Growing up in the rural south, vegetarianism was not something we ever really talked about. If the topic ever did come up, it was something that, unfortunately, we usually just made jokes about. There’s a massive misconception that eating meat is just part of being an American, along with contracting heart disease—too soon? I don’t think so.
As a competent adult now with the ability to access scholarly articles and other reliable resources with a simple Google search, I have spent the last year or so digging deeper into exactly how the meat industry functions and I realized something that shook me to my core, something that I can’t believe nobody is talking about on a mainstream platform. Or maybe it is believable since, according to the North American Meat Institute, “the meat and poultry industry’s economic ripple effect generates $864.2 billion annually to the U.S. economy, or roughly 6% of the entire GDP1.” I came to the realization that this age-old ethical battle about whether or not humans have the right to eat meat is absolutely pointless in battle to bring down the meat industry. The fact is, this conflict in beliefs is a personal issue, a series of opinions largely based on cultural upbringing. That’s why it will not invoke lasting change. The movement to end animal cruelty on factory farms is a necessary one, but it isn’t the one that will bring down the meat industry. Unfortunately, it just isn’t relatable for everyone and probably won’t be for hundreds of years. We aren’t all there yet. This doesn’t mean that taking on the meat industry is a lost cause. It just means that we need to approach it from a different perspective. Because there’s one thing that every human being on this planet has in common regardless of their personal beliefs: every one of us calls Earth our home (in this life, at least). And whether we like it or not, the meat industry is killing it in many ways.
Deforestation has a massive impact on our environment. Agriculture, especially factory farming, is responsible for the bulk of it. This has a profound impact on CO2 levels in our atmosphere. After all, plant life is responsible for filtering the CO2 in our air and turning it into breathable oxygen for us. Regardless of how little CO2 we emit, without flora to filter the existing CO2 we would slowly suffocate within the atmosphere. While the ideal situation for the good of the planet and for humanity would be to end the meat industry altogether, imagine the positive environmental impacts that would take place if we stopped producing only red meat, which comprises a significant chunk of the meat industry. The most common argument that I run into when having this conversation with people is that deforestation wouldn’t actually be significantly reduced if we stopped producing meat, because we would still need land to grow plant-based foods. This is where the subject of animal waste comes into play, and how the depletion of our forests coupled with the enormous input of harmful toxins and compounds into our environment as a result of factory farming is spelling doom for our planet.
In order to really grasp the full impact of factory farming on our environment and on natural resource availability, think about everything that goes into and comes out of the industry. According to the Humane Society of the United States, animal agriculture accounts for around 37% of total methane emissions and is overall responsible for around 18% of all greenhouse gas (CO2) emissions2.
Not only do animals emit methane through their waste, there are also enormous amounts of energy that go into powering the facilities and transportation required to keep factory farms running. The HSUS also states that more than half of the global corn crop is used for animal agriculture. I don’t even need data to understand that with all of the land being used to grow food for these animals, on top of the amount of land used to house the animals, we could be sustainably producing plant-based foods that aren’t harmful to the environment or to our health.
It’s clear that animal agriculture on such a large scale is detrimental to our environment. For that reason, I encourage everyone who eats meat to source it locally and sustainably. Buy it at your local farmer’s market if you can. We all know that eating as much processed meat as we do today is a leading cause of coronary heart disease. Eating organic meat products will not only benefit the environment, but it will benefit your personal health as well. On top of that, reduce the amount of meat that you eat on a daily basis. Even a small change can have a positive impact. I also encourage you to do more extensive research on how modern animal agriculture is affecting our Earth and develop your own educated opinion. Wanting to take care of the planet doesn’t make you a delusional hippie, it makes you a decent human being.
1. “The United States Meat Industry at a Glance.” North American Meat Institute. Accessed August 23, 2018. .
2. “Animal Agriculture & Climate Change.” The Humane Society of the United States. Accessed August 28th, 2018.