Opinions & Editorials

Is the Hamburger Worth the Damage?: The Environmental Case for Going Plant-Based.

by Jocelyn Visnov, Asst. Production Editor

People who choose a plant- based diet are often assumed to be picky eating tree-huggers who want to talk about kale and make things awkward at dinner parties. In reality, this is entirely untrue. There are a variety of reasons as to why people choose to consume a plant- based diet, including concerns for health, ethics or animals.

However, a lesser known case for going plant based is the ugly truth of how animal agriculture and meat consumption are extremely damaging to the environment.

According to the US National Library of Medicine, the industry of livestock and meat production contributes to more than 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Production of

livestock follows closely behind the use of electricity as the second most polluting industry contributing to climate change. Even the use of cars and transportation is less pollutant compared to the emissions released to put meat on the shelves at supermarkets.

In addition to the release of CO2 caused by livestock raised for meat production, there’s harmful methane gasses being released as well. While the methane gasses released by livestock are small in comparison to other harmful gasses, there is one significant contributor to methane gas emissions in the livestock industry.

Yup, you guessed it: cow farts. Cows used for milk and meat production release methane gasses from their stomachs and into the atmosphere, thus contributing to the overall greenhouse effect from methane gas.

One pound of hamburger meat can typically make about four meat patties. But, is that barbeque cheeseburger worth the harm to the environment? In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, meat production requires an immense amount of water usage for each portion of product manufactured.

According to studies done by UCLA, that singular pound of meat can require up to thousands of gallons of water to produce. The amount of water it takes to provide grass to feed cows which are raised for livestock can range between 2,000- 8,000 gallons of water, which eventually produces only one pound of meat.

So, next time you’re at a barbecue and see a plate of 10 measly hamburger patties waiting to be served, take a minute to visualize the roughly 20,000 gallons of water it took to get them onto that plate.

Contrary to its carnivorous counterpart, plant-based diets are actually very environmentally friendly.

One gallon of non-dairy milk, such as oat milk, requires less than a third of the amount of water as one gallon of milk from a cow. In terms of land usage, non-dairy milks require less than 80% of land used for cows and dairy farming.

In addition to water usage, the total CO2 released in producing certain meats is significantly higher than that required for production of plant based foods. For example, studies have shown that one pound of beef releases nearly 27 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere. Whereas one pound of tofu only releases around two pounds of CO2 from start to finish.

Plant based diets are often seen as very controversial. However, in the way of environmental impact, the proof is in the dairy-free pudding. Switching to a primarily plant- based diet can significantly reduce your total carbon footprint and lessen your land and water waste, helping you lead a more sustainable lifestyle