Eating Sustainably for a Healthier Planet

by Matthew Pittsley

There are many habits and choices that individuals can change to make their lives more sustainable and healthier for the planet. One change that I committed to before beginning college was reducing red meat in my diet. At first, I considered becoming a vegetarian, but I soon realized that I didn’t like vegetables enough to only eat them, and that I loved the taste of chicken too much to say goodbye. Instead, I completely cut out red meat, which includes beef, lamb, pork, and some others, and reduced my consumption of white meats: chicken, turkey, and fish. There are many options and no right way to eat sustainably, but making some choices to reduce the consumption of certain foods can make a difference for our planet in the face of climate change.

There are many reasons to reduce red meat consumption, but I advocate for it for sustainability purposes. Livestock production is the most resource-intensive agriculture and takes up huge amounts of land area for both livestock themselves and crops to feed them. There is currently a massive food-to-feed disparity in which a majority of the crops grown are used to feed livestock, using up large areas of land for food that humans are not eating directly. Think about the amount of nutritional value and energy lost between feeding the livestock and what is left over for us to digest, (Eshel et al. 2019). Livestock production is responsible for a large percentage of deforestation in areas such as Latin and South America, including the Amazon Rainforest, and causes a gsignificant decrease in biodiversity, (Rust et al. 2020). The destruction of forests and natural habitats to create grazing areas for livestock and the growth of monocultures for livestock feed are two main factors in biodiversity loss (Rust et al). Also, the use of pesticides and antibiotics in livestock production leads to the introduction of these chemicals and drugs into the environment through animal and consumer waste, (Manyi-lo et al. 2018). Nitrogen and nutrient pollution from fertilizers for feed is another environmental issue leading to algal blooms and eutrophication in freshwater ecosystems, (Rust et al. 2020).

This lifestyle change may also benefit your health! Overconsumption of red meat has been linked with increased risk for several diseases including Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart diseases, and some cancers for people that consume red meat four or more times a week, as opposed to those that eat red meat two or fewer times a week, (Rust et al. 2020). Meat consumption is a social problem too, as most of the crops grown are used to feed livestock, contributing to the struggle to feed our impoverished human population and food disparities, (Rust et al. 2020). This is an important issue as it impacts our health, social systems, and our environment.

Flexitarian is a term for individuals that eat a diet of vegetables and plant-based foods primarily but occasionally eat meat, poultry, and fish, (Mayo Clinic 2022). So next time you’re planning your meals for the week or you’re out to dinner, consider a plant-based meal instead of one with beef or pork. Try committing to one day a week without any meat consumption; I like to do Meatless Mondays. The next time you eat at the Mongolian Grill the Ripich Commons Dining Hall, consider focusing on vegetables like lentils or mushrooms rather than steak or chicken.


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