From white meat to red meat to seafood, meat has become an integral part of our diets. We chow down on crispy bacon in the mornings, eat a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch, and finish off our day with some tender pot roast. Without even thinking about it, Americans consume about 195 pounds of meat on average a year!
One cool choice that people are making, however, is reducing their meat consumption with a dietary option called “flexitarianism” (see previous blog post). A flexitarian diet offers not only many health benefits, but many environmental ones as well, helping to improve everyone’s lives with just a few choices of your meal!
For Your Health
By opting to decrease your meat intake, you are increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, and other delicious parts of a plant-based diet. While meat does have important nutrients such as zinc, iron, and protein, too much meat is linked to higher rates of cancer, especially pancreatic cancer. Meat also contains much cholesterol and saturated fat, leading to high rates of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
On the other hand, plant-based diets are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other vital nutrients for good health. They are also low in calories and fat, helping to keep you healthy and fit. Switching to a more plant-based diet and reducing your meat intake gives you a huge health boost, as these simple dietary switches help to keep you well-nourished while reducing your risk of cancers, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
A healthy serving of meat, poultry, and fish should be around 3 ounces. And if you’re concerned about your protein intake, don’t forget that you can always substitute meat with tofu, eggs, legumes, and milk!
For The Environment
When you opt for a meatless meal, you are already saving energy and preventing water pollution. Livestock need more water and energy input than crops, requiring more farmlands, labor, and water for growing the crops and vegetation that livestock animals eat. For example, it takes about 8 pounds of corn to produce one pound of beef – or 10,400 pounds of corn for the average 1,300 pound steer! Growing more vegetation for animal feed also requires more fertilizers, which leads to more runoff contaminating and polluting waterways. This influx of excess nutrients often lead to the creation of aptly named “dead zones,” areas void of oxygen as the rapid growth, death, and decay of phytoplankton; the decomposition process uses up much oxygen, leading to the decline of marine life as organisms either die out or move away.
The energy demand for livestock does not stop there however; in addition to producing greenhouse gases through biological processes (ahem, bovine flatulence), livestock and meat both need to be transported to slaughterhouses, factories, markets, and other places. Raising livestock results in high fossil fuel usage and greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. In the United States, agriculture is responsible for 43-57% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Thus, it only makes sense that decreasing meat consumption has all sorts of positive impacts on the environment. Less energy and water are necessary to feed everyone, since crops go directly to feed people rather than to feed livestock. Less crops also mean that less fertilizer is used, reducing runoff into rivers, streams, lakes, and other bodies of water, helping to keep them as clear of excess fertilizer as possible.
For some great resources on flexitarianism, click here.