The government and the media are constantly stressing that the environment is in total disarray, that we’re on our way to massively affecting our climate, and that we need to adhere to specific emissions targets in order to prevent further damage. Though we clearly need to treat the environment with more respect, the focus is often misplaced on other industries including transportation, oil and gas, and fast fashion.
Though all of these industries are contributing to the problem, and there’s truly no reason to still be using old energy systems that require oil and gas, these simply are not the leading causes of our environmental issues. There’s an elephant in the room, one that the government and many organizations choose to ignore because it’s so profitable, and that is animal agriculture. The hard truth is that the animal agriculture industry is one of the leading causes of environmental degradation and destruction, and society is heavily empowering it (to the tune of $1.4 trillion, to be exact).
Animal agriculture is responsible for 65% of all human-related nitrous oxide emissions and an absurd amount of methane and carbon dioxide emissions. It’s also a leading cause of overfishing, wildlife destruction, deforestation, land degradation, and depletion of freshwater. Growing feed crops in the U.S. for farm animals consumes 56% of water in the U.S., not to mention the extreme amount of water required to process meat and dairy (34-76 trillion gallons annually, to be precise).
So, what would happen if we ate less meat and fewer dairy products? How would this affect the environment? Well, a team of scientists from Oregon State University, Bard College, and Loma Linda University discovered exactly what would happen if every American substituted beans for beef.
Would Substituting Beans for Beef Help the Environment?
It’s no secret that eating meat has a severe effect on the environment. These researchers actually found that by switching out beef for beans in all Americans’ diets, even if they continued to eat all other animal products, people could reduce their environmental footprint significantly.
This small dietary change could actually make a huge impact on the environment; in fact, it would have a greater impact than downsizing one’s car, reducing your electricity usage, or even refraining from showering entirely.
The researchers stated: “Our results demonstrate that substituting one food for another, beans for beef, could achieve approximately 46 to 74% of the reductions needed to meet the 2020 GHG target for the US. In turn, this shift would free up 42% of US cropland (692,918 km2).”
Let’s put that into perspective: 42% of U.S. cropland represents a grand total of 1.65 million square kilometres, which is greater than 400 million square acres, or about 1.6 times the size of California. Keep in mind these changes would achieve these results only by swapping beef for beans. The government could still satisfy more than half of their greenhouse gas reduction goals by simply making these dietary changes and without imposing any restrictions on cars, manufacturing, etc.
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To be clear, it’s not just land and emissions that are an issue. For example, the amount of water used to make one burger is 660 gallons. Likewise, 1 pound of beef uses 1,799 gallons of water. This calculation includes irrigation of the grains and grasses used to feed the animal in addition to the water used for drinking and when processing.
In comparison, 1 pound of soybeans requires 257 gallons of water and 1 pound of chickpeas uses 501 gallons. Even in regards to water usage, it’s clear that beans would use far less than beef (at least 1,000 gallons less per pound).
The researchers addressed the fact that veganism is becoming more popular, and to be frank, may become a necessity in order to save our environment and our health. They noted that plant-based “mock meat” products are becoming more popular, as more than a third of Americans are purchasing/consuming them.
To learn more about the environmental impact of animal agriculture, I’d highly recommend watching the documentary Cowspiracy and/or reading the following CE article:
How Do They Compare in Nutritional Value?
Harvard University researchers published a study in JAMA Internal Medicine that examined the association of animal and plant protein with mortality rates and causes as well as longevity of life. Researchers studied approximately 130,000 people for 36 years, monitoring their diet, lifestyle, illness, and mortality. The study found that by switching a small amount of processed red meat for plant protein, participants reduced their risk of early death by 34%.
Harvard has studied the risks associated with consuming meat extensively. Other research performed by Harvard University found that even eating small amounts of red meat, especially processed red meat, on a regular basis has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and dying from cardiovascular disease or any other cause in general.
Certain meats are also known to cause cancer. Numerous studies have proven that replacing animal protein with plant protein is not only healthier for your body, but it could even reverse the harmful effects of eating meat.
In regards to protein, yellow soybeans contain 28.6 grams of protein in every cup, edamame contains 22.2 grams in every cup, black beans contain 15.2 grams per cup, and pinto beans contain 14 grams per cup. In comparison, ground beef contains 31.18 grams of protein per cup, but it also contains 22.85 grams of fat and 339 calories. However, most beans are about half the calories and contain less than 1 gram of fat.
To learn more about the difference between plant-based protein and meat, read the following article:
It’s clear that making simple changes to our diet can have a huge impact. Not only would swapping beef with beans be beneficial for the environment, but it could seriously help your health, too! Of course, there are certain things about beans that we want to be mindful of, like being sure to purchase them organic and wash/soak them before consuming, but beans are still an excellent, nutritious source of protein.
If you’re not ready or don’t feel called to make the full transition toward a plant-based diet, this could be a really great stepping stone! To learn more about how to adopt a plant-based diet more easily, check out the following CE resources:
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