Sustainability Column: Chickpea-fil-a

Maggie Dunn, Colgate Sustainability Intern

If you are environmentally conscientious and strive to be as sustainable as you can be, then you have probably wondered if recycling your cans and old school notes is doing enough. Does turning off the light when you leave a room and taking shorter showers make the biggest impact? While those things are very important and are great for getting into clean energy- and water-saving habits, they will not have as big of an impact as something else: going vegetarian or eating less meat.

Why is meat unsustainable? While it may not be related to using up coal or anything else that we may typically think of as unsustainable, the water footprint of one pound of meat is huge. In order to raise, kill, process, transport, prepare and finally cook a piece of meat, large amounts of energy and water are needed. According to Foodtank, it takes 1,799 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, 576 gallons of water for one pound of pork and 216 gallons for soybeans as well as 108 gallons for corn –– the food of cows and pigs. According to the National Geographic, eating half the amount of animal products would cut the U.S.’s dietary requirements of water by 37 percent due to the gallons of water that go into meat production.

Another way to look at the unsustainability of meat is to look at its feed conversion ratio. A feed conversion ratio depicts how many units of food it takes to produce one unit of meat. According to Dr. Robert Lawrence of Johns Hopkins University, the ratios for meat are approximately 7:1 for beef, 5:1 for pork and 2.5:1 for poultry. The ratios are significantly lower to produce grains or vegetables, because so much less waste is produced.

So if the large amount of water used to produce one pound of meat comes not only from processing the meat but also from giving the animal water and using water to raise the animals’ food, doesn’t it make sense to cut down on all of that by reducing the amount of meat you eat? Giving up meat is difficult for many people; because most of us were raised on it, and it’s difficult to envision a meal without it. Nevertheless, I found that once I gave it up, after a short while, I no longer even wanted meat nor craved it when I went out to eat.

If you are not quite ready to give up meat, which is understandable, do it in parts. Give up beef which, as we saw, is the most environmentally harmful meat. Instead, just eat chicken or seafood –– they’re healthier for you anyways. Meatless Mondays (or any day of the week) are also a really great way to ease into making meals without meat. For one (or more) day of the week every meal you eat should be vegetarian. That alone will begin to cut down on the amount of water you use.

If you are like me and have decided to become vegetarian –– fantastic! A vegetarian diet does so much to reduce the amount of energy and water that goes into producing meat. Be- ing vegetarian or vegan does not have to be 100% or nothing. Any steps you take can begin to make a difference. However, if you’re struggling and just NEED to have those late night chicken wings (I’m looking at you, Slices), go for it. Eating one helping of chicken nuggets does not mean that you have to stop being a vegetarian altogether. Do what works best for you!

Contact Maggie Dunn at [email protected]