Last year, when I decided to say goodbye to meat forever, it was an easy choice. Not because I disliked burgers and bacon—believe me, I love these things as much as any other person. It was easy for me because after extensive research, I came to understand the significant value vegetarianism can have on my life and the world around me. Reducing your meat intake is beneficial for a number of reasons, positively impacting body, mind, animal welfare and the environment.
However, reaping the benefits of eating less meat does not necessarily mean you have to become a full-time vegetarian. Many conscientious consumers have started trends such as Meatless Mondays, in which participants reduce their weekly meat consumption by forgoing on Mondays. A more dedicated approach is the Vegan Before 6 (VB6) lifestyle, made popular by New York Times food writer, Mark Bittman. This is the “have your cake and eat it too” approach, which is based on following a vegan diet every day until 6 pm, after which you can eat animal products. If you are wondering how eating less meat will make a positive change in your life and the world, consider these six reasons.
1. Reduce Greenhouse Gases
The American meat (especially beef) farming industry is destroying our air and land by producing carbon dioxide, Methane and Nitrous Oxide—the three main contributing sources of greenhouse gas and a major contributor to global warming. Studies show that meat production creates significantly more greenhouse gases than vegetables farming. To put this in perspective, beef was found to produce a total of 30 kg of greenhouse gas per 1 kg of food produced, while carrots produced .42 kg per 1 kg of food. American cattle are responsible for 20 percent of all U.S. methane emissions.
In 2006, the United Nations reported that internationally, the livestock sector accounts for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. That’s overwhelmingly more damage than every car on this planet combined.
2. Animal Welfare
Every year in the U.S., more than 27 billion animals are slaughtered for food. That’s right, billion.
Unlike the image that happy cow commercials try to portray, animals raised for slaughter can live painful, miserable lives.
For example, baby chicks sometimes have their sensitive beaks seared off with a hot blade as soon as they are born, and male cattle and pigs can be castrated brutally without any pain killers. Farmed chickens, turkeys and pigs often spend their entire lives in dark and crowded warehouses, unable to turn over or move, doomed to constricting cages their whole lives. Pigs kept in the same cages as each other begin to chew on each other out of frustration and many of them have open, infected sores, which are never treated.
These brutal examples are not exaggerations. They are common practices and are allowed under factory farming laws. By switching to a vegetarian diet, you can save more than 100 animals a year from this misery.
3. Your Health
Heart disease, cancer, obesity and strokes are the leading killers of Americans. These illnesses are also directly linked to meat-based diets. Studies have found that each daily serving of fruits or vegetables was associated with a 4% decline in coronary heart disease and a 5% lower risk of stroke.
Michael F. Roizen, MD, author of The RealAge Diet: Make Yourself Younger with What You Eat, says that by switching from the standard American diet to a vegetarian diet, you can add about 13 healthy years to your life.
4. Reduce Pollution
The meat industry’s devastating environmental effects are widespread and severely compromising our resources. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), chemical and animal waste runoff from factory farms is responsible for more than 173,000 miles of polluted rivers and streams.
5. Redirect Food Sources
If America took all of the grain produced to feed livestock and used that grain to feed people following a vegetarian diet, it would be enough to feed about 840 million people! Think about the potential implications that could have on global famine and starvation.
6. Save Water
It sounds crazy, but approximately 1,850 gallons of water are needed to produce a single pound of beef. Comparatively, only 39 gallons of water are needed to produce a pound of vegetables. A vegetarian diet could reduce water consumption by up to 58 percent per person.