April 22, 2009–Earth Day–Today’s Way: Perhaps the single most important thing that we can do to help the Earth today is to reduce the amount of meat we consume.  For some people, this idea seems outright impossible, but everyone can benefit from doing so.  Most of us grow up with the image of a happy little farm with rolling, green pastures where chickens, pigs and cows peck, roam and laze away their days, but that pastoral ideal is far from the reality of factory farming where the majority of animals are raised and slaughtered for meat.  It’s something that many of us would rather not think about, but not thinking about it doesn’t make it go away.

In the United States, at least one billion animals are put through the industrial livestock farming system every single year.  It takes approximately 7 pounds of grain and 7,000 (yes, that’s seven-thousand) gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef.  How does this work?  For every pound of grain produced, it takes about 1,000 gallons of water.  And for America alone, 157 million metric tons of high-quality cereal, legumes and vegetable protein suitable for human use is instead fed to livestock to produce 28 million metric tons of animal protein for human consumption annually.   To put it simply, if we humans were to simply eat more of those grains and vegetables rather than diverting it to animals whom we then eat, we’d be able to feed the world.

Evironmentally speaking, industrial farms produce more than meat–anyone who lives within a couple of miles of a factory farm can attest to the air pollution by the constant release of methane gas due to massive heaps of animal waste.  But the problem is much more than just a stinky one.  All that animal waste creates rampant ground and water pollution.  Such large areas where thousands of animals are confined in small spaces creates a breeding ground for disease, which is treated by administering antibiotics and growth hormones that in turn contaminates our water supply as well as resides in the meat that people eat.

Aside from the overwhelming environmental implications and matters of animal cruelty, a high meat diet simply is not good for humans.  Study after study proves that cultures who eat higher amounts of fresh vegetables and fruits and obtain a wider spectrum of proteins from nuts and legumes live longer, live better and have fewer health problems.  If you’re a meat lover, you don’t have to give it up completely, but reducing the amount of meat you eat every day will most likely reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity and even cancer.

If you’d like to read more, there’s a terrific new book by Mark Bittman, a food writer and columnist for the New York Times, titled Food Matters.  He is a food lover, and a meat lover, who happened to discover a whole new perspective as well as a higher standard of health just by reducing the amount of meat in his diet, and replacing it with more fruits and vegetables.  In the meantime, the most meaningful thing you can do for Earth Day is to veg out.  Even if just for today.