For the sake of the environment, animal welfare and nutrition, UCSB students should reduce their meat consumption, and the university should foster a trend toward plant-based diets.
The environmental impact of animal agriculture is astounding. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concludes that 14.5 percent of global GHG emissions result from animal agriculture. By comparison, the EPA attributes 14 percent of emissions to all global transportation systems combined. Our diets clearly have a huge impact on the planet. In a seminal life-cycle impact assessment, Reijnders and Soret estimated the environmental impact of non-vegetarian meals to be between 1.5 and 2 times worse than vegetarian meals.
Given the urgency of climate change, reducing meat consumption matters even more. The FAO reports that because of belches and manure, livestock accounts for 25 percent of anthropogenic methane emissions. Methane’s half-life in the atmosphere is eight years, compared to 100 years for carbon dioxide, so methane reduction offers a quicker route to curb global warming in the short-term. That is why the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that methane’s Global Warming Potential is 86 times greater than carbon dioxide’s.
Reducing meat consumption also offers nutritional benefits. Though both plant-based and omnivorous diets are only healthy with deliberate effort, it is uncontroversial that most people eat too much meat. According to Johns Hopkins University, the average American eats 50 percent more meat than is needed for protein. (Arguably, any amount of meat is more than needed for protein; legumes and tofu offer comparable protein per calorie.) Yet, meat contains saturated fats that increase risk for heart disease and stroke. The World Health Organization reports that processed meats like bacon and sausage certainly cause cancer and that red meat probably causes cancer, too. Eating more plant-based meals could mitigate this unnecessary risk for heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Last, we want to discuss animal welfare without going into the graphic details that most readers probably already know. Instead, we’ll say this: To minimize costs and maximize profits, animals are treated like inanimate objects, not living creatures who can suffer. This industry affects the lives of nine billion animals – each the center of a distinct life – every year in the U.S. alone. Any reduction in this unnecessary suffering matters immensely to these animals.
In all, plant-based diets improve our health, our environment and the welfare of animals. While it is unrealistic to ask people to go veg overnight, a reasonable compromise exists, too: Students can try going meatless on Mondays. Doing so helps you build a repertoire of veg-options that you can rely on later if you do eventually decide to help the environment, the animals and your health by going veg all week.
Our university has a role to play here as well. In the course of our lives, college offers the best time to experiment with different lifestyles, belief systems and interests since habits – especially dietary habits – tend to become cemented during adulthood. As a result, the university has a unique opportunity and consequently a unique responsibility to assist students trying to reduce their meat consumption.
The UCen and Dining Services have already made commendable progress toward that end. The convenience stores, for example, introduced new vegan options this quarter, and Dining Services goes above and beyond in serving sustainable food.
Still, many plant-based Gauchos find that it is easier to eat at home than on campus. To make a plant-based diet easier, convenience stores on campus could carry more than a single vegan green salad; there are eight non-vegan ones. Dining commons could introduce vegan desserts, as UC Davis and UC Berkeley have done.
Larger projects are also worth considering. UCSB’s Climate Action Report could include food-related emissions under scope-three emissions so we can more effectively monitor our food’s environmental impact. As contracts for red and processed meat expire, Dining Services could commit to replacing at least portions of those ingredients with plant-based ingredients. Such moves, of course, require time and resources to implement; trade-offs always have to be made. For reasons outlined above, our view is that prioritizing plant-based diets is pivotal if our priorities include the environment, student nutrition and animal welfare.
UCSB, let’s go veg.
This article was written by UCSB’s Health, Environment, and Animal Rights Club.