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Diet choices and the environment

A rising number of us are concerned with human impact on the environment and the rise of mass agriculture practices. More and more people are turning to diet changes to take control.
Two of these dietary options are vegetarianism and veganism. Vegetarianism is the decision to restrict your personal diet to exclude animal products where the animal is killed. This excludes beef, poultry and fish from consumption. Vegans take it one step further to exclude any animal-derived products from their diet, such as eggs, milk, honey or cheese.

Vegetarianism has always had roots in spiritual movements. The largest percentage of vegetarians is found in India, largely thanks to Hinduism. India is 31 percent vegetarian and as a country consumes less meat than any other. Other eastern religions that promote vegetarianism are often based in nonviolence and compassion towards all life forms. The spread of Christianity and its idea of man as sovereign over all things pushed vegetarianism from most of Europe. Meat as a symbol of social status helped promote its consumption beyond the religious.

Some people change their diets for personal health reasons. Others change because they cannot bear the idea of harming animals, and others because they’ve researched eating large quantities of meat in an industrialized economy and cannot excuse the impact it has. Beef production creates the most greenhouse gas emissions in the world. According to a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock emissions account for “more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent — 18 percent — than transport.”

While the total amount of meat in U.S. consumption is down, each year the average person eats around 260 pounds of meat. As one of the largest countries in the world, our impact on the planet is enormous. Meat production uses five times more grain than human consumers in the U.S. and one pound of meat takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce.

However, an estimate done by the Worldwatch Institute in 2009 claims the total greenhouse emissions caused by meat production is actually around 51 percent of the global total, emphasizing that previous estimates ignored “methane, land use and respiration.”

On top of this, the environment cost of raising livestock in mass numbers for human consumption includes “land use change, feed production, animal production, manure, and processing and transport,” according to Melissa Rojas-Downing in Climate Risk Management. Furthermore, the livestock sector contributes to land degradation, air and water pollution and  biodiversity destruction. In a cruel sense of irony, the livestock and feed industries negatively affect the environment, which in turn negatively affects the livestock and feed industries.

The easiest way to change this cycle is to not buy into it. By changing dietary choices and your consumer choices in the grocery store, you can protest the system. Environmental consciousness has been on the rise since the industrialization of western countries. As the environment and the world changes, I urge more and more people to consider dietary changes, just as many people have turned to recycling packaging, bottles and paper to reduce their footprint on the environment. The demand for change must not stop there, but it is a good place to start if you have the means.

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