“While meat and dairy provide only 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses 83% of farmland and produces 60% of our agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions”

Poore J, Nemecek T.
Science. 2018 

Raising animals for food contributes substantially to global warming and is responsible for more water pollution, topsoil depletion, deforestation, and wildlife destruction than any other human activity. Senior U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization official Henning Steinfeld reported that the meat industry is “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems.”

Additionally, raising and feeding farmed animals wastes crops that could be fed to humans, furthering global malnourishment and starvation. Fortunately, considering more plant based choices allows us to begin tackling these complex problems, while improving our personal health and reducing our contribution to animal exploitation.

Numerous studies indicate that switching to a more plant based diet can cut out a high percentage of the total emissions your eating habits contribute to global warming, while, according to data by the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh switching an average American diet to all-local foods will only reduce this number by 4%! An effective long-term solution to these multiple global crises must include a transition to plant-based diets of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains. 

The start-to-finish process of raising and distributing meat causes more greenhouse gas emission than any other food group, with dairy products coming in second. Animal products create the greatest amounts of nitrous oxide, emitted as a result of soil fertilization and management, because animals are inefficient at using plant energy. Producing meat and dairy also causes the bulk of all methane emissions, which are put out by ruminant animals and manure fertilizer. 

The authors concluded that even small shifts in an average household’s diet from more greenhouse gas-intensive foods to less greenhouse gas-intensive foods would reduce that household’s food-related greenhouse gas emissions as much as eating entirely local products. 

In recent years, the U.S. has imported a growing percentage of its food from other countries. Globalization often adds large distances to a food item’s journey to the consumer; from 1997 to 2004, the average distance covered by food increased by about 25%, from 6760 kilometers to 8240 kilometers. One might expect greenhouse gas emissions to be much higher as a result. However, ocean shipping represents more than 99 percent of total international shipping, and ocean shipping uses much less energy than trucking. So, the study concluded, globalization of the food market has only increased greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent. Transportation still has much less impact on the climate than producing the food itself.