Appetite for Destruction

Part two of a five-part series for Earth Overshoot Day

Photo courtesy Claire Timm, Flickr.

On August 8, Earth Overshoot Day, humans will have gobbled up our annual allowance of Earth’s renewable resources. So, for the rest of the year we’ll be eating up resources the planet can’t replenish. The production of meat makes up a big part of our over-sized consumption — wreaking havoc on the climate, on wild habitats and on biodiversity. If we want a future that’s wild, healthy and clean, we can’t keep eating so far beyond our planetary budget.

In our Earth Overshoot Day series, the Center for Biological Diversity is talking about how we can tackle overconsumption. We started with ways we can address the population problem, and now we’re moving the discussion from the bedroom to the kitchen. Reducing the amount of meat you eat by just one third or more might be one of the most powerful ways you can help balance our account with the Earth.

The fact is, wild spaces and wild animals are in danger because of our diets. We’re facing the worst extinction crisis since the dinosaurs. Half the land in the continental United States has been turned into feedlots, slaughterhouses, grazing parcels and factory farms — and that’s serious habitat loss for wildlife. Land and waterways are contaminated by livestock manure, pesticides and other toxic chemicals. On top of this, millions of wild animals are intentionally killed on behalf of the livestock industry.

Every meal counts. For example, a single serving of bacon produces 30 square feet of habitat loss, 20 pounds of manure and uses 165 gallons of water. Altogether, Americans eat about a million pounds of bacon a year. That’s a lot of poop and pollution. And pigs are just a fraction of the 10 billion land animals raised for food each year in the United States.

If everyone on the planet ate the way Americans eat, we’d need four more Earths to sustain us. But this Earth is the only planet we have, and it’s already over-capacity. An average American eating one third less meat would be like driving 2,700 fewer miles and would save 340,667 gallons of water each year. If every American replaced one chicken-based meal with a plant-based meal per week, it would be like taking 500,000 cars off the road.

What about eating “better” meat from pasture-raised animals (instead of factory farms, where nearly all meat comes from)? Or meat that’s local, organic and raised without unnecessary antibiotics? There are advantages to humane, organic and local meat products (though labels like “natural,” “local” and “grass-fed” are poorly regulated, so beware). But, to make a real dent in the environmental catastrophe of meat production, we must limit the amount of meat on our plates. Studies have shown that cutting back on meat can have a greater impact than driving a fuel-efficient car or eating an entirely local diet.

So what does an Earth-friendly diet look like? Eating one third less meat might simply mean skipping bacon and other meats at breakfast and opting for a meal that’s better for you and for the planet. Or you can choose plant-based options at lunch or dinner. Cuisines like Italian, Mexican, Japanese and Thai food are full of delicious meat-free choices. You can also commit to eating meat-free one or two days a week. It’s easier than you think. Need help? Check out our Take Extinction Off Your Plate recipes.

Next time you sit down to eat, make a #PledgeforthePlanet to eat a little less meat, save a lot more wildlife, and choose a better, balanced future.

Jennifer Molidor is the senior food campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity.