Feast sans beast

’Tis the season for holiday birds and hams, but this writer shares an annual plea for eco-conscious eating

Nice one, turkey: Factory-farm animals produce 130 times the excrement of the entire U.S. population.

Nice one, turkey: Factory-farm animals produce 130 times the excrement of the entire U.S. population.

“You never feel like sinking your teeth into a big slab of meat?”

This was the response I received after trying to explain the dangerous environmental implications of a meat-eating diet to my omnivorous younger sister. I didn’t bother responding with opinions on animal-eating impulses, because she was missing my point. I wasn’t talking about instinct, desire or human habit; I was presenting a cold-hard case for adopting a vegetarian lifestyle that had nothing to do with personal health, animal rights or other reasons people often associate with vegetarianism.

I was speaking in strictly environmental terms.

One-third of the United States’ raw materials and fossil fuels are used in animal farming—almost half of our water supply and 80 percent of our agricultural land. The same goes for corn, soy crop and grain—most goes to raising animals for you to eat. These are United States Department of Agriculture facts.

My sister responded by telling me to quit lecturing her and assured me that she likes meat—“thank you very much”—and that, global warming or not, she will eat it anyway.

So I realized that this is what it comes down to: Who cares enough about their ecological footprint to make some serious sacrifices? Such as not traveling via airplane. Or biking more than driving a car.

Environmentally conscious people today are familiar with sacrifice and lifestyle change. People boast of using biodiesel and fret over which energy-efficient light bulbs to use. But throughout this scramble to outgreen each other, many overlook the single most effective change they could make: converting to a plant-based diet.

We can’t blame people for overseeing this as an eco no-brainer. While environmentalists and the media have done a good job painting our conscience green, they have concentrated on carbon-dioxide emissions as the main culprit of environmental destruction. But factory-farm animals produce 130 times the excrement of the entire U.S. population. Their feces are the world’s primary source of airborne methane, which the Environmental Protection Agency found to be a much more dangerous greenhouse gas than CO2.

Overall, as the U.N. reported in 2006, the meat industry produces more greenhouse gases than all forms of transport combined—that’s more than comes from every single bus, car, train and plane on the planet.

Eating local, buying organic, sustainability, being meat and dairy free—these are all admirable truths for many of today’s eco-patriots. But even if some of the greenest of the green have yet to embrace vegetarianism as a most powerful way of combating global warming, how do we expect to get the message across to the Big Mac lovers? And, more importantly, how do we make them care?

We lead by example.

For those who are truly dedicated to making green changes in their lives, a meat- and dairy-free diet would decrease personal annual greenhouse-gas emissions by 1.5 tons, according to a 2006 study by the University of Chicago. It’s a challenging change, for some more than others, but an unparalleled way to create positive change.

As for my sister and her “instinctual” need for slabs of meat: She’s a smart kid. Stubborn, but smart. The best I can do is refrain from showering her with facts and hope that she, and likeminded individuals, will make decisions that reflect the best interest of humankind.