By Steven McMullen, Hope College
There are many different ways in which most of us could change our lifestyle in order to do less damage to the environment and the ecosystems that support us. For most people in the United States, however, there are few changes that we can make that will have more of a positive impact than to consume more plants and fewer animal products.
Each year more people choose to eat vegetarian and vegan diets, and they do so for many different reasons.
Some eat less meat for health reasons, since eating more plants and fewer animal products is a more healthy choice for most of us. Others do so to limit the poor treatment of animals in our modern food system. A large number of people have chosen to change their diets in order to reduce the environmental impact.
All of these have merit, but consider the following case for sustainable eating:
Climate Change: While it is well-known that cars and coal-burning power plants often cause substantial greenhouse gas emissions, animal agriculture also has a big impact. According to one report, farmed animals contribute about 14.5 percent of our emissions. Since diet is sometimes easier to control than other consumption, cutting out meat may be the easiest change you can make.
Fresh Water Use: We are blessed with abundant fresh water in Michigan, but most of our meat and dairy comes from out of state, sometimes from areas where fresh water is far scarcer. Turning cows into beef, in particular, uses a lot of fresh water. While some plants we eat use a lot of water, almost all plants use less water than animal foods.
Land Use: If you have ever traveled through the western U.S., you will probably have seen vast amounts of land used to raise cows. Far more land goes to raising animals than you might think, however.
Pigs, chickens, and cows end up eating more corn and soybeans than people do. After exports and ethanol are factored out, we use approximately twice as much land to grow food for animals as we do to grow food for people in the U.S. If we all ate less meat, that would free up considerable amounts of land for natural environments or other uses.
There are so many new plant-based grocery items and restaurant menu items in our area that shifting your diet away from animal products toward plants has never been easier.
Moreover, every time you purchase plant-based foods, you make it a little easier for others to do the same, since grocery stores, restaurants, and even pot-lucks at your church will start to offer more items that are better for our environment. Give it a try today.
Steven McMullen is a Holland resident and an associate professor of economics at Hope College.
This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme
Environmental Awareness/Action: Environmental education and integrating environmental practices into our planning will change negative outcomes of the past and improve our future.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope
College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to www.hope.edu/sustainability-institute for more information.
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