Eco friendly living can become a habit, but it begins by making conscious decisions, and some believe vegetarianism is an essential green commitment. If you have vegetarian friends, they’ve probably chosen their diet for a variety of reasons, but one that’s growing in popularity is giving up meat to become a more sustainable consumer. Buying the best green cleaning products isn’t enough, they’ll tell you. The numbers they cite of water consumption, methane gases, and overpopulation are staggering. No ecologist will disagree that eating less meat is better for the earth, but the global population doesn’t need to adopt a universal vegetarian lifestyle. Some meat consumption is fine, even beneficial for eco friendly living; it’s more about personal convictions on just how much to cut out.
It’s more factual than unpatriotic to admit that Americans like things in excess. Following the victory of World War II, our country enjoyed a lot of prosperity, and with that prosperity came some overindulgence in lifestyle habits. Two or three cars were purchased when a household might’ve only needed one; millions of air-conditioned and homes and green lawns appeared in Arizona, despite its lack of sufficient water sources; and recycling only meant throwing garbage in a landfill—not on the side of the road. No commercials advertised the best green cleaning products. The concept of eco friendly living just didn’t exist in the sixties, seventies, and barely eighties. We were a wealthy nation, uninformed about matters of environmental impact, and during those decades we came to believe that filling the plates of every meal with meat was essential to survival.
Even the old food group pyramid never placed proteins as the most important element of a standard diet. It’s tied with dairy, and requires about a sixth of the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and grains. Somehow, though, people came to believe meat should outshine all other food groups, and some people aim for an almost entirely carnivorous diet. They might not realize, though, that meat isn’t the only source of a complete protein—and it’s easily the least sustainable source for eco friendly living.
A recent study by the Environmental Work Group found that if all Americans cut out meat or cheese from their diet, one day a week, every week, for a year, they would reduce the equivalent emissions of taking 7.6 million cars off the road. Cows might not run on gasoline, but the factory farms in which they’re raised churn out huge stores of methane and greenhouse gases. Water, too, is affected: a pound of beef requires 2,500 gallons of water to produce, while soy needs only 250 and wheat only 25. As the earth gets more crowded and farmland more scarce, reducing the consumption of meat has become essential for eco friendly living, but abolishing it completely remains a personal choice.
Organic, free range, and other green sources of meat have a much less damaging impact on the earth, and in fact, the consumption of meat has become somewhat essential to ecological balance. Manifest destiny populated America with humans, but it also depopulated its natural predators. Bears, mountain lions, and coyotes have diminished significantly since colonizing the continent. This has allowed other species to flourish uncontrolled. Limitless deer can destroy ecosystems—and themselves, facing malnutrition with overpopulation. To hunt these in moderation has become a human responsibility, and for those who choose to hunt can choose to eat their game as well. Vegetarians are right: if Americans cut out meat completely, the earth would see a huge reduction of green house gases and water consumption. For most, though, eco friendly living will just mean considering meat a less essential part of their diet.