Meatless Mondays: Do They Really Help?

Have you ever heard of Meatless Mondays? It is a global movement with a simple message: once a week, cut the meat. You may have heard that eating meat is ‘bad for the environment,’ but maybe you can’t see yourself foregoing meat at every single meal. In this post, we will look at the greenhouse gas impact of eating vegetarian for one day a week.

Production, transport, storage, cooking and wastage of food are substantial contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions include carbon dioxide (from fossil fuels used to power farm machinery and to transport, store and cook foods), methane (from digestion in ruminant livestock) and nitrous oxide (released from tilled and fertilized soils). Both methane and nitrous oxide are many times more potent emissions than carbon dioxide.

Meat products have a larger carbon footprint per ounce than grain or vegetable products because of the inefficient transformation of plant energy to animal energy. Raising animals for food requires massive amounts of land, food, energy, and water.

The industrial food system is responsible for 44-57% of all global GHG emissions.

Fortunately, there is a high correlation between foods that are good for our health and foods that are good for the climate and the environment in general! By cutting down on meat, even for 1 day a week, you can reduce your GHG emissions by a substantial amount.

To start, we should look at the amount of meat consumed by an average American. According to the Meat Institute, in 2014, the average American consumed 182 pounds of meat. That’s about 730 hamburgers eaten per year, or 2 burgers a day. This averages out to half a pound of meat per day.

\((182 \text {lbs} / \text{year} )  \times   (1 \text{year} / 365 \text{days})  =  0.5 \text { lbs per day}\)

Half a pound of meat per person per day is equivalent to 8 ounces of meat per person per day.

\((0.5 \text {lbs})  \times   (16 \text{ oz} / 1 \text { lbs})  =  8 \text { oz}   \text  { meat per day}\)

So, if the average American is consuming about 8 ounces of meat per day, how much GHG emissions are generated by those 8 ounces?

According to Peta, 3.5 ounces of meat (the size of a deck of playing cards), generates about 16 pounds of CO2e per day. This means that every day, the typical American eating 8 ounces of meat per day generates 36 pounds of CO2e from those meat products.

\((15.81 \text { lbs CO2e})  \div   {(3.5 \text { oz}})  =  (4.52 \text { lbs CO2e}  /  1 \text { oz}) \times (8 \text { oz})  =  36 \text {lbs CO2e}\)

Let’s compare that to a typical vegetarian substitute: beans. According to Peta, 3.5 ounces of beans generates about 6.4 ounces of CO2e. If an American chose to eat 8 ounces of beans per day instead of 8 ounces of meat, he or she would generate about 14 pounds of CO2.

\((6.4 \text { lbs CO2e} \div { 3.5 \text { oz}})  =  (1.8 \text { lbs CO2e} / 1 \text { oz})  \times {(8 \text { oz}})  =   14 \text { lbs CO2e} \)

One simple swap and the CO2e emissions from the protein source on your plate is reduced by 2 and a half times!

So, you’re probably thinking, “That’s so extreme! I can’t give up meat. She’s crazy.” Well, you don’t necessarily have to in order to make a difference. By practicing Meatless Mondays and eating vegetarian meals just one day every single week for a whole year, you could reduce your carbon footprint significantly.

A meat eater practicing Meatless Mondays still consumes about half a pound of meat per day, except for one day a week where he or she consumes zero. This means that instead of 182 pounds of meat consumed per year, this person consumes 156 pounds.

\((0.5 \text { lbs} / 1 \text { day})  \times (6 \text { days}  /  1 \text { week})  \times {(52 \text { weeks} /  1 \text { year}})   =   156 \text { pounds of meat per year}\)

Again, 3.5 ounces of meat generates about 16 pounds of CO2e. This results in 4.6 pounds of CO2e emitted per one ounce of meat.

\((15.8 \text { lbs CO2e})  \div {(3.5 \text { oz}})  =  4.6 \text { lbs CO2e per ounce of meat}\)

A meat eater practicing Meatless Mondays (i.e. consuming 156 pounds of meat instead of 182) generates a total of 11,482 pounds CO2e.

\((156 \text { lbs meat})  \times {(16 \text { oz} / 1 \text { lb}})  \times { (4.6 \text { lbs CO2e} / 1 \text { oz}})  =  11,481.6 \text { lbs CO2e}\)

A meat eater not practicing Meatless Mondays generates about 13,395 pounds of CO2e.

\((182 \text { lbs meat})  \times {(16 \text { oz} / 1 \text { lb}})  \times { (4.6 \text { lbs} / 1 \text { oz}})  =  13,395.2 \text { lbs CO2e}\)

 

A Meatless Monday advocate saves about 1,915 pounds of CO2e per year compared to a typical American.

\( 13,395 \text { lbs CO2e }   –  11,482 \text { lbs CO2e}  =  1,915 \text { lbs CO2e}\)

Almost 1 ton of CO2e!

1 ton of CO2e emissions is equivalent to a trip from State College to Arizona in a typical passenger vehicle. If you can save a ton of emissions by foregoing meat just one day a week, imagine how much you could reduce your emissions by if you adopted a plant-based diet every single day of the week.

Choosing to consume less meat has other beneficial outcomes as well. For your health, you can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes, and obesity. For your wallet, you can curb Healthcare spending by reducing your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Many people save money by adding meatless meals to their weekly menus, too. For the environment, you can reduce water usage, reduce greenhouse gas emissions (shown above), and reduce fuel dependence (this is because meat production uses so much more fossil fuel energy than plants).

Our diets have a larger impact on the environment than we think. I encourage you to reflect on your own personal diet and consider adopting more plant-based meals throughout the week! Meatless Mondays are a fantastic way to start reducing your own personal carbon footprint, and you can be confident that you are indeed making a difference.

 

Bibliography

“Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 24 Jan. 2017, www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator.

“WebAccess.” Penn State WebAccess Secure Login:www.sciencedirect.com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/science/article/pii/B9780128039687000095?np=y&npKey=3bee7f39a834eadb4e946e7aca4be392a68c49a1a8783096d1a203a4f64927be.

Meat Consumption. www.meatinstitute.org/index.php?ht=a/GetDocumentAction/i/126068.

Daniel, Carrie R., et al. “Trends in Meat Consumption in the United States.” Public Health Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3045642/.

Smith, Mike, and JH Bloomberg School of Public Health. “The Relationship Between Meat Intake and Cardiovascular Disease.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 2 May 2012, www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-a-livable-future/research/clf_publications/pub_rep_desc/meat_intake.html.

Oliveira, Rosane. “Cheap or Expensive? The REAL Truth About Plant-Based Diets.” UC Davis Integrative Medicine, 7 Aug. 2017, ucdintegrativemedicine.com/2015/03/cheap-or-expensive-the-real-truth-about-plant-based-diets/#gs.5nuMLH4.http://ucdintegrativemedicine.com/2015/03/cheap-or-expensive-the-real-truth-about-plant-based-diets/#gs.5nuMLH4

“Fight Climate Change by Going Vegan.” PETA, www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/global-warming/.

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