Diet and Climate: Where’s the Beef?

the world map painted onto two human hands

When I became a vegetarian in 1992, it was all about the animals. I love animals and had never really thought about the fact that their lives were being brutally taken to give me life. I mean, how could we with fun e/McDonald’s songs that we sang on the school bus and kitschy commercials from Wendy’s that had my classmates joking around in the cafeteria with one another by asking, “Where’s the beef?” 

While I knew I was still contributing to animals’ suffering by being a vegetarian, I didn’t quite understand how I was still causing them to die until I learned what happened to the male calves and chickens when they were born. So a few months later, I transitioned to being vegan. The environmental and health reasons for being vegan were extra bonuses.

A Destructive Industry — For All

However, when I actually started doing research last year on how much environmental destruction is being caused by animal agriculture, I realized this wasn’t just an afterthought at all. This could also be a primary reason why people choose to eat a plant-based diet, or at the very least, a plant-rich diet.  

For example, did you know that agriculture uses 18% of our fossil fuels? If you’re buying an electric car to keep fossil fuels in the ground, changing our diets is actually more affordable and accessible for everyone. Also, in the United States alone, 87% of our freshwater is used in agriculture, and that number is a staggering 70% worldwide. Factor in the water contamination of pesticides and the antibiotics that are given to the animals, and how much is actually remaining for human consumption? 

And then there’s the fact that the dairy and meat industries use 38% of our land throughout the world. Think about how much of that land could be used for reforestation, carbon sequestration and even feeding the world. 

In 2010, the United Nations came out with a report that recommended people change to a meat and dairy-free diet. At that time nine years ago, the meat and dairy industry was responsible for “9% carbon dioxide emissions, 37% methane, and 65% nitrous oxide” (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2010). In 2019, those percentages have increased, with the latter two gasses being 25 and 300 times more poisonous than carbon dioxide. 

With those kinds of numbers in mind, last October the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shocked the world with their revelation that in 12 years, it will be too late to turn things around. In fact, we need to be in the process of turning them around within the next couple of years so that we aren’t raising the temperature of our planet any more. With all of this critical information, I was determined to start making a difference in my community by focusing on the connections between food and climate change.

Community Change Adding to Global Change

So as a part of the Community Environmental Advisory Commission (CEAC), which is a city commission that advises Mayor Frey and City Council on environmental issues, I formed a subcommittee on food and climate change. Some things I’m starting to work on are changing the ordinance so people can grow food on their boulevards, getting free community gardens into every city park, and being a part of the creation of the Food Action Plan

In 2013, CEAC helped with the creation of the Climate Action Plan, which is a roadmap for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the city. At that time, there was no mention of food in the plan, which is why it’s critical that it’s being added now. 

Homegrown Minneapolis is hosting meetings for the public to be a part of, and the next meeting is July 24 at Eastside Neighborhood Services, with the topic being Diets and Community Demand. If people show up en masse to show we care about all the impacts of animal agriculture, including the fact that Plant-Rich Diet is the number 4 solution (out of 100) for reducing carbon dioxide in our world that was identified in a report called Drawdown. Researchers from around the world proposed a comprehensive plan filled with 100 significant and existing solutions to reverse climate change. 

The Plant-Rich Diet is Part of the Solution

Plant-Rich Diet was the solution that a few of us from Compassionate Action for Animals were working with when we wrote up a proposal for MN350 to add it as a solution to their newly formed Solutions Team last year. This was not an easy road, and it was difficult to understand objections to a solution that would encourage people to do the thing that the organization was created for, reduce carbon in the atmosphere.

However, if you look at environmental organizations around the country, it is very rare to find one that is willing to take on a plant-rich diet (even plant-based is now seen as a bad term, and don’t even get me started on how people react to “vegan”). With that being said, I’m thrilled that the MN350 Solutions Team is now able to work on Plant-Rich Diet as a part of our campaigns. 

We Need YOU!

BUT, and this is a big BUT, we need YOU there! We need people who are concerned about the environment and diet to show up at our meetings so that our committee of two or three can be a committee of ten or twelve and start getting things done. We need environmental nonprofits to see that community members care about animal agriculture and how it impacts our planet every moment of every day. 

So what can you do to make a difference, other than eating a plant-rich diet?

  • Join me on the Food and Climate Change Subcommittee for the Community Environmental Advisory Commission. We’ll meet once a month, with a time to be determined. My contact information is below.
  • Come to a Community Environmental Advisory Commission meeting, and let us know that you are concerned about the impacts of food and our environment. If you have specific ideas as to what we can do at the city of Minneapolis level, bring those too. Our meetings take place at a different location each month so check our website. 
  • Attend one or more of the Food Action Plan meetings! 
  • Join MN350’s Solutions Team! We meet every other Thursday at the MN350 office in South Minneapolis, and our next meeting is July 18. Check out our website for more information!
  • Educate others about the impacts of eating animal products. Encourage them to try at least one thing to make a change, whether that be eating smaller portions of meat, participating in Meatless Monday or going completely plant-based. (Oh, and please let the grass-fed beef eaters know that it isn’t as rosy of a solution as they’ve been taught to believe.)
  • If you or someone else does need a mentor for changing your eating habits, Compassionate Action for Animals has a program to help you make small changes or big ones. Whatever you want to do, that’s what they’re there for!

I’m super excited about inviting you all on this journey with me, and if you have any questions, please send me an email at michelle.shaw@exploreveg.org.

Just as the animals need us to save them, the planet needs us too, and we can’t afford to wait one more minute to rise up and act.

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