By Nadia Roch, first published in The Flying Shingle, March 24, 2014
Eating local and eating vegan don’t have to be mutually exclusive; in fact, I’m living proof that it’s possible. Like everyone else though, I fail at eating and shopping 100% locally, but I’m not convinced that’s such a problem. To me the local movement has always been about fostering community, supporting individuals instead of corporations, a degree of self-sufficiency, and of course, minimising our ecological impact. It’s certainly not about perfection or pretending the apocalypse is near. And I’m not about to give up on veganism because it doesn’t fit a theoretical future where we will have to be entirely self-reliant. While that future scenario isn’t impossible, it’s certainly not probable.
What I do know now is our world is facing some deeply troubling environmental issues related to meat production – issues that are largely unaffected by whether or not we eat locally. Currently, 68% of all agricultural land is used for raising animals and 70% of all grain produced is used to feed livestock. Raising animals for food requires exponentially more land than growing crops alone. With the explosive growth of our population and world hunger reaching nearly 1 billion people, land use is of even more importance.
Then there’s greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change and global warming. Animal agriculture accounts for more emissions than cars and the transportation industry combined, and a 2008 study found that even though food is often transported long distances, the vast majority of emissions associated with food are actually from the production phase with red meat being the worst offender. A recent study also revealed that livestock emissions are actually twice the current estimates, which is especially concerning considering it accounts for 65% of nitrous oxide and 37% of methane – two of the most harmful greenhouse gases.
Let’s look at the example of beef – it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce a single pound of beef. The full lifecycle of beef production also generates 13 times more emissions than vegetable proteins. By cutting out beef alone, you will save 300,000 gallons of water a year!
It’s indisputable, for every cow, pig and chicken that is slaughtered, exponential resources go into feeding and watering that animal. The amount increases even more for pastured animals, which require greater resources to produce, especially land and water. In fact, a study found that eating exclusively plants even one day a week has more of an impact than eating locally all 7 days.
Will eating local, including local meat, solve the very real environmental issues of meat? No, but it certainly has many other merits that can be worthwhile. But for me, the bottom line is that eating less meat or no meat at all has the greatest positive impact on the environment.