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Reduce Global Impact with Food Choices

Beef consumes a disproportionate share of oil, grain and even rainforest resources -- vegetarian cuisine is the greener option for our escalating urban populations.

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The world population is projected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, and if everyone were a carnivore, food production would overwhelm the planet.

Ambika Shukla, president of People for Animals in Deli, India gave a passionate talk at the 2008 Ecocity World Summit about one of the most effective ways individuals can reduce their environmental impact: go vegetarian or vegan.

But food is just one of the growing impacts of our now "urban global population."

Take India's statistics as a precursor of the escalating population's impact on the global environment.

  • 600 million city dwellers live in India, and about 1 billion slum dwellers in developing countries.
  • India has the largest construction market in the world, with about $10 billion under construction.

Thorough review of building energy and design is certainly a necessity -- as well as adoption of solar energy sources, vertical expansion, reduction of cars in cities, and strengthening public transport systems.

However, focusing on technology solutions are only treating the symptom, not the disease.

Some leaders see the environmental and climate crisis as more of a spiritual crisis than technological challenge. While previous human cultures worshiped the Earth, new religions worship technology as the salvation from cause and effect.

They go on to suggest that the simplest and most effective way to save our cities and our wild ecosystems is to become a vegetarian civilization.

Not only can eating meat be harmful to human health, it is certainly taxing for the planet. Meat consumes land, water, and fossil fuels in greater amounts per calorie than fruit, vegetables and grain products.

But the expenditure on meat doesn't stop there: pastures, grain fields and water are heavily fertilized with petroleum products, and the cattle themselves are major contributors of greenhouse gases through their digestive system. Oil is also required to transport cattle before and after slaughter, with the meat carried great distances in refrigerated diesel trucks for rapid, safe delivery. The presence of meat-packing districts in cities also breed insects and landfill waste.

Each quarter pound hamburger consumes 55 square feet of tropical rain forest. Beef requires 10 times more energy in cereals and grains than it eventually produces in food.

Instead of wasting 78 calories of fossil fuels for every 1 calorie of meat energy, why not go vegan?

The key issues to be weighed include:

  • The ethics surrounding farming and slaughter practices.
  • Environmental impact of grain production and emissions.
  • Contributing to world hunger, pollution, and climate change.

Going vegetarian can be difficult for many people. But the prudent approach is to research the impact and weigh its importance in your environmental and socially responsible approach to living.

It's possible to ease into a vegetarian lifestyle -- by reducing one meat serving from each day, then most meals, then completely. This stepping stone approach gives you time to adjust your palette, your digestion, and your knowledge of vegetarian nutrition. It's doable. And it can be an important contribution to your overall green strategy.

Based on article, "City Cleanup Plan: Say No to Meat" by Kristen Lee

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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