Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Earth Day - Saving the Planet One Bite at a Time

When we hear about the environment most people don't immediately think about how the food we eat may contribute to serious environmental concerns like global warming, land and water pollution, soil erosion or rainforest and wilderness destruction.

In fact, more and more experts are finding (including studies done by the United Nations) that a meat-based diet actually has a direct and often devastating impact on the environment compared to a vegetarian diet. Many people scoff at such a suggestion and it still hasn't been taken seriously in the mainstream media. It's an idea that most people have a really hard time wrapping their heads around, but it's not really that unbelievable.

It's true that most of us are disconnected from where our food comes from and how it is produced. We just need to try and imagine the sheer scale of animal agriculture today to understand how that poses a threat to the earth's air, land, and water. Not only are millions of animals confined on huge factory farms where their waste contaminates the ground water (remember Ontario's Walkerton?), but vast tracts of land are required to graze cattle and to grow feed crops which results in pollution, soil erosion and habitat destruction and other devastating impacts.

Here are some eye-popping facts:

It actually takes 7 times less land to feed a vegetarian compared to a meat-eater. What a difference in footprint size! In Canadian terms, a meat consumer requires 3.5 acres of land while only a half acre is required to feed a vegetarian. Livestock production currently accounts for 30 percent of the entire land surface of the planet.

In Canada, 77% of cereal crops grown are directly fed to livestock, not people! I was shocked to learn about this and have never been able to look at the "corn belt" in the Ottawa area the same again. Most of this corn won't end up on anyone's table as corn on the cob...it may end up as feed for livestock and most of the energy it provides will be used up by the animals producing motion, or it will be excreted or discarded as a waste product.

Since animals are inefficient calorie converters, far more caloric and protein content is fed to the animals than is returned to your plate in a serving of meat. The monoculture crops grown for animal feed are treated with polluting chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides which otherwise wouldn't be applied if the land was allowed to return to wilderness.

Oh, and here's a rather unappetizing statistic...farm animals produce about 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population of the United States. The runoff from factory farms pollutes rivers and lakes more than all other industrial uses combined!

Rainforests, considered to be the "lungs" of the earth, are still being cut down to make way for feed cropland and for grazing cattle. The thin layer of delicate forest topsoil soon becomes degraded due to overgrazing, compaction and soil erosion due to livestock activity. In 2007 alone, 785 species were driven to extinction due to habitat destruction.

Livestock production also uses a tremendous volume of water, mostly for the irrigation of feed crops. For example, it takes 7000 litres of water to produce 100 grams of beef while it takes only 550 litres of water to produce enough flour for a loaf of bread.

And did you know that global warming isn't only caused by vehicle emissions? A full 18% of total globally-released greenhouse gases known to cause climate change derives from the meat production industry. A recent United Nations report found that the meat industry causes more global warming through emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide than all forms of transportation combined. University of Chicago researchers found that switching to a vegan diet is 50 percent more effective than switching from a regular car to a hybrid in terms of reducing global warming!

The good news is that vegetarian and vegan cuisine has come a long way from the "granola" days of tofu, hummus and steamed veggies. There's no excuse for anyone to say that vegetarian food is bland or boring anymore!! No longer is gourmet food limited to meat-based plates. Healthful, delicious and beautifully presented veggie offerings have become commonplace at most restaurants.

Vegetarian and vegan cookbooks abound with easy to make gourmet-style recipes using everyday ingredients for the home cook.

Replacing a few meals a week with vegetarian/vegan options is easy and delicious and just think what you'll be doing to help the planet.

Happy Earth Day and may Earth Day be Everyday!! Here's to the greening of your kitchens!

Toronto Vegetarian Association; Eating for the Earth

Peta; Vegetarian Starter Kit
ArkII; The Activist: Vegans Lead the Way on Earth Day!
Toronto Vegetarian Association; Meat Production's Environmental Toll


  1. Very informative. I think due to increasing water pollution everyone should aware of the importance of water treatment. Weather it is on a local level or Industrial level. I think if industries properly handle their waste water, we can solve many water pollution problems. Industrial water treatment consultant should be helpful in this regard.

  2. Yes, and it's unfortunate that industrial-farming is subject to less regulation on waste management than other types of industry. With the size of these farms, an on-site waste treatment facility would go a long way to reducing pollution. Would be quite costly, for the producers, but could be considered a cost of doing business and helped with government assistance, e.g., tax credits.

  3. Hi,

    We have just added your latest post "Saving the Planet One Bite at a Time" to our Directory of Environment . You can check the inclusion of the post here . We are delighted to invite you to submit all your future posts to the directory for getting a huge base of visitors to your website and gaining a valuable backlink to your site.

    Warm Regards

    greenatmos.com Team


  4. Thanks greenatmos team, for picking up my story! I'll send you more enviro posts in the near future.