If you spend as much time in the Wellness space as I do, you probably know about the concept of Meatless Monday. You may not know, however, that Meatless Monday did not arise from a grassroots desire to reduce meat consumption for health and ecological reasons. Rather, it was founded in 2003 by a man named Sid Lerner in partnership with the John Hopkins’ School of Public Health. Initially, it was conceived of as a health initiative – researchers found that individual Americans were eating up to 75 more pounds of meat than previous generations, leading to a slew of health problems – but as its expanded in popular culture, it took on a life of its own.
Over the last few years, I’ve taken on a Meatless Monday-type challenge of my own, but my reasons are rooted in climate change concerns and ecological sustainability.
Here’s the deal:
The global livestock sector contributes to 18% of total carbon emissions.
Cattle, sheep, and goats graze on 25% of the global land surface and 70% of agricultural land.
Increased demand for meat, and particularly of beef, requires unsustainable levels of deforestation, as well as land degradation.
In addition to grazing land, animals require feed. It is estimated that feed crops make up 34% of total cropland.
One of the primary ecosystems affected by increased demand for beef is the Amazon Rainforest. In the last 40 years, almost 20% of the rain forest has been cut down due to a mixture of logging, soybean farming, and livestock grazing.
The data is compelling, but for me, it’s more than that. I’m a child of the ’90s and early ’00s. I grew up with Animal Planet, Captain Planet, and nature documentaries galore. Thinking of the lush green forests I came to love through my TV screen being destroyed brings a visceral response.
And when you add climate change to the mix, it feels like a no-brainer to significantly decrease, or even do away with, meat consumption. Scientists estimate that reducing meat consumption could slash total greenhouse gas emissions in half each year.
The data is clear: we must collectively reduce our meat consumption if we want to keep global warming within manageable levels.
But where to start?
I grew up in a typical middle class, American family, taking lunch meat sandwiches with me to school and eating pork chops, meat loaf, or rotisserie chicken for dinner each night. Meat was very much a part of my life.
Over the last couple of years, I decided to reduce my meat consumption by never preparing meat at home. Since I live in a small-ish town (it’s not a part of the culture to order take-out every night) on a budget of about the same size, this has proven to be a great way to get comfortable with vegetarianism. I developed staple meals, like red beans and rice and potato soup, that are economical and easy to customize – add mushrooms here, add spice there – and stick to what’s in my pantry and refrigerator. If there’s no meat around, you can’t eat it!
But this year, I want to commit to go a step further. I’ve been taking part in a fellow blogger Faye Lessler’s Veggie Challenge this month as a way to bounce recipe ideas off of others and push toward better accountability.
It’s become clear to me that if I aim to make responsible lifestyle choices, I can’t build walls around when the rules I’ve set for myself are in play. Admittedly, I’ve struggled to choose vegetarian meals when eating out. I crave meat for its meatiness; it’s not just a matter of convenience or peer pressure.
But choosing to carefully assess my choices in this way, and in public, among my friends, has been a great way to start conversations around environmental stewardship and personal responsibility. At the end of the month, I may not have perfected the vegetarian lifestyle, but I’d like to think I’ve spread the word about going meatless, at least occasionally, in an effort to help our global ecosystems thrive.
If you’ve ever visited a state or national park, you’ve likely seen this slogan plastered on bulletin boards or trail signs:
“Take only pictures. Leave only footprints.”
I’d like to think I’m helping create a foodie culture that can say the same for itself. Will you join me?
Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.