As a college student, it’s hard to stay informed on current health and wellness issues — whether they are issues of personal health and wellness or the wider issue of the health of our planet.
In today’s society, we are constantly bombarded with reminders to be eco-conscious in every aspect of our lives. We are told to recycle, drive less, bike more, eat organic and always turn off the lights. This column is here to help weave things like this into your daily life as a student. And the first topic on the menu is the ever-expanding green movement.
The green movement has recently gained even greater momentum in grocery stores across the nation with Americans basing their food choices on “environmental reasons.”
But what really is the environmental impact of our groceries?
Actually, as it turns out, quite a lot.
According to TIME magazine, an average American family diet generates 2.8 tons of carbon dioxide, while their driving only yields 2.2.
Similarly, 30 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions across the globe stem from agriculture, more than that from transportation, according to TIME.
Perhaps that your dinner can produce more emissions than your car seems crazy at first, but once the process of how food arrives on your plate is taken into consideration, it’s not as crazy.
Agriculture takes up almost 40 percent of the world’s land, causing large amounts of deforestation and, thus, large amounts of carbon emissions. Beyond land, a farm necessitates machines and fertilizer, both sources of carbon. Food must also be transported from farm to store, now adding the emissions from transportation into the equation.
Moreover — and apologies to meat and dairy lovers — the foods with the highest carbon footprint are meat, specifically beef and lamb, closely followed by cheese.
While the ratio of fossil-fuel energy to food calorie energy is around 2 to 1 for produce, it is close to 80 to 1 for beef. In layman’s terms this means the amount of energy needed to produce beef is strikingly high compared to the amount of energy it provides to the body (measured calorically).
There are environmental pitfalls at every step of beef production. For instance, the massive amounts of grain fed to cows and the fertilizer used to grow those grains can cause surface runoffs, leading to dead zones in waters such as the Gulf of Mexico.
“Cattle feeding presents perhaps the greatest potential of the U.S. cattle and beef industry for negatively impacting the environment,” noted a 2000 report by the World Wildlife Fund.
Another major concern is after eating those fertilized grains, cows belch large amounts of methane into the air — a greenhouse gas 20 times as toxic as CO2, according to TIME.
So even though you may feel you are protecting the planet by walking instead of driving to McDonalds, your meal is really much worse than your drive.
With this in mind, Jonathon Kaplan of the National Resources Defense Council — an environmental action group that fights to protect wildlife and — says, “If you can’t buy a Prius, you can certainly eat like one.”
And as college students, of those that have cars, a Prius is often not in the budget. However, the easiest and most effective way to “eat like a Prius” is to reduce the amount of meat in your diet. According to a University of Chicago study, switching to vegetarian diet from a red-meat diet can save as much carbon as switching from a Camry to a Prius.
While vegetarianism is ideal, it is often not realistic for everyone. Instead, experts advocate for a “low-carbon diet” consisting of high quantities of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and lean meats. This is good news for your waistline too, as it turns out the foods with the highest carbon footprints are also the unhealthiest.
We have complete control of what food goes into our bodies; how can we not choose to do what is best not only for our body, but also for our planet?