Ask anybody who tries to be PC what their party affiliation is and they’ll say, “’Well, I really don’t like to label myself…” Ok, understandable. Wearing labels makes it easier to judge each other politically and socially. That is why so many people shy away from wearing one. But when it comes to what we eat, many of us proudly broadcast self-identifying labels like: Vegan, Vegetarian, Pescatarian, Plant Based, Locavore, Paleo, and now there is a new one, “Reducetarian.” Those who have joined the movement, pledge to consume at least 10%-30% less animal products in their daily lives (primarily meat, but also dairy and eggs). China is all over this concept with their health ministry recommending everyone cut their meat consumption by 50%.
According to Brian Kateman who started the Reducetarian movement (see his TED Talk here), most people dislike factory farming practices, (we’ve all seen at least one video of farm animals being tortured and brutalized). Nobody with an ounce of compassion votes for animals to be treated this way, not even if they’re someday going to be food. Kateman explains that if everyone were to start eating more fruits and veggies and less meat and animal products, more animals would be spared a horrendous fate. Even if you don’t have a soft spot for animals, reducing your consumption of animal products can help the environment in several important ways. More on that shortly. Kateman sees being a Reducetarian as a way for people to take a step towards helping these issues without having to go completely plant based. Instead of taking an all or nothing approach, he sees this as a palatable compromise.
Kateman knows better than to ask all people to go 100% vegan. Humans are “hard wired to love the smell of sizzle,” Kateman says, referring to bacon on a griddle. Shaming people who eat meat is not his M.O. After all, no one wants to feel like a bad person. That’s why people don’t want to watch those undercover videos of animals being tortured and gruesomely slaughtered on factory farms. He says, those videos make people feel guilty for not wanting to completely give up eating meat. But people turning a blind eye to factory farming practices, the effects it has on the environment and how it affects our health is one of the reasons the animal agriculture industry wields so much power… that, and their money. They get away with committing atrocities to animals, humans and the planet. One environmental report after another shows the severely detrimental effects the meat and dairy production has on the planet. This is not news if you’ve seen the documentaries like “Cowspiracy,” “Forks Over Knives,” or “Food, Inc.” to name a few that shed light on the dark side of greed and politics in our food.
So let’s all kiss a vegan today and thank them for the work they’re doing. Although they only account for a tiny percentage of our population, vegans are single-handedly doing more for the planet than anyone. Kateman and other experts agree that veganism may partially hold the key to reducing global warming and the loss of biodiversity. Nicholas Stern, Professor of Economics and Government and Chairman of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment has gone so far to say that people need to consider turning vegetarian to help reduce global carbon emissions.
Although the number has been steadily rising, that won’t be an easy task to accomplish with only 8 million adults, or 3.3% of the U.S. population. Not when you consider the average American consumes as much as 270 pounds of meat (including poultry and fish) a year. Here’s how we compare to the rest of the world. Only Australians eat as much meat as we do.
The meat industry couldn’t be happier about that, unless you consider that the demand for meat is actually growing. Not necessarily here, but worldwide as developing countries get wealthier and want a taste of what westerners have.
While the news is great for the coffers of the animal agriculture industry, it’s not good news for the rest of us, the planet or the animals.
Here’s some sobering facts:
- More than half of the world’s crops are used to feed animals, not people according to United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
- An acre of rainforest, (a bit less than a US football field) is cut down every second primarily for crops to feed livestock. That amounts 31.5 million acres per year according to the Rainforest Foundation US.
- Deforestation has a dire consequence on ecosystems with 150 to 200 species becoming extinct every 24 hours according to the Rainforest Alliance.
- It take about 460 gallons to produce 1/4 pound of beef according to the USGS Water Science School. (Estimates vary a lot due to different conditions of raising cows and how far back in the production chain you go).
- Over 70% of the global freshwater consumption is used for agriculture according to the UNEP.
- Meanwhile, 663 million people – 1 in 10 – lack access to safe water according to water.org.
- The World Economic Forum in January 2015 announced that the water crisis is the #1 global risk based on impact to society.
- Livestock production accounts for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, (9 percent of carbon dioxide and 37 percent of methane) worldwide, according to the Livestock, Environment and Development (LEAD) Initiative, an international consortium of government and private agencies.
- Small farms with free-roaming animals are disappearing in many parts of the world. As of 2011, 3/4 of the world’s poultry supply, half of the pork and 2/3 of the eggs now come from industrial meat factories, according to the FAO (Food & Agriculture Organization of the U.N.). Reported by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
- More than two-thirds of all agricultural land is devoted to growing feed for livestock, while only 8 percent is used to grow food for direct human consumption, LEAD reported.
What should you do? Give up meat and dairy altogether? If you have the discipline and dedication, of course! But if taking such a big leap is more than you can handle, why not try smaller steps, like the Reducetarian movement suggests? Maybe be more mindful about where your food comes from too. The next time you sit down to eat beef, pork or chicken consider: the amount of land used for it to grow; the amount of land, water, fertilizer and grain needed to grow the food to feed the animal; was it given drugs or hormones; the amount of fossil fuels used for transportation (including getting the feed to the animals) and to power the machinery; and the pollution from fertilizer run off and greenhouse gases. Awareness is definitely the first step. Then perhaps, there will be less demand. The less demand, the less will eventually be produced and that may save the lives of animals and do some good for our environment.
Ready for something a little lighter? If you missed this comedy special by Aziz Ansari, he is frustrated with factory farming practices too. Here’s Aziz going off on where eggs come from.
And his take on why meat is so much more popular that veggies.