In The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth, Tim Flannery wrote: “One of the biggest obstacles to making a start on climate change is that it has become a cliché before it has even been understood.”
But climate change is for real. Scientists claim it is caused by an increase in the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) spewed into the atmosphere through human activities. GHGs refer to carbon dioxide, methane and other industrial gases.
According to the International Panel on Climate Change, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by 30 percent in the past 200 years. Most of these came from burning fossil fuels, such as coal and oil and roughly a quarter from the destruction of tropical rain forests.
People who want to help reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere can do it by cutting down on meat consumption. “Part of climate-change mitigation is the promotion of a low-carbon lifestyle. Since meat produces more greenhouse gases, eating lower on the food pyramid is advised, which means less meat and more of whole grains, fruits and vegetables,” Senator Loren Legarda explained.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 14.5 percent of man-made GHG emissions come from the global livestock. The FAO estimates that 70 percent of former forests have been lost and converted for animal grazing.
In addition, food that comes from distant places utilizes more energy for transportation and preservation, which means greater carbon emission.
“Low-carbon living means patronizing local, plant-based and in-season food,” pointed out Legarda, who is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Climate Change, adding that she plants vegetables in her garden so she can eat them fresh.
“We should encourage families to plant vegetables in their backyards or community vacant lots, or to cultivate pinakbet gardens,” she suggested. “This way, we do not only provide food on the table, but also address the needs of growing numbers of malnourished children.”
Meanwhile, a new report released by the Washington, D.C.-based International Food Policy Research Institute said urbanization and increasing incomes have changed the eating habits of people, who are now clamoring for more meat.
“Beef consumption is growing,” said the 2016 Global Food Policy Report, noting that beef production is one of the most resource-intensive and environmentally impactful foods to produce. “Beef production requires four times more land [and four times as much greenhouse gas emissions] than dairy for every unit of protein consumed,” the report explained. “In addition, beef is seven times more resource-intensive than pork and poultry, and 20 times more than pulses.”
Damian Carrington, writing for The Guardian, agrees. “The popular red meat requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water and results in five times more climate-warming emissions. When compared to staples like potatoes, wheat, and rice, the impact of beef per calorie is even more extreme, requiring 160 times more land and producing 11 times more greenhouse gases.”
One expert even went on to say that eating less red meat would be a better way for people to cut carbon emissions than giving up their cars. Or, as Prof Mark Sutton, at the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, puts it: “Avoiding excessive meat consumption, especially beef, is good for the environment.”
Eating less meat is not only for the environment but to one’s health, as well. Here’s an explanation from Dr. Willie T. Ong and his wife Liza Ong in their book, Doctors’ Health Tips and Home Remedies, quoting nutritionist Sally Beare: “Our bodies are not designed to eat lots of meat. The meat we meat has to travel a long way through the intestines and tend to stay and stick to the intestinal wall for days. After being broken down by bacteria, these meat products will produce possibly cancer-causing substances, like ammonia, phenols and amines.”
Reduction of cancer risk—that’s one reason you should eat less meat. A study conducted by the US National Cancer Institute involving 500,000 individuals showed that those who consumed 4 ounces or more of red meat a day were 30 percent more likely to die within 10 years when compared to persons who ate less red meat.
“Meat is high in saturated fat and may cause colon, breast and prostate cancer,” says Dr. T. Colin Campbell, cochairman of the World Cancer Research Fund. “In my view, no chemical carcinogen is nearly so important in causing human cancer as animal protein.”
Aside from beef and pork, experts say that sausages, hot dogs, luncheon meats and other processed meats also increase the risk for cancer.
Eating less meat also reduces heart disease and diabetes, according to the Ongs. According to some studies, people who eat less meat and more fish, nuts, fruits and vegetables have a lower risk for heart disease and diabetes. Another benefit: less degenerative disease like arthritis. A study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Health shows that vegetarians develop degenerative diseases 10 years later when compared to meat eaters. Less meat means less fat. In simpler terms, it fights obesity. A diet of mostly vegetables, grains, beans and fruits has generally fewer calories when compared to a meat diet. These foods can also help lower one’s cholesterol levels.
But on second thought, people need to have protein. Generally, an adult needs 20 percent (between 10 percent to 35 percent) of his or her daily food intake to come from protein. Most of the protein a person needs come from meat.
“Try meals without beef and pork,” suggests Ong. “From my personal experience, going meatless for a few days in a week can make you feel cleaner and healthier.”
Instead, Ong recommends fish, chicken and turkey as alternative sources of protein. “They have less of the fat content found in animal meat,” he explained, adding that when eating chicken, the skin should not be included. “If you like pork, try to remove the fat. However, it is harder to remove the beef fat, because the fat is marbled between the meat.”
Aside from meat, there are other great substitute sources of protein, such as tofu, mung beans, eggs, milk and cheese. “Tofu is easy to add to your dishes, besides being healthy and affordable. Low-fat milk, skim milk and cottage cheese have less fat, too,” he said.
Ong doesn’t recommend shunning meat completely from your diet. “A completely plant-based diet lacks vitamin D and vitamin B12,” he said. “They may also be deficient in iron. That is why some experts also believe that a little animal meat, perhaps twice a week, would be necessary to complete one’s nutrition needs.”