Many of us believe eating animals is alright. It’s a subject of clash, but little dispute should happen about the animals we buy, then trash.
Against the recommendations from nutritionists, physicians, and doctors, governments still say in dietary guidelines that consuming meat and dairy is necessary for health; and, they recommend these foods as a solution to certain diseases the very products that cause. I have talked at length about why we should stop eating meat here, but today, I must draw attention to the meat we don’t eat but nevertheless kill.
Americans are the leaders on food waste, about 40 million tons of food, or 80 billion lbs every year. That is equivalent to 1000 Empire State Buildings, or 30–40% of the US food supply. According to the book Farmageddon, we waste around 50 million chickens, 1.5 million pigs, and 100,000 beef cattle. Globally, we create and waste 12 billion individual lives each year. 12 billion individuals go through a life of hell only to find parts of themselves around various trash cans.
Only if the lives were the only problem; we must care about this for various reasons. Yes, this is an intersection between animal rights, and waste, so the subject requires our double attention. Where does this waste happen? At the first level, farmers sometimes cannot sell. Many animals die on their way to a slaughterhouse. Then they arrive at supermarkets. Some are not sold before the expiration date as we overstock stores. From the ones we buy, we forget to eat that goes bad in the fridge. From those who make it to the pan, we leave food on our plates at home and in restaurants. There are many stops along the way from the factory to our plates that the lives of these animals will be wasted. Considering all these, the sheer number of animals wasted doesn’t come as a shock.
Why is this important? First, 37 million people across America suffer from food insecurity. We produce more than we eat, but there is also a distribution problem. While we could feed everyone, the current system doesn’t allow us. We could nourish an additional 3.5 billion people if we just ate what we feed to animals, which has a longer shelf life. We are currently producing enough crops to feed 9.8 billion people. But even if we continue to consume animals, we could make sure nobody sleeps with an empty stomach by being more conscious of our purchasing and eating behaviors.
Let’s ask where this food waste ends up. US landfills are mostly covered with food. We trash more food than any other material in our everyday trash, at 24% of the amount landfilled. This takes up valuable space on this Earth and adds to climate change. 20% of total US methane emissions come from landfills. Food that sits decaying in landfills produces nitrogen pollution which causes algae blooms and ocean dead zones. Algae blooms affect the whole ecosystem as it blocks sunlight from reaching below. This often irreversibly kills life and causes ocean dead zones. According to the World Wildlife Federation, the US’s production of wasted food is equivalent to 37 million cars’ greenhouse emissions.
The story continues. The food we didn’t eat still consumed enormous water and energy to produce and generated greenhouse gases, about 7 percent of the world’s emissions. According to waterfootprint.org, 1 kg of beef requires 15,455 L of water, 1 kg of cheese requires 5000 L. We also trash the mostly plastic packaging they come in, and we can’t recycle it as it touches food. Usually, vegan or environmentally friendly companies pay attention to making recyclable packaging.
The economic aspect is a weight on everyone. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Americans waste more than $161 billion each year on food, with dairy products being the food item we toss out the most.
Not to worry(!), there are solutions. The obvious one individuals can take is to be more careful with their purchase behaviors and choose to eat fewer animal products. Or at least, to eat the animal products they purchase, to see meat as an individual who died for them, and to consider it with respect.
As expiration dates confuse consumers, the industry must standardize expiration labels, rather than using language like ‘sell-by’ and ‘eat-by”.
Governments must incentivize recycling and composting. For example, in San Francisco, there is the Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance, a local municipal ordinance requiring all persons located in San Francisco to separate their recyclables, compostables, and landfilled trash and to participate in recycling and composting programs. In the extreme cases of non-compliance, fines up to $100 for single-family homes and up to $1000 for large businesses are issued. If that seems too much, another approach is to give financial incentives. In San Francisco, both composting and recycling are less costly per month than the trash bill. Many versions of this can be implemented.
Unfortunately, we can’t compost meat and dairy products. Thus, we must lean towards eating fewer animal products and compost what we don’t eat aside from animal products. It is a win-win. Why? Composting turns organic waste into something we can add to the soil, which we desperately need. Compost is a soil amendment, so it is mixed into topsoil in the garden and becomes a part of it, and it improves the overall quality of the soil. According to John Crawford, a rough calculation of current rates of soil degradation suggests we have about 60 years of topsoil left. This means we have 60 harvests left. Some 40% of soil used for agriculture worldwide is classed as either degraded or seriously degraded — the latter means that 70% of the topsoil, the layer allowing plants to grow, is gone. Aside from giving us food, soil also takes greenhouse gas back from the atmosphere, cooling our planet. To learn more about soil, I’d recommend watching “Kiss the Ground.”
There are many reasons we should be careful with waste, and each person can take their reason to be careful. One could care more about the animals, the environment, the land waste uses, or the economic aspect. The fact is animals suffer and die for literally no reason, and this issue needs to be louder for the 14 billion animals that die each year because we don’t know how to do this right.
BlackEarth Compost Guide