By Margaret Southern
Which would you rather do: Give up your car or give up eating meat?
You might be surprised that taking meat off your menu could be the greener option.
A Meaty Problem
A 2006 report from The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization found that the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all the planes, trains and automobiles on the planet.
The methane emissions from cows have 21 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide. But that's not the only problem.
More and more forests are being cleared for pastures to feed all these animals. And as the trees disappear, so does the earth’s natural method of storing carbon.
The problem is getting worse. According to the FAO, annual per capita meat consumption in developing countries has doubled from 31 pounds in 1980 to 62 pounds in 2002. The FAO predicts that meat production will double by 2050.
Eat Your Broccoli
So what can you do?
Start by reducing the amount of animal products in your diet. Replace the meat and cheese with healthier beans, legumes, whole grains and extra servings of fruits and vegetables.
I admit that when I first gave up meat eight years ago, the task seemed incredibly daunting. My friends and family were skeptical that it would last more than a few weeks.
After all, the only vegetables I used to eat were baby carrots and iceberg lettuce, and I refused to touch tomatoes, mushrooms or beans.
But after about a month, something amazing happened: I began to enjoy the healthy foods I never liked before. When I realized I was craving broccoli and apples, I knew that my diet was healthier than it had ever been before.
These days, vegetarian options are (almost!) everywhere. You can find a wide variety of resources, recipes and tips on the Internet or in your local bookstore.
Greening your diet (literally) is a simple way to make a big difference in your health and the environment.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not represent those of The Nature Conservancy.
Nature picture credits (top to bottom, left to right): Photos © Kondor83/iStockphoto (Veggie display at market); Courtesy Margaret Southern (Margaret Southern)