If you want to help the environment, eat less meat

The following appeared in the Oakland Tribune on April 2, 2012

Earth Day is right around the corner, and many of us will be thinking about what we can do to curb our environmental impact. Taking shorter showers, installing compact fluorescent light bulbs, reusing and recycling are all great ways to take individual action. But there’s another way we can all do our part and it starts with a knife and a fork — reduce our meat consumption.

Last month, the United Nations celebrated World Water Day with the goal of recognizing global water and food scarcity issues and educating people about ways we can take personal responsibility. According to the U.N., it takes 10 times more water to produce beef than wheat.

“Producing feed crops for livestock, slaughtering and the processing of meat, milk and other dairy products … require large quantities of water,” it said. “This makes the water footprint of animal products particularly important.”

The U.N.’s advice? Eat less or no meat.

An estimated 10 billion land animals are factory farmed and slaughtered every year for food in the U.S. In addition to being a huge water user, animal agriculture is also one of the largest contributors to climate change.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, animal agriculture is responsible for nearly one-fifth of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.

Of course, industrial animal agribusiness has huge implications on the animals themselves.

By and large, the meat, eggs and dairy produced in the U.S. come from stock packed inside concentrated animal feeding operations, where they’re often crammed in cages to so tightly they’re unable to move.

Tens of millions of mother pigs, for example, are confined in individual cages barely larger than their own bodies, preventing them from turning around for months on end.

Factory farmed animals’ lives are wrought with suffering and bear no resemblance to the way most of us envision life on Old MacDonald’s farm.

Our meat-centric diet has had dire consequences for our health, too. Study after study shows that eating meat, eggs and dairy is consistently linked to heart disease, cancer, stroke and a host of other chronic illnesses that are plaguing our society.

To the contrary, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains leads to lower rates of obesity, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

For further proof, look no further than former President Bill Clinton, who went on a mostly vegan diet after undergoing quadruple bypass surgery.

“I lost 24 pounds and I got back to basically what I weighed in high school. … I didn’t dream this would happen,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

By choosing meat-, egg- and dairy-free options, even by just a few meals a week, we can improve our health, decrease our environmental footprint and help prevent a tremendous amount of animal suffering.

For these reasons, a group of Oakland residents — including Mayor Jean Quan, Councilwoman Nancy Nadel, Alameda County Supervisors Keith Carson and Wilma Chan, and Rep. Barbara Lee are all pledging to be vegetarian for Oakland Veg Week, April 15-21.

As a community, we can make a difference for our health, animals and the environment every time we sit down to eat.

Kristie Middleton lives in Adam’s Point and is a coordinator of Oakland Veg Week. For more information, visit www.OaklandVeg.com.