Quitting meat is a low-hanging fruit

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September 19, 2008

12:35 AM

Since the publication of “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson in 1962, the environmental movement has gained momentum to the point of becoming a fad. Al Gore won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, both presidential candidates acknowledge manmade climate change and have environmental platforms. Grocery stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s that offer more environmentally friendly foods have become vastly popular.

We can see the spread of environmentalism on our own campus: The Caf went trayless, green fees passed with wide support from the community and College President Taylor Reveley. He refused to sign the Presidents Climate Commitment, but created a new committee on sustainability. However, there is a painstakingly obvious hypocrisy in all of this. Looking at the environmental advocates on campus, I cannot help but feel frustrated that, although they are strong campaigners and activists, they completely disregard what is arguably the most environmentally friendly decision of all — to go vegetarian or vegan.

While we can carpool and switch to hybrids all we want, the fact still remains that animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all gas-guzzling travel types, including cars, planes and ships. The livestock industry not only contributes to climate change, it is also a significant factor in water pollution, water shortages, loss of biodiversity and other environmental degradations. With so many animals concentrated on factory farms, a large amount of waste is bound to be washed away. This runoff from animal waste ruins aquatic habitats and the species depending on them.

Raising animals also uses a huge amount of water. Grain must be grown to feed the livestock, which requires water, and the livestock consume water throughout their lives. As a result, a pound of beef costs 12,000 gallons of water to produce, while a pound of wheat requires 60 gallons. Furthermore, raising animal monocultures, or single breeds, are detrimental to biodiversity. Without an influx of new genes in populations, they become vulnerable to diseases and have fewer genes to draw from for future adaptations. There are many other costs of animal production from deforestation to fishery depletion.

The research and statistics are clear — vegetarianism and veganism are more earth-friendly than an omnivorous diet. Why are we more willing, then, to buy hybrids, energy-saving light bulbs and reusable cups than to consider becoming vegetarian? How can so many Americans demand alternative fuels from our presidential candidates but continue eating meat? How can so many students demand green fees but continue to participate in an unsustainable lifestyle?

I am of the opinion that people are stubborn and unwilling to partake in an activity if we can’t simply buy our way out of it. Students are more than happy to bring Energy Star refrigerators, purchase compact fluorescent light bulbs and pay their green fees. People believe purchasing more expensive organic foods or free range chicken is somehow going to save the environment. But we do not have to spend more to contribute.

Becoming an herbivore means eating more fruits, vegetables and legumes, which are cheaper than meat. The nonbelievers out there may think there is a cost is to our palates, but people don’t usually consider the way we have boxed ourselves into a world comprised of meat flavors. Expanding into a vegetarian diet offers a plethora of new tastes and textures, opening the palate to endless possibilities.

So-called environmentalists want to be able to fix environmental problems by spending their money, but this will not always work. I encourage everyone who cares about saving the environment to use their purchasing power in a new way; I encourage you to spend less. Leave meat out of your diet and, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, dairy and eggs too. Vegetarianism and veganism require a change in the way we view our society’s traditional consumption, rather than the change in our pocket.

Erica Hart is a junior at the College.

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