Go vegetarian: not for the cows, but for the environment

Alexandra Stettner

As a child, I spent most meals at the dinner table picking at the food on my plate. I was aggressively picky, but I could usually eat if I needed to. Meat, on the other hand, was something I just couldn’t handle. So at the age of 10, I declared I would no longer eat it, and my parents gave in and stopped giving it to me. I’ve been vegetarian for almost 12 years now, and with only the occasional slips of fried chicken and fish, I’ve done pretty well.

While it may have started as a taste and texture issue, now it has become much more than that. There are so many issues with eating meat, but the one that is my primary concern is the environmental impact.

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Since environmentalism went mainstream after the release of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, there has been a lot of pressure on people to cut back their consumption on many things for the sake of the environment. Drive less, take shorter showers, turn the water off while brushing your teeth and turn off the lights when you leave a room. All these things are definitely a better alternative to what we used to be doing, but the pressure was put on the wrong things.

It’s as if the blame of global warming was put on the everyday individual for accidently leaving their light on all night. Instead, a lot of effort to make change should have been pointed towards big business, or in my opinion, the agriculture industry, with their massive impact on the environment. 

This is not an attempt to put down agriculture, but rather to point out that farming is now done on a harmful industrial scale, and is detrimental to society and our humanity. 

One of the biggest issues in the industry is the waste. Methane gas is the second largest greenhouse gas contributing to the entrapment of heat in the atmosphere. While significantly smaller than carbon dioxide, methane traps significantly more heat than carbon dioxide does. And, while it does leave the atmosphere more quickly than carbon dioxide, it’s just as concerning if not more so, since in the current state of climate change, we have a limited amount of time before things are irreversible. Subsequently, the impact methane has right now is extremely important, and our action is crucial. 

Another major issue is the water consumption of the entire industry. Water is obviously key for sustaining life, and this certainly applies to livestock and other foods. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the industry is responsible for 80-90 percent of U.S. water consumption. Not only could there be many arguments made on how that water should be better consumed, (i.e. given to those who don’t have access to clean water or using less groundwater) but generally, the fact that we are using that much for agriculture alone is astonishing. 

How we get food to our table has always been something most people turn a blind eye to. This is true for several other things, like oil and electricity. These things have just been given to us, and the thought that there would be consequences never mattered. But now that we have alternatives to oil and electricity consumption, we don’t mind looking at those industries under the microscope. There are few alternatives to eating meat. It’s either don’t eat it, or eat tofu. Tofu already has issues with taste and it’s cultural perception, so eliminating that option leaves our only choice to be not eating it for many people.

This change in lifestyle may seem more intense than the others, like changing to a more efficient light bulb, but it’s really not. Not driving to work or class was a big deal for a while, but now it’s just blended in to our culture. It became part of our routines, something we got into the habit of doing. Think of cutting down meat as the same idea, just making a change in habit for the greater good of the world. Soon, it will be a part of your life. 

Yes, it is a small change, like the ones I denounced earlier, however it is one more that we can make. This industry has been practically untouched, and with a steady increase of people refusing their product, it will make a difference. All our small changes will add up. While many of the causes of climate change are out of our hands, this is something we can start to make a difference in, and give us a renewed spark about solving climate change. 

Collegian Columnist Alexandra Stettner can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @alexstetts.