Going green doesn’t always mean making big changes. In fact, there are tons of little things we can do every day that can make a world of difference. One of those little changes is modifying the way we eat. For the next month, challenge yourself to have Meatless Mondays.
Delicious and easily accessible, meat is a staple to most Americans’ everyday diet. The USDA and the National Chicken Council estimates that in 2016, Americans consumed an average of 214.6 pounds of meat per capita. America is one of the top consumers and producers of meat in the world, and though that may yield some great dinners, meat production has a big impact on the environment.
Producing enough meat to fulfill demand is a huge undertaking and requires an enormous amount of resources (particularly the beef industry). Feeding U.S. livestock alone requires 149 million acres of cropland, which is half of all the cropland in the U.S.
This land is loaded with 17 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer and 167 million pounds of pesticides to support feed grain crops. The demand for this cropland, along with demand for land to hold the livestock, contributes to massive deforestation and habitat loss as natural green spaces and forests are turned into farms. Additionally, the pesticides and fertilizers used on the crops pollute both our air and our water and create hazardous conditions for humans and animals alike.
Meat production can be hazardous to our water, too. The industrial farms where most U.S. meat is produced have a large number of cows in a concentrated space, allowing for manure to build up and ultimately flow into nearby streams, rivers, and lakes. Excrement entering the water supply can destroy the habitats of aquatic animals and introduce unhealthy bacteria, such as E.coli, into our drinking water.
On top of producing terrestrial and aquatic pollutants, the agricultural industry is responsible for 9% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. One-third of this percentage is the result of enteric fermentation, or the digestive process that cows undergo. As cows process their food, they produce methane gas and release it into the air. Methane gas is a greenhouse gas, and it has the capacity absorb about 28-36 times as much heat as carbon, further exacerbating climate change. The EPA estimates that enteric fermentation is the second largest source of methane, responsible for 25% of all methane emitted in the U.S.
It’s clear that meat production isn’t great for the planet. Of course, giving up meat isn’t a viable option for everyone, and there are plenty of good reasons why people might need animal proteins in their diets. That’s the origin of Meatless Monday!
It challenges us to consider the impacts of our food, and change our habits in small ways, without calling for big changes that may not totally work with our lifestyles.
By not eating meat for just one day, you’ll save a surprising amount of greenhouse gases. The Earth Day Network estimates that eating one less burger a week is equivalent to taking your car off the road for 320 miles. What’s more, they estimate that not eating meat or cheese one day a week is equivalent to taking your car off the road for five weeks. We weren’t kidding when we said little steps can make big changes!
This Monday, take the challenge to go meat-free all day long. You’ll find it’s pretty easy to make delicious meals without beef, pork, or chicken. Plus, it’ll give you the chance to discover some tasty new dishes and ingredients!
To get you started, we’ve included 3 recipes—Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner—for your first Meatless Monday, sourced from the Meatless Monday website! For more great ideas, check out the Meatless Monday Recipe section for recipes and online cookbooks to guide you through your Mondays,
If you’re already doing Meatless Monday, or just want to push yourself further, there are lots of ways to keep up the momentum. Instead of going meatless once a week, trying eating vegetarian two or three times a week.
You could also go a step further and start doing Meatless and Milkless Mondays, or days when you eat totally vegan. You can even get others in on the fun and challenge your friends, family, or coworkers to join you. The possibilities are endless! At the end of the day, however you choose to participate, you can know that your dinner choice is making a difference, one bite at a time.
By Elizabeth Scanlon, DEP Intern