Plant-based diets are growing in popularity with every passing day. An estimated 5 percent of the U.S. population was vegetarian or vegan in 2011, compared to a mere 0.04 percent in 1985. Diners choose a plant-based diet for a variety of reasons; some for animal welfare benefits, others for health purposes.
While both of these reasons are completely valid, Earth911 focuses on veg for another benefit – protecting the environment. From keeping your trash cans empty to reducing your carbon footprint, here are eight ways going veg is good for the planet.
1. Reduce water consumption
Farming accounts for 70 percent of all fresh water drawn from lakes, waterways and aquifers, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Meat production, especially the feeding of cattle, is especially water intensive.
It takes about 2,500 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef, compared to a mere 25 gallons to produce one serving of rice or grain, according to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. More conservative estimates put the water consumption of cattle farming closer to 1,000 gallons per pound, but either way, that’s a lot of water.
If you aren’t ready to commit to a vegetarian or vegan diet full time, consider opting for a meat-free meal once each week, which can save a whopping 84,000 gallons of water per year.
On days you still eat meat, choosing poultry instead of beef also cuts down on water use. It only takes about 500 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of chicken compared to the thousands of gallons required for beef, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
2. Save fossil fuels
Conventional farming methods use petrochemical, or oil-based, fertilizers for feedstock crops. Pumping water from rivers and transporting and refrigerating meat also racks up the fossil fuel use of meat production – amounting to figures that may shock you.
It takes about 54 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of protein from beef, compared to 2 calories of fossil fuel for 1 calorie of protein from soy. According to some estimates, more than one-third of all fossil fuels consumed in the U.S. are used in animal production.
By cutting out meat for only one meal each week, you can save more than 15 gallons of gasoline per year. For added savings, try a “Vegetarian Week” a few times a year. Who knows? You may even like it!