We all know how important it is to maintain a balanced diet. But have you ever sat down and thought about how your diet impacts the environment? Let us take the example of one particular food item whose popularity has gone up in the past few years: Meat. It is a great source of complete protein and contains all the amino acids our bodies need. Vitamin B-12, a vitamin which helps in the formation of red blood cells and prevention of anaemia can be obtained from only animal sources. Meat is, therefore, great for your health, but is it all that great for the environment?
Eating meat has dire consequences for the environment. If we look at the land used to feed livestock, it is about eight times more than the land we use for feeding humans. In the US, approximately 260 million acres of land that was once occupied by forests, is now grazed by cattle. Raising animals for human consumption accounts for approximately 40% of the total amount of agricultural output in industrialised countries Most estimates claim that between 1,800 and 2,500 gallons of water go into producing each pound of beef. All these resources can be put to much better use, like feeding the millions of people starving in the world and growing vegetables or wheat. But we choose to use them to raise cattle; cattle which will eventually be slaughtered for human consumption.
Worldwide, livestock rearing makes up anywhere between 14.5 and 18 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions. If we compare it to the transportation sector, it is responsible for 14 per cent of the emissions. Not to mention the large amount of transportation required for the meat to reach from feedlots, to slaughterhouses, to processing centres and finally your local grocery stores. You’re probably better off driving your car than eating that meat on your plate.
Moreover, the conditions in which animals are kept in slaughterhouses is terrible. Animals are chained and dragged and beaten with tools ranging from cattle prods to shovels. They are packed into trucks and transported in masses, fearing the slow and cruel death that awaits them. Furthermore, they are hung upside down and decapitated. This allows them to bleed out quicker and is commercially beneficial for the processing of meat. If we look at poultry slaughterhouses, almost everything there is automated. They kill approximately 50,000 animals in just one week. Even the workers are affected by the work they do. Since most slaughterhouses are opened up in rural areas, where there are few job opportunities for the people, they are forced to work in such inhumane places, doing this horrible work. Most of us know this, yet we turn a blind eye to such events as we’re too afraid to face the reality of our food.
How can we prevent all this? The best thing to do would be to turn vegetarian or vegan. But we simply cannot expect the billions of people on the planet to give up meat. Not everyone has that privilege. Instead, one could try to reduce their meat intake. Educate those around you on the malpractices and evils of slaughterhouses and argue for reform. This is not something we should ignore. The time for change has come.