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Plant-Based Eating Reverses Climate Change

Updated: Aug 19, 2021

Marianna hit a wall with her parents after 2 years trying to convince them to allow her to eat plant-based at home, but they would not budge. How could she help reverse climate change?

Marianna hit a wall with her parents. She spent two years trying to convince them to allow her to eat plant-based at home, but they would not budge. After consistent pleading, her parents came up with a rule which allowed her to not eat meat, dairy, or eggs but was forced to consume fish. This still went against all of Marianna’s beliefs because she thoroughly believed in being plant-based. As a result, Marianna moved out of her parents’ home and to New York City as a high school student.

Marianna is one of many who have gone plant-based to help reverse climate change.

The meat and dairy industry is by far the biggest driver of causing climate change, so if the world went more plant-based, we could reverse the effects dramatically. Shifting to a plant-based lifestyle is not always easy and can be a challenge, but learning more about the diet and connecting with our food is extremely beneficial. Through Marianna and many other individuals who are shifting toward a plant-based diet, they are making an incredible difference by lessening their carbon footprint.

Climate change is caused by an exponential increase of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which directly leads to the destruction of the Earth’s ozone layer, our planet’s protective shield against the sun’s dangerous ultraviolet rays. As the ozone layer becomes increasingly thinned out, it directly leads to the warming of our planet. Hence, glaciers are melting at exponential rates causing sea levels to rise while directly eroding land and agricultural fields and killing the natural aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem; drier soils have led to uncontrollable wildfires and food shortage globally, along with dramatic weather patterns shifts such as flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes and severe droughts. Climate change is our planet’s most pressing issue today.

According to a 2019 United Nations publication, our planet has only nine years left before climate change is 100% irreversible. At this rate, there is no turning back if we all do not make a concerted effort to change the irreparable damage humans are causing every single day.

The #1 driver of climate destruction is the meat and dairy industry. To raise farmed animals, humans must clear hundreds of acres of trees every day for growing the crops fed to animals and for animal grazing. This is equivalent to chopping down 1-2 acres of rainforest every second, a vital resource necessary for keeping the planet cool and maintaining its equilibrium; without rainforests, the human race and most living organisms could no longer exist.

The largest percentage of land clearing worldwide is for growing crops to feed livestock. When these same animals which are naturally designed to eat grass are now being fed primarily crops such as wheat, corn, and soy and other mashed up dead livestock, their digestive systems become corroded, leading to excess production of toxic stool and methane gas. Because these crops make animals extremely sick and cause them to grow quickly while producing fatty by-products such as milk and eggs, the meat and dairy industry appreciates the fast turnaround time between the birth rate of livestock and time to the slaughterhouse. With this industry turned into a factory house slaughtering billions of animals every year, it has led to both excess animal waste and the run-off of poisons into every water system and land throughout our planet. The meat and dairy industry has been able to easily get around The Clean Water Act, regulating the discharges of pollutants into the United States waters. As a result, “The mass production of animals is making everything go out of equilibrium,” Marianna said.

The meat and dairy industry’s ability to become so powerful over the past century has been predominantly driven by consumer demand, and the industry’s successful marketing campaign heavily promoting a protein-rich diet for optimal well-being. Once this industry got the buy-in by government agencies to be able to churn out massive quantities of animal products at a marginal cost, they ingeniously got the scientific and medical communities on board in helping them successfully drive their marketing campaign. Once this industry was able to change the health and nutrition guidelines taught in schools, healthcare centers, and on food labeling, they’ve been able to convince the world that meat and dairy are an essential part of one’s diet. Marianna’s parents are a great example of believing that animal protein is needed in their daughter’s nutrition and strongly put their foot down against Marianna being plant-based. Along with Marianna’s parents, the majority of the world also believes the marketing portrayed by the meat and dairy industry.

When humans eat animal by-products, they receive 90% less usable cellular energy than when consuming plant-based foods. Over time, the body cannot keep up with regular consumption of animal protein relative to the minimal amount of usable energy produced to run every critical chemical reaction inside the body leading to its gradual deterioration. The same can be said about raising animals for livestock and their crops; it requires 90% fewer resources from the Earth to grow plants for direct human consumption versus livestock. Ms. Melvin, the AP Environmental Science teacher at Lowell High School, said, “Because of trophic level efficiency, it takes less energy per acre to grow the same amount of plant calories as animal calories. Any animal we eat is going to take more space, more water, and more materials to get the same amount of energy for food that's across the board.”

Another problem directly linked to causing climate change is the confinement of animals raised in factory farms. Ms. Melvin describes that the issue with thousands of animals kept in tight quarters where they are unable to move has led panic-stricken livestock unnaturally producing massive amounts of toxic animal waste loaded with greenhouse gases. Unlike in a natural setting where animals are able to graze freely on land and never caged up, they produce just the right amount of easily decomposable stool used as fertilizer for soil enrichment. But because factory farm animals are fed unnaturally with crops such as corn and soy which upsets their stomachs, they end up farting more and emitting massive amounts of methane gas.

We are each the changemaker our world desperately needs to make the real impact on reversing climate change. The change is through what you put on your plate.

Plant-based eating is one of the best things a person can do for decreasing their carbon footprint. According to the documentary Cowspiracy, each day a person does not consume any animal protein, they save 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forest land, 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, and at least one animal’s life. Marianna says, “Animal agriculture is one of the biggest pollutants in the world. And even though the politicians keep telling us, Oh, don't use plastic, don't use your car, use public transportation. They, for some reason, keep forgetting that meat is one of the biggest causes of climate change.”

The meat and dairy industry holds tremendous power worldwide. They control government policies, legislation, environmental protection law, and public health policies. Ms. Melvin states, “Taking down the dairy board would be a big deal!” When each person makes a conscious choice to stop consuming meat and dairy and not supporting these industries, we can each make a huge difference in directly impacting climate change.

Practically speaking, choosing to be more plant-based is not necessarily easy and has its own set of challenges. Zara Bhandari, a seventh-grade student who's been plant-based for eight years said, “In the beginning, it was difficult because you had to cut out a lot of things.” Going out to eat at restaurants, gatherings, or at parties is always a challenge due to there being less meat and dairy-free items. Those who are plant-based also have a hard time sharing their opinions about the lifestyle change because many people do not understand or can relate. Marianna explains, “I kind of sometimes feel like I am walking on eggshells, and have to be careful with what I say. Otherwise, I might just lose my friends.” Being plant-based is not always easy; just remember the benefits definitely outweigh the cons in the long-run.

Every meal you choose to be plant-based will directly help decrease your carbon footprint and save our Earth from suffocating.

One of the hidden benefits of making more plant-based food choices is feeling additionally connected to where food comes from. When an individual actually makes a conscious effort to think about exactly where their food is sourced from and how it was prepared, they gain a greater appreciation for the journey it has taken to reach them. When humans are disconnected from how their food is sourced, they remain disillusioned with what they see on their plates and tend to only focus on its taste. Like Ms. Melvin said, “Have respect for how it got to your plate, because with more connections, people will become aware.”

Unlike just over a century ago when people had to hunt down and slaughter their own animals for food, raise their own chickens for eggs, and milk their own cows, people today have no idea how what they eat gets on their plate. If people today actually had to go out and slaughter their own meat, they’d probably end up thinking a hundred times about the choices they are making instead of dreaming about having their deep fried chicken nuggets or juicy steak. It is highly likely they’d probably decline having meat the moment they realized what all went into killing an animal, how they emotionally felt along with embracing the animal’s anguish before being slaughtered. Ms. Melvin said, “I think of indigenous cultures where they really don't waste and they do have more respect for the food and they wouldn't just throw away the rest of the animal and only eat the leg. That's crazy.” The worst part is when people today begin to internalize that they are no longer eating meat out of necessity, but primarily out of desire and taste, they may actually begin to feel the guilt linked to causing so much unnecessary harm to both animals and climate change.

Climate change is no longer an issue humans can claim is possibly a problem and needs to be researched more. It is happening at a very fast rate! As Marianna puts it simply, “I think in a close future, things are going to get really bad. We just have to take a deep breath and do our best whenever we can.” We are each the changemaker our world desperately needs to make the real impact on reversing climate change. The change is through what you put on your plate. Every meal you choose to be plant-based will directly help decrease your carbon footprint and save our Earth from suffocating.

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