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How What You Eat Impacts the Environment

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

By Bailey Poe | Originally Published November 2, 2022

Saxby’s “Plant-Powered” grilled cheese, Jersey Mike’s veggie sub and salads from Muller’s Pub and Wendys are all examples of meatless food options you can find on Riders campus. But do you know the impact you have on the environment when you eat these items? Not only can shifting your diet have a positive impact on your health, but it can directly impact climate change.

The meat and dairy industry alone account for around 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gasses each year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Greenhouse gasses trap heat in the atmosphere which subsequently results in global warming. The reason these industries have such a detrimental impact on climate change is due to the gas animals produce. Cows and sheep have specialized bacteria to digest grass, but this results in animals belching methane, an extremely powerful greenhouse gas. Freshman arts and administration major Hailey Tedesco said, “If I had known I could’ve made a larger change, I would’ve turned to a plant-based diet earlier.”

The world produces four times the amount of meat it did fifty years ago, and with the meat produced, it is estimated that 70% of cows, 98% of pigs, 99% of turkeys and 98% of chickens and eggs come from factory farms, according to a USDA report. These factories have a massive impact on soil health and land usage. In the United States, 85% of all soil erosion is caused by industrial livestock overgrazing. The food that the livestock feed off of is primarily corn, soy and oats. Of the agricultural land in the United States, 87% is used for growing food to feed industrial livestock production. Not only are these companies accelerating erosion and taking up massive land space, but the process of how they take care of the soil is seriously impacting the environment.

When you plot on one spot of soil, overtime, it will lose its available nutrition. Because of this, industrial agriculture has tried to solve this problem by using pesticides, but in turn, it kills the organic matter found in the soil. Organic matter is largely composed of carbon and if stable, it can be sequestered for hundreds of years, according to the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education. However, the use of pesticides and tillage on soil releases a large amount of organic matter, subsequently releasing large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. This carbon in the atmosphere traps heat, furthering the process of global warming.

Knowing the impact that the meat and dairy industry have on the environment, one may be inclined to live a more plant-based lifestyle. Choosing to switch these eating habits have incredible benefits. According to a study done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a switch to veganism can save almost eight billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050. This is because the climate impact of plant-based food is around 10 to 15 times smaller than animal products. Junior musical theater major Macy Champlin said, “As someone who eats a plant-based diet, it is comforting to know that what I’m eating has significantly less of an impact on the environment and is the sustainable choice.”

Switching to a more sustainable plant-based diet can feel like a bit of a transition at first, but with the vast amount of substitutes available and the knowledge of the environmental impact, there is not a more motivating time than now. Start small with a meatless Monday and see what practices you can adopt into your everyday life. Luckily, here at Rider, every restaurant you order from has plant-based options, but remember, when ordering on GrubHub make sure to “choose to go green” to opt out of paper bags and single-use utensils if not needed.

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