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How Your Food Affects the Environment

Submitted by: Tiffany Teng


What makes our food so delicious? Well, the answer is not as simple as you think. That comes from years and years of research on how to fatten up cows to get the juiciest ratios of lean muscle to meat in steaks, millions of dollars in investment in the food advertisement industry, and much more microscopic little details that basically program how and what we eat. But all these efforts, resources, and things actually cause not just an impact on our hungry stomachs, but on our Earth as well. I’m here to talk to you today about how what you eat affects the environment.

The most pressing issue that food causes for our environment is food mileage, which is how far your food travels from farm or field to processing to retail to your plate. The root cause of the harm it does stems from the greenhouse gases emitted in transportation, such as through heavy freight truck. Because the distances traveled from foods around the world are quite long and crops are transported daily, the carbon footprint left accumulates quite a lot. Processed food travels an average of 1300 miles before reaching its final destination, not taking into consideration waste products and their movement cycles. For example, watermelon from Mexico travels about 1886 miles from Mexico to grocery stores in California. Tomatoes from Canada travel 456 miles, and kiwis from Chile travel a shocking 5015 miles!

Along with food mileage, the individual type of food also responsible for environmental damage  is the meat and dairy industry, or the animal agriculture industry. Factory farms not only cause animal suffering/slaughter, but also cause loss of biodiversity (variety of species in an ecosystem), soil erosion and land wastage, and emission of greenhouse gases. Cows are notorious for being one of the leading factors in the unprecedented levels of global warming effects since the 90s, as they give off methane. Of course to the animals themselves this huge demand of animal products takes a toll; 99% of cows reared in the U.S are raised for slaughter, 97% of pigs are raised to be made into pork, etc. Cows used for milking typically only live for about 5 years in miserable captivity- every 5 months they are artificially impregnated to start the milking process, after which their babies are born, taken away, and killed. Although some industry “experts” may say that animals suffer little pain and aren’t as emotionally developed as humans, they do in fact experience pain just as well as humans can. To save our animals and our environment, perhaps ask yourself if the steak is really worth it, and remind yourself of what cow was killed for your dinner.

In order to build and develop factories and farms/fields, there must be land clearance, which leads to a lack of environmental diversity, deforestation, soil erosion, and a lack of habitat for wild species.

So what can we do about the food industry’s already devastating effects on the environment? It’s not as difficult to take action as you may think it is. The first step to ensuring that environmental change happens is acceptance of the truth; climate change and global warming are real, and a large reason why the environment is slowly deteriorating is due to the food we eat. Research on this topic and why this pressing issue matters should be the next step, in order to substantiate our views with cold, hard facts. Like I said before, food miles cost our planet a huge carbon footprint; try to eat more locally-sourced food to prevent this from happening. In addition, I’m not suggesting that all of you should go vegan or vegetarian, as that is a high request, but keeping the diary and meat intake to a minimum to sustain your health and your palate can be a monumental aid to the environment in the long term. Also, the more meat you choose to eat, the more cholesterol as well, which places you at a higher risk for heart problems in the future. Just saying.

Don’t dismiss the power of grassroots movements; if enough humans get behind the effort to create a healthier ecosystem, the food industry and government will listen. Do your part not just as a healthy individual, but as a civilian, as an international activist, as a global proponent of change. We want this world to be a safer place, not just for us, but for our children and grandchildren. And not just that, we should want this world to be a safer place for other species as well, for our friends the pigs and the cows and the chickens and the sheep. Eat not just for yourself, but for your environment. Thank you.

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