition, the grain set aside for livestock consumption could feed two billion hungry people.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that just one major meat-producing company – Tyson Foods – was a bigger polluter of U.S. waterways than oil giant ExxonMobil, having pumped 104 million pounds of toxic waste into the nation’s rivers and streams between 2010 and 2014.
The phenomenon of worldwide climate change has been driven by soaring levels of greenhouse gases (such as methane and carbon dioxide) produced by human activities in recent decades. Emissions generated by the animal agriculture industry are responsible for a significant proportion of the world’s overall greenhouse gas problem. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has put forward a conservative estimate of 14.5 percent, while other groups such as The Worldwatch Institute have estimated that the figure could be as high as 51 percent.
Bearing all of these sobering statistics in mind, the World Resources Institute (WRI) is now seeking to raise consumer awareness of the issue through their new paper, “Shifting Diets for a Sustainable Food Future.”
“What we eat is rapidly changing around the globe, as people converge toward diets high in calories, protein and animal-based foods,” said WRI spokespeople Janet Ranganathan and Richard Waite. “(However), just small shifts in the choices consumers make can have a huge impact in reducing agriculture’s resource use and mitigating environmental problems – the average American, for example, could cut their diet’s environmental footprint in half just by eating less meat and dairy.”
The situation could not be more urgent, as the world needs to close an anticipated “food gap” by producing 70 percent more calories in 2050 than it did in 2006. The world’s population is expected to rise to nearly 10 billion people by this date.
Overconsumption of existing food resources is another major problem that needs to be addressed. WRI found that almost every region in the world consumed more protein than they needed in 2009, but the largest consumption was found in wealthy regions such as Europe, the U.S.A., and Canada. American men, for example, consumed almost 100 grams of protein per day: almost double the figure of 56 grams that they actually need. The typical daily protein intake of the average U.S. consumer was found to be 90 grams. Excessive protein consumption has been linked to a range of health problems, including weight gain, dehydration, kidney disease, and the leaching of essential bone minerals.
The gap between the average meat and dairy consumer’s daily protein requirements and the amount they already receive from plant-based sources could easily be closed by seeking out protein-rich plant foods such as lentils, beans, nuts or chickpeas.
Beef was found to be by far the most resource-intensive animal food consumed by humans.
Pretty shocking stuff, don’t you think? There’s no doubt about it: if our planet is to have a fighting chance of providing for future generations, we humans need to change our ways soon. The good news is that if those who currently consume large amounts of meat and dairy start moving toward a plant-based diet, this could make a huge difference.
The chart below spells it out clearly.
To aid the necessary changes in consumer behavior, WRI has introduced a Shift Wheel, which aims to harness “proven marketing and behavior change strategies to help move billions of people to more sustainable diets.”
Luckily, the much-needed change in consumer habits is beginning to occur already.
“One-third of the population (over 100 million people) are choosing to leave meat off their plates more frequently,” said Nil Zacharias, Co-Founder of One Green Planet. “As much as 26 percent of consumers are ‘flexitarians,’ who prefer a diet dominated by plant-based foods and over 36 percent of U.S. Consumers prefer milk alternatives and use meat substitutes. One in 10 millennials is vegetarian or vegan, and they are at the forefront of driving the American consumer marketplace by demanding more plant-based options.”
Our food choices have the power to heal our broken food system, ensure that our planet is capable of supporting its growing population, and pave the way for a truly sustainable future. By choosing to eat more plant-based foods, we can all drastically cut our carbon footprints, save precious water supplies and help ensure that vital crop resources are fed to people, rather than livestock. With the wealth of available plant-based options available, it has never been easier to eat with the planet in mind. Join One Green Planet’s #EatForThePlanet movement and start making a difference today!
Click on the graphic below for more information
In-Text Image Source: World Resources Institute
Lead Image Source: Wild Rice Burgers with Grilled Avocado and Heirloom Tomatoes