Worried that you have a sasquatch-sized carbon footprint? Eat less meat and cheese. That's the advice of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which recently calculated the ecological impact of 20 conventionally grown foods. The figures show that many animal-based foods have a supersized carbon footprint--in addition to a whopping amount of fat and calories. In fact, according to the EWG, if every American stopped eating meat and cheese for one day a week, it would be the same as if we collectively drove 91 billion fewer miles a year.
Imagine what a difference we could make for animals, our own health and the health of the planet if we stopped eating meat and cheese entirely--or at least for a couple of days a week.
The EWG found that in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, eating a pound of lamb is equivalent to driving about 39 miles. Every pound of beef represents a 27-mile trip, and eating just one pound of cheese is akin to driving more than 13 miles--a worrisome thought considering that the average American eats more than 31 pounds of cheese per year. Eating a McDonald's Double Quarter Pounder With Cheese means not only consuming 740 calories, 42 grams of fat and 155 milligrams of cholesterol but also contributing to climate change and other serious environmental problems.
A 2010 United Nations report revealed that meat and dairy products require more resources and cause higher greenhouse-gas emissions than do plant-based foods. I nstead of choosing pork chops, hamburgers, cheese pizza and other fatty, cholesterol-laden foods that take a toll on your body and the planet, opt for wholesome, c limate-friendly foods such as lentils (which were rated best on the EWG report), beans, tofu, nuts and other plant-based protein sources.
Chris Weber, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, has pointed out that not eating meat and dairy products one day a week has an even bigger impact on the environment than buying local foods every single day of the year. Since Americans eat twice as much meat as the average person worldwide--and, unsurprisingly, America spends more money on health care than does any other nation--it will only benefit us to eat more vegan meals.
Fortunately, many people are now opting for more plant-based foods in an effort to save the environment, animals and their own lives. Last month, Aspen, Colo., became the first city in the country to launch a comprehensive Meatless Monday campaign, with local restaurants, schools, hospitals, charities and businesses promoting plant-based meals on Mondays. Durham County, N.C., recently proclaimed Mondays as "Meatless Mondays," as have officials in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. City schools in Baltimore as well as some public schools in New York observe "Meatless Mondays," and Sodexo, a leading food-service provider, now offers a weekly plant-based entre'e option to the 900 hospitals and 2,000 corporate and government clients that it serves in North America.
It's a great start--but it falls far short. Would it really be so hard for every American to leave meat and cheese off the menu for at least one day a week? If you need help, you can find plenty of delicious vegan recipes online. Once you see how easy it is to eat great-tasting vegan meals one day a week, you'll realize that you can save the planet, help animals and eat healthily all week long.
Heather Moore is a staff writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.