Can you guess one of the biggest culprits of greenhouse gas emissions?
No. It’s livestock.
This Friday will bring an end to the United Nations 21st Conference on Climate Change in Paris, France. 1300 delegates from 195 State Parties have been discussing ways to tackle the ever-growing problem of climate change. Countries from Peru to Japan will agree on a plan to cut down on carbon emissions so that this fragile earth can stay viable. Most of the topics addressed cover government policy and subsidies, topics that can seem far away from our quiet dinner tables. Yet, even our kitchens provide the chance to play a role in the future of this planet.
The cattle and dairy industry is responsible for about 18 percent of the greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. This comes from the methane produced by livestock waste, nitrous oxide released, and all of the manures and fertilizers used on cattle feed. The hormones and antibiotics used in dairy farming runs off into the water, creating toxic environments that kill sea life and destroy coral reefs. More than just the animals themselves, an enormous amount of land is needed to raise them. About 30 percent of the earth’s surface land is devoted solely to feeding cattle. Imagine that for a moment. Take 1/3 of your home’s acreage and cut it out; it is reserved for your next steak and glass of dairy milk. It’s easy for us to forget this in the United States, where we rarely see the meat that we will eat. Yet it has a huge impact in parts of the world where resources are limited and there are battles fought for more land and more water. In Latin America, ranchers have bought into the high price of cattle. Massive deforestation has turned about 70% of the Amazon into cow pastures.
The former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger gave a speech Tuesday encouraging people to go meat-free for one or two days a week. One popular Meat-free movement, founded by Sir Paul McCartney, is Meatless Mondays. Just one day a week is doable for anyone. If we all cut meat for just one day, we would have the impact of taking 274 million cars off the road.
It’s not like we’re meat-starved either. A 14-month project done through Glasgow University confirmed that Americans are over-consuming meat. Brazil, China, the UK, and the US are already eating DOUBLE recommended meat levels. This has affected us nutritionally, with an obesity rate that is over 30% and alarming levels of cancer and heart disease. It’s highly unlikely that any of us will die of protein-depletion simply by cutting out meat one day a week.
8 years ago, as I was completely my Culinary Arts degree at Kendall College, one of my required classes was Sustainability. We read science articles highlighting the effects of agriculture on the planet – from the devastating effects pesticides have on banana farm workers in Brazil to the growing “Red Tide” that has killed off thousands of sea animals in the Gulf of Mexico. Our Chefs there iterated the important role we would play as future chefs. We were not only responsible for creating delicious food. We had a duty to this planet to honor and protect her. We weeded the student garden and met local farmers. We butchered and utilized a 400-lb pig in “snout-to-tail” cooking. We were mindful of portion sizes and reducing spoilage.
As a chef, I often point to a vegan diet as being the most delicious and nutritious way to eat. Now we have another reason: Eating a plant-based diet preserves the planet.
As a chef, I want to inspire and motivate you to eat plant-based at least one day a week. This is one simple action you can take to have a dramatic impact on the future of climate change.
Can’t afford a Prius? How about cooking some pasta?
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations: Livestock a major threat to environment, Remedies urgently needed. 29 November 2006, Rome: http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/News/2006/1000448/index.html
BBC News: COP21: Arnold Schwarzenegger: 'Go part-time vegetarian to protect the planet', By Roger Harrabin. 8 December 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35039465
Climatic Change: Climate benefits of changing diet, by Elke Stehfest , Lex Bouwman, Detlef P. van Vuuren, Michel G. J. den Elzen, Bas Eickhout, Pavel Kabat. July 2009, Volume 95, Issue 1, pp 83-102
News.com.au: Experts call for reduced meat consumption to prevent climate change, by Victoria Craw. NOVEMBER 27, 20153:38PM: http://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/climate-change/experts-call-for-reduced-meat-consumption-to-prevent-climate-change/news-story/f0c8b39a9d3be25fbd2e31dc10debf4b
Meatless Mondays: http://www.meatlessmonday.co