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Another Earth Day has come and gone and I find myself remembering the first one – Wednesday, April 29, 1970. We were so young and naive. On that momentous day I remember so very well the excitement we all felt. I remember that we actually believed that if people knew how important a balanced environment is, they would immediately set out to make the changes in their own lives to help mitigate the damage we all do every day to our Mother Planet Earth. Now, almost 40 years later, we know that our mindless consumption is leading to the death of our planet. We watch Nobel Prize winner Al Gore’s film Inconvenient Truth, and we read about weather changes around the world. We see videos of glaciers disappearing and icebergs shrinking. But we also listen to the very same skepticism of forty years ago and watch the very same corporate executives line their pockets at the expense of their own grand children.

I also see signs of hope. I see people buying compact fluorescent light bulbs and reusable shopping bags and fuel efficient or even hybrid cars and stainless steel water bottles instead of plastic disposables. When I take my trash container out to the curb, I think about what I have thrown away and know that even though it seems to magically disappear, it has actually become a part of my own carbon footprint, my legacy, one more scar I’ll leave behind and I try to buy use and accordingly. For example, I try not to buy anything “disposable” because, in reality, that’s just another word for “forever”.

Some examples of how long it takes our trash to decompose –

Paper, 2 to 5 months
Orange peels, 6 months
Milk cartons, 5 years
Filter-tip cigarettes, 10 to 12 years
Plastic bags, 10 to 20 years
Leather shoes, 24 to 40 years
Plastic containers, 50 to 80 years
Disposable diapers, 75 years
Tin cans, 100 years
Aluminum cans, 200 to 500 years
Styrofoam, never

I’ve heard people talk about feeling helpless to make real and meaningful changes. But, the one thing that is easy to do and without a doubt makes the biggest difference in our contribution to global warming is going vegetarian. Like the health cost of smoking cigarettes, this has been known for generations. But, like cigarettes, the huge corporations that produce the meat we eat spend billions every year to persuade us to continue to eat a substance that contributes to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, liver and kidney disease and does more to keep us dependent on foreign oil than driving a gas hog SUV. That’s right … driving a gas guzzler does less environmental damage than eating beef.

From 80 to 95% of the grains we grow are fed to livestock. While an acre of prime land produces 20,000 pounds of potatoes, that same acre produces only 165 pounds of edible beef.

More than half of the land used for agriculture in the United States is used to grow beef. Most beef consumed in the US is “finished” at a feedlot where it will require more than 16 pounds of grain and soybeans to produce only one pound of edible flesh.

Chicken and pork are also incredibly wasteful and environmentally expensive … It takes 5 pounds of protein feed to produce one pound of protein in the form of chicken and almost 8 pounds of protein is fed to hogs to get back one pound of edible protein.

Each year we lose cropland equal to the size of Connecticut due to soil erosion. More than 85% of the topsoil lost is directly related to raising livestock. Every 5 seconds, we lose another acre of trees but switching to a complete vegetarian diet would save that acre.

Its long been known that we are destroying our tropical rain forests at an astounding rate. Often called the lungs of our planet because most of our oxygen is produced there, the American meat habit is responsible for most of that decimation. Every year, while 75% of Central American children go to bed hungry, the U.S. imports 300,000,000 pounds of meat from Central and South America. The worlds rain forests are being leveled and species are going extinct at the rate of more than 1000 a year just to raise beef for the US..

More than half of all water used for all purposes in the United States is for livestock production. It takes 25 gallons of water to produce one pound of wheat while a pound of meat requires 2500 gallons. The production of just one cow requires enough water to float a destroyer.

The methane produced by cattle and other livestock has been in the news lately but that’s not the only reason we should be concerned about the back-end of so-called “food” animals. While human beings in the U.S put out 12,000 pounds of excrement every second, U.S. livestock produce in excess of 250,000 pounds per second. Modern day sewage systems are common for human use but no such thing exists for livestock excrement. Instead, it ends up fouling our streams, rivers and groundwater.

There are other reasons not to eat meat. Namely, your own health and the mind-numbing cruelty that is inherent to the industry. But the biggest reason not to eat meat is our children and the planet we will leave to them.

If you doubt that switching to a vegetarian diet really will make a difference, consider this: The amount of all raw materials (base products of farming, forestry and mining – including fossil fuels) consumed by the U.S. that are devoted to the production of livestock is in excess of 33%. A vegetarian diet requires only 2% of those same raw materials.

Going vegetarian is deceptively easy. Start by simply not eating animals. There are countless websites and cookbooks that teach a healthy and VERY tasty way of eating. Enjoy it. Make it an adventure that your entire family can share.

Don’t look on vegetarianism as giving up something. You’re really not. If you choose a meat-based diet, you have only four things to build a meal around. Cow, chicken, pig and fish. If you go vegetarian, the options and varieties are literally endless.

My main source the facts in this essay is John Robbin’s Pulitzer nominated book, Diet For A New America. More can be found in Kathy Freston’s excellent writings on the Huffington Post … An Earth Day Reflection On The Breathtaking Effects Of Cutting Back On Meat and One Bite at a Time: A Beginner’s Guide to Conscious Eating

5 Comments

  1. dianeluck said,

    April 27, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    I’m happy to see that you brought up the subject of food choices. Your fork is your most powerful environmental tool! Going total vegetarian is ideal of course, but even cutting back on your meat consumption can have amazing positive effects on the environment, the animals, and your health. Just by not eating meat one night you can save 625 gallons of water, 44 square feet of rain forest, and 4 pounds of grains! So even if you can’t imagine going completely vegetarian, just imagine how good you will feel every time you trade beef for veggies!
    P.S. Another benefit is how great you will feel when you start cutting back on meat and dairy in your diet.

  2. Bran Muffin said,

    April 28, 2009 at 5:15 am

    Welcome to my world Diane.

    Sounds like you have done some homework about this. I take it you’re completely vegetarian or vegan? I’m not quite vegan but eat very little dairy or eggs.

    I was emailing with a friend last night and told him its also the best weight loss tool ever.

    Hope you’ll look at my other entries and illustrations. Thanks –

    Bran

  3. BluesGuy said,

    April 28, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Miss Muffin, with great respect I wish to point out a fallacy in your stats: that a acre of trees disappears each five seconds. There are two problems with that claim.

    First, it assumes that the velocity of change is constant. Second, it assumes that renewable resources, once removed, are gone forever.

    If your source is Diet for a New America, I note that the paperback was published in April of 1998. Allocating the number of seconds since then, dividing by five, and multiplying the number of acres of trees which should be destroyed by that formula, we would expect to see all the trees in Oregon and a third of Washington gone. I’m sure everyone will admit that those states haven’t been denuded of forests.

    Also, having witnessed nature first hand, I can attest to the stubborn way that trees insist on growing in any cleared area. Even those sections of forest which are not re-planted tend to overgrow with greenery again, including trees.

    But more importantly, the “acre every five seconds” claim is a dozen years old. Is that still the rate at which trees are actually disappearing today? If so, it appears that it’s not a problem (see Oregon and Washington’s tree cover). If the rate has changed, shouldn’t we research and post the current value?

    And finally, I’m not finding fault with your overall conclusion, only that statistics like this being thrown out as fact without anyone checking.

    Best,
    Blues

  4. Bran Muffin said,

    April 28, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Thanks very much for your comment Blues.

    As I have researched this, I’m finding that the actual amount is more than I previously stated. And, even though we are planting seedlings in an effort to re-forest, those trees are considered inferior to the primary forest.

    In addition to the cutting (or burning) of trees, more and more trees are simply dying of various ailments.

    Very interesting and not at all reassuring. Thanks for bringing it up.

    Some links for you …

    According to this site,

    http://news.mongabay.com/2005/1116-forests.html

    United States has 7th highest rate of primary forest loss …
    Between 2000 and 2005, the United States lost an average of 831 square miles of “primary forest” … America still managed to post a gain in total forest cover due to the regeneration of previously cut forests and new forest plantations. These forests are generally considered ecologically inferior to primary forests for their reduced biodiversity but now make up major of American — and world — forests.
    —–
    The cost of a hamburger

    http://www.earthsave.org/support/hamburgerBIG.pdf

    —–
    http://rainforests.mongabay.com/deforestation/2000/United_States.htm

    —–
    See the entry for the US and the maps at

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deforestation

    —–
    http://www.rain-tree.com/facts.htm

    “One and one-half acres of rainforest are lost every second …”

  5. Bran Muffin said,

    April 28, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Blues Guy, I again thank you for your comment because it has made me do more research.

    For example –

    http://www.earthsave.org/environment/foodchoices.htm

    By not eating beef– and other farm animals as well–you:

    * save massive amounts of water – 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of water for every pound of beef you avoid,
    * avoid polluting our streams and rivers better than any other single recycling effort you do,
    * avoid the destruction of topsoil,
    * avoid the destruction of tropical forest,
    * avoid the production of carbon dioxide. (Your average car produces 3 kg/day of CO2. To clear rainforest to produce beef for one hamburger produces 75 kg of CO2. Eating one pound of hamburger does the same damage as driving your car for more than three weeks);
    * reduce the amount of methane gas produced. (I imagine the next bumper sticker: stop farts, don’t eat beef);
    * reduce the destruction of wildlife habitat, and
    * help to save endangered species.

    That’s a pretty good day’s work, for just what you don’t put in your mouth.

    —–

    Read more here –
    http://www.earthsave.org/environment/

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