Photo by Green in all 4 Seasons via flickr
Going vegetarian, even just some of the time, can lower your environmental impact by helping to reduce pollution, and conserve land and water. You’ll also improve your health.
The Cheshire, England-based Vegetarian Society reports that meat — including seafood — consumption is rapidly increasing worldwide and is the most costly in resource use. “Worldwide food production requires around 30% of the total soil available, 20% of fossil fuel energy and a major part of the fresh water flow. Raising cattle is one of the most damaging components of agriculture, causing more environmental damage than any non-human species through over-grazing, soil erosion and tropical deforestation for ranches and growing of soy for their feed,” according to the Website. Additionally, 70% of all agricultural land is now used for livestock.
A 2007 Cornell study found that meeting the annual dietary needs for a plant-centered eater requires only half an acre of farmland, compared to that of a typical meat eater, which requires as much as 2.1 acres.
According to the U.S. 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. Runoff from farmlands is one of the greatest threats to water quality. Agricultural activities that cause pollution include confined animal facilities, plowing, pesticide spraying, irrigation, fertilizing and harvesting.”
Going vegetarian to help lessen your carbon footprint can in turn be good for your health. Avoiding toxic chemicals is a significant benefit of cutting animal products out of your diet. The EPA estimates that a whopping “95 percent of the pesticide residue in the typical American diet comes from meat, fish and dairy products.” Fish, in particular, contain carcinogens and heavy metals — including mercury, arsenic and lead — that can’t be removed through cooking or freezing. Meat and dairy products may also be laced with steroids and hormones.
Whether you take on a meat, dairy and egg-free diet for environmental reasons, your health, to support animal rights or all of the above, you can adapt your diet quickly and easily. Chances are, many of the meals you eat already are vegetarian.
Ease into your new diet gradually. Start with having one meatless meal once day a week, such as Meatless Mondays. The less abrupt the change, the more likely you are to stick with it.
Use cook books, magazines, Internet. Check out the Vegetarian Society’s Guide for New Vegetarians. Websites for PETA and GoVeg offer good tips, recipes, online shopping guides and cookbook recommendations for vegetarian and vegan diets.
Most importantly, don’t focus on what you’re not eating. Instead, make trying new and interesting foods a priority. If you’re really missing meat there are a variety of “fake” substitutes available, even in conventional grocery stores. Look for brands like Morningstar Farms, Gardenburger, Yves and Boca.
Find and eat with other vegetarians. If you don’t have friends or family members who are vegetarians, visit an online community. Craigslist has a vegan forum where you can connect, ask questions and get support.