Victoria Markovitz
Making a Difference One Meal at a Time
Victoria MarkovitzMarch 20, 2015

greggavedon.com via Flickr

greggavedon.com via Flickr

Americans are used to hearing that they should eat more veggies to improve their health. But last month, a U.S. nutritional advisory panel took this a step further. By eating less meat, they stated in a report, Americans could protect the environment and promote future food security.

The Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee provided recommendations to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services for updating their Dietary Guidelines. The guidelines, which will be released later this year, impact nutrition in the United States, including by influencing “federal nutrition policy, education, outreach, and food assistance programs.”

A diet that includes more plant-based foods, such as vegetables and fruits; a moderate amount of sustainable seafood; and less animal-based foods “is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet,” the panel stated. A sustainable diet also ensures “access to sufficient, nutritious, and safe food” for generations to come.

As a pesco-vegetarian (a vegetarian who eats the occasional fish), people often ask me why I don’t eat meat. One of the major reasons is that meat production has a much higher carbon footprint than other food industries. Here are some statistics that show its impact:

  • A 2006 United Nations report states that “almost a fifth of global warming emissions come from livestock” – which includes cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals. This is more than the emissions of the whole world’s transportation industry. Some have also argued this number is too conservative, and downplays the environmental impact of raising livestock.
  • A study published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that beef “requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water and results in five times more climate-warming emissions.” When compared to non-animal staples, such as potatoes and rice, beef requires “160 times more land” and produces “11 times more greenhouse gases.”
  • A vegan, who doesn’t eat meat or dairy, indirectly uses 600 gallons less water per day in their diet than the average American, says National Geographic.

But people don’t need to completely give up meat to make a difference. Environmental advocates offer other alternatives for reducing meat consumption:

  • Graham Hill, founder of TreeHugger.com, promoted a less binary way for people to change their diets in his Ted Talk, “Why I’m a Weekday Vegetarian.” While he couldn’t get himself to completely forsake meat, he eats vegetarian on weekdays to lower his carbon footprint, save money, and improve his health.
  • Launched in 2003, the Meatless Monday campaign encourages individuals, hospitals, schools, and other institutions to go meatless one day a week. Over 30 college campuses across the United States participate in the campaign, and programs have also found their way overseas, such as in Brazil, Taiwan, and Australia.

I’m happy to see that nutrition experts are advocating for Americans to consider the environment when planning their next meal. By making small changes to their diets, people can show not only an investment in their health, but also a commitment to a greener and more sustainable future.