Why we (regrettably) need to stop eating meat

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“Benton farms HDR” by thaddselden is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

TJ Lindstrom, Opinion Editor

Ok. I have a confession to make. I actually love meat. I love it so much that the only thing I asked for last Christmas was a Weber charcoal smoker. And since then, I’ve churned out quite a few glorious smoked briskets with it. 

I mention this to say that I am not going to suggest we all forgo meat forever. Hardly. While I certainly admire vegetarians and vegans –– I may even be jealous of them sometimes ––  I know that giving up meat is unrealistic right now. It’s unrealistic for the personal, somewhat selfish reason that meat is part of my diet, part of my life now. I have a smoker, for heaven’s sake. 

But, it’s also unrealistic at the societal level. Every year the United States produces millions of tons of meat. Asking Americans to stop eating meat entirely requires asking millions of people to radically alter their diets, and it would jeopardize the 500,000 jobs provided by the meat industry. 

With all that said, animal agriculture remains one of the most environmentally damaging industries in the world –– the beef industry especially. Raising livestock takes up about 30% of all the usable land on earth. Livestock production accounts for 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent study. And 45% of those emissions come from beef cattle alone. 

Most of that pollution comes from the massive amount of feed produced to sustain livestock, whereas plants require only water, fertilizer and sunlight. 

With climate change already threatening to upend the world as we know it, the scale of our global consumption of meat seems unsustainable in the long term. But at the same time, with so much of the world reliant on meat –– for both protein and a paycheck –– giving it up wholesale seems impossible. 

The solution? Eat less meat, beef specifically. According to The Washington Post, replacing steak once a week for a year with beans, lentils, eggs or spinach can reduce carbon emissions by between 291 and 331 kilograms –– the equivalent of 32 to 36 gallons of gasoline. 

Can’t stomach a meal without meat? The good news is that swapping out a steak for a piece of chicken every week can also save 270 kilograms of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

If we can slowly transition away from meat, especially beef, and towards a more plant-based diet, we can truly begin to live more sustainable lives. So this year, I’m trying my best to do meatless Mondays. That is, take one day out of my week and eat no meat. It’s not everything; it won’t solve global warming on its own. But it’s a start.