Tag Archives: vegetarian

Save the Planet: Eat Less Meat

Originally published on Care2.

What if you could make one immediate change in your life that would significantly decrease global warming and other damage to the environment? Great news: you can. Stop eating meat.

Perhaps the best thing you can do to save the environment is eat a plant-based diet, according to the United Nations, Sierra Club, Worldwatch Institute, Al Gore’s Live Earth, and many others. Even replacing just some of the meat you eat with grains, vegetables, legumes, fruit, and other plant-based foods can make a big difference.

Just changing the source of your meat won’t do much. As a recent New York Times op-ed by James E. McWilliams explained, there is no such thing as ecologically sustainable meat. Local, organic, free-range — all of it takes or will lead to a surprisingly large toll on the environment.

Meat production may be the most important reason for global warming, which results almost entirely from a combination of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Raising animals for food is a major source of carbon dioxide and the single largest source of the other two gases: 37% of methane and 65% of nitrous oxide emissions, as Kathy Freston reports in The Huffington Post. The United Nations has concluded that eating a vegan diet “is vital to save the world from the worst impacts of climate change,” according to The Guardian.

The livestock industry is largely responsible for deforestation, which obliterates ecosystems that would otherwise absorb carbon dioxide. According to Freston, “Animal agriculture takes up an incredible 70% of all agricultural land, and 30% of the total land surface of the planet. As a result, farmed animals are probably the biggest cause of slashing and burning the world’s forests. Today, 70% of former Amazon rainforest is used for pastureland, and feed crops cover much of the remainder.” Clearing all this land for pasture and feed crops also shrinks or eliminates the habitats for countless species of wildlife.

Just cutting back on your meat consumption has an impact. Al Gore’s Live Earth organization reports that “If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would save: 100 billion gallons of water, enough to supply all the homes in New England for almost 4 months and 70 million gallons of gas, enough to fuel all the cars of Canada and Mexico combined with plenty to spare.” Joining the“Meatless Monday” movement, which encourages people to eat no meat for one day every week, could go a long way.

Driving a Prius doesn’t even approach the impact of eating less meat. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, “if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” A University of Chicago study confirms that in terms of fossil fuel consumption, there is “an order of magnitude” difference “between dietary and personal transportation choices.” What is on your plate matters much more than what is in your garage.

Climate change isn’t the only ill that the meat industry generates. Freston notes that “raising animals for food is a primary cause of land degradation, air pollution, water shortage, water pollution [including the ammonia that causes acid rain, and] loss of biodiversity.” The livestock industry alone is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global,” according to the U.N.’s report.

We don’t need to eat all this meat. We’d actually be healthier without it, as meat consumption plays a role in causing our three biggest killers: heart disease, cancer, and stroke. To help protect the environment and your health, visit the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine for a free Vegetarian Starter Kit. The earth will thank you.

Photo Credit: penarc


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A Pig’s Journey From Birth to Shrink Wrap

Factory farming isn’t limited to rural areas. New York City has a meatpacking center in one of its trendiest neighborhoods. Read about it in my cover story from Our Town Downtown. A section about the journey of pigs from birth to the Meatpacking District didn’t make it into the final story, so here it is:

The pork that meatpackers slice and grind up started out as piglets. Before they were born, their pregnant mothers were confined in gestation crates, small metal cages only two feet wide that prevented them from turning around or even lying down comfortably. Sows spend most of their adult lives in these crates as they are kept pregnant for four out of every five months. The confinement, lack of activity and stimulation, and pain drives pregnant pigs mad. They chew on the bars of their cages, or on nothing.

Soon after the piglets are born their dismemberment begins when their tails are cut off without anesthetic. Their lives, about six months long, are spent in overcrowded pens. Overcrowded once again on trucks to slaughterhouses, upon arrival the lucky pigs are stunned into unconsciousness as things get really violent. Conscious or not, they are hung upside down by their back legs and their throats are cut. That doesn’t kill all of them either, but regardless they are next boiled in the scalding tank. After various parts are removed it is off to Gansevoort Market and places like it. Most people in the Meatpacking District wouldn’t think of it, but it is one of the last stops on the death march from birth to plate.

I recently met a (rescued) pig. She awoke from a doze and rolled over on her side for a tummy rub, closing her eyes happily just like a dog.

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Goodbye to Cruel Gestation Crates?

Let’s hear it for McDonald’s, which has taken a step towards making the lives of the pigs it feeds to people a bit less brutal. It is requiring its pork suppliers to create plans for phasing out gestation crates, which I described in an earlier blog post:


Gestation crates are small metal cages only two feet wide that prevent pregnant pigs from turning around or even lying down comfortably. Sows spend most of their adult lives in these crates as they are inseminated soon after they give birth and thus kept pregnant over four out of every five months. Gestation crates cripple pregnant pigs and cause obesity. The fumes and toxins produced from the concentration of so many animals in one space sicken them (and the humans who “take care of” them). Pigs are smart, affectionate animals, and the constant confinement, lack of activity or stimulation, and pain lead to neurotic behaviors like biting the bars of their cages over and over, or chewing on nothing.


As the largest restaurant chain in the world, McDonald’s has the potential to eliminate gestation crates from the industry by refusing to patronize suppliers that use them. Unfortunately the company has not announced guidelines that factory farms will have to follow in place of gestation crates. Will sows have more space, or will they be crowded together though not in individual pens? Will they be able to socialize with each other? Will their environments allow them to satisfy their instinct to burrow and root around? And what about farrowing crates, where sows are caged and prevented from touching their piglets while they nurse?

The best announcement of all would be that McDonald’s and its competitors are going to stop feeding animals to people. But here in reality, let’s support the Humane Society of the United States, which worked with McDonald’s to create this policy to make farmed pigs’ short lives less miserable.

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