Brooke Harmke
Climate Change, corporate social responsibility

Can Meatless Monday Save the Environment?

Walk instead of driving.

Plant a tree.

Don’t leave the water running when you brush your teeth.

You’ve probably heard all of these, as they are some of the most well-known ways to help the planet, and maybe you even do these things in your own life. While all efforts to reduce your negative environmental impact are great, what if I told you that the biggest thing you can do to save the world isn’t on that list, but is on your plate? Believe it or not, saving the world is as easy as reducing your intake of animal products. And no — you don’t have to go completely vegan or vegetarian to do so.

How consumption of animal products affects the environment

In terms of food, animal products are defined as anything that is derived from animals, whether it be meat, eggs, or dairy. Because of the severe environmental impact of producing meat, eggs, and dairy, a diet that does not include them is the most sustainable one for the Earth.

Diets are a personal thing; no one likes to be told what they should and shouldn’t eat. However, there are ways to make environmentally-conscious food choices that work with individual preferences. There isn’t only one answer. There are many small changes you can make to your diet in order to have a significant impact on climate change. Here’s what you should take into consideration when customizing a sustainable diet that works for you.

Water usage in food production

Since water is necessary for animals to drink, to irrigate the land they live on, and to grow food for them to eat, animal agriculture uses a lot of water – about 2,400 gallons, or 50 full bathtubs, per pound of beef. To put this into perspective, you’d save more water by not eating 1 pound of meat than you would by not taking a shower for 6 months. Unfortunately, this is also the case for animal products that aren’t meat, as just 1 gallon of milk takes over 6,000 gallons of water to produce. For comparison, 1 pound of a plant like wheat uses only 25 gallons, which is less than 1 bathtub.

Due to this unsustainable use of water, it is possible that almost half of the over 200 U.S. fresh water basins won’t be able to meet the water demand by the year 2071. With an estimated half of all water consumed in the U.S. going to livestock, we can see from this possibility why it is wise to make a change. Not only is animal agriculture depleting all of this water, but also contaminating it. This contamination ranks as the#1 cause for water pollution in the U.S.

So you could turn off the faucet while you’re brushing your teeth and save a few minutes’ worth of water, and you definitely should. But with statistics like the ones mentioned above, you should also recognize that there is more you can do.

Deforestation for animal agriculture

Land is needed for animal agriculture, both to keep the animals on and to grow crops to feed them. This need, along with the animal product-based diets people consume, come together to produce detrimental effects for the Earth.

The Amazon rain forest is one example of this; it is no secret that it is rapidly being destroyed. However, what many people don’t realize is that animal agriculture is responsible for 90% of its destruction. Though this particular example takes place in Brazil, the consequences of animal agriculture on land is felt globally.

When deforestation occurs, carbon dioxide that is stored by trees gets released into the atmosphere, contributing to an estimated 15% of greenhouse gas emissions. What is happening to the Amazon rain forest is just one example of what is happening to forests all over the world. Rain forests once covered 14% of the land surface of Earth, and that number has decreased to 6%.

People’s food consumption choices can help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that deforestation produces.

Greenhouse gas emissions

Thanks to deforestation and animal waste, animal agriculture produces over 36 billion tons of greenhouse gases each year, which is more than every car and transportation system in the world combined does. Luckily, it is not only more realistic to eat less meat than to walk to places that aren’t in walking distance, but also, much more impactful.

On an individual level, if you eat one less beef-containing meal a week, it would be equal to not driving 320 miles. If everyone in the U.S. collectively went just one day without eating meat or dairy, it would equal not driving 91 billion miles. Walking places instead of driving make seem like an effective way to help the Earth, but at the end of the day, we cannot out-walk even this small, once-a-week diet change.

Small changes make a difference

While the state of the Earth requires us to make drastic changes in our environmental impact, it also requires us to have a realistic, sustainable solution – and this solution is one that more and more people are getting onboard with.

Companies like Meatless Monday are making a difference through encouraging people to not eat animal products just once a week, which is a change that all NYC public schools will be making this school year. 1.1 million students will be given vegetarian breakfasts and lunches every Monday, which is over 79 million meatless meals per school year. If just one state’s public schools can have this much of an impact, the potential for both the country and world is truly endless.

Another action item is to sign up for corporate social responsibility activities that benefit the environment through food choices. One option is to take a food-making workshop with partner Made in Hackney, an organization that teaches community classes for plant-based or vegan cooking. On top of serving the environment, this workshop also benefits those affected by homelessness.

The state of the world right now is a global crisis – and the crisis isn’t only that the temperatures are increasing, but also that we are not coming together to stop it. While it is unfortunate that the consequences of animal agriculture are so extreme, the good news is that this means even the smallest, once-a-week changes have such a major impact.

At the end of the day, we only have one Earth; there is no planet B. However, there are things we can leave off of our plates to ensure that we won’t need one.