As of Monday, March 1st, the UCSB residential dining commons will be showing official endorsement of the Meatless Monday campaign. The commitment by UCSB residential dining services to remove, for one day, meat from one of the dining commons, and beef from the remaining three, signals staff and administrative support for increased ecological sustainability and for the improved health of campus community members. Meatless Mondays have arrived on university campuses across the nation, usually led by student groups advocating for reduced consumption of meat — beef, in particular — in the name of environmental stewardship.
The Real Food Challenge at UCSB and the Environmental Affairs Board have partnered up to educate campus and community members about the environmental costs of meat production and associated implications for climate change. The climate foodprint, i.e., the total greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, associated with the production, distribution and consumption of meat, is more significant than for any other food available to humans. Currently, livestock activities account for an estimated 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire transportation sector. Many studies suggest that this estimate is extremely conservative, attributing about 50 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions to livestock activities. The livestock industry is responsible for 37 percent of the global human-caused methane emissions — a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide — as well as for emitting 65 percent of the world’s nitrous oxide. Now, do you want that kind of climate foodprint at your dinner table?
In addition, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the livestock industry is the largest user of land and water, using up to 65 percent of all agricultural land. A single pound of beef raised by conventional methods in the U.S. requires up to 100 times more water to produce than it takes to produce a pound of wheat. The production of beef is not only resource and input intensive, but land intensive as well. In the period from 2000 to 2005, 60 percent of all rainforest deforestation in Brazil, the world’s largest supplier of beef, was carried out to clear land for cattle ranches. Since 1996, Brazil has clear-cut more than 38,600 square miles of Amazonian rainforest to make room for cattle production.
Rather than continuing to dwell on the costs of meat production, making simple adjustments to one’s diet will translate to measurable positive influence on the environment. For instance, if a household reduced its beef consumption by four pounds a week, or by about four hamburgers, they would be saving nearly 20,000 gallons of water. This would have the water savings equivalent of four adults not showering for one year. A study done in the UK showed that adopting a meat-free diet for just one day a week would prevent 13 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, a greater carbon savings than taking five million cars off the road or almost as many carbon emissions as replacing one billion standard light bulbs with low-energy ones.
Also coinciding with the launch of National Nutrition Week, the upcoming Meatless Monday is intended to showcase the associated health benefits of reducing one’s intake of meat. While the environmental impacts of meat consumption are sizable, its effect on human health can be just as dire. Diets made up of a high percentage of animal protein are linked to high blood cholesterol levels, childhood onset diabetes as well as prostate cancer and increased frequency of kidney stones. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, high rates of consumption of red and processed meats are a major cause of colorectal cancer. Consuming a diet of about five ounces of red meat per day (about one McDonald’s Quarter Pounder or Big Mac) has an associated 30 percent increased risk of dying from heart disease or cancer. Meanwhile, the United States Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid guidelines suggest a daily intake of 5 – 6.5 ounces of protein from a variety of sources, including lean meat, nuts and seafood. In addition, the medical costs of a diet high in animal products are large — it is estimated that over $50 billion is spent on healthcare yearly that is linked to meat consumption. Reducing animal products in our diet will not only have a positive impact on our environment, but also holds major health and financial benefits.
Whether your objective is to reduce your climate foodprint, protect rainforests or maintain good health, join the dining commons, EAB and Real Food Challenge for a day without meat and perhaps consider making it a weekly commitment.