Think twice before ordering your next burger
We know burgers are not great for our health, but it turns out they're not so good for the environment either
We all know that hamburgers are bad for your health, but according to a recent article published in Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, they are bad for the planet too. The article, “The Sustainability Challenges of Our Meat and Dairy Diets,” found that diets rich in red meat can have grave consequences for both people and the environment they live in.
The problem lies in ongoing growth in meat consumption. With rising incomes and competitive pricing, annual worldwide meat consumption has gone from 23 kilograms per capita in 1961 to 42 kilograms in 2009, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). By 2050, meat consumption is on track to rise by 75 percent from today.
A diet high in red meat can lead to obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, gout and cancer. This is mainly due to its content of unhealthy saturated fat, elevated calories, and carcinogenic compounds that are formed when red meat is exposed to high temperatures. At an annual 117 kilograms per capita, Americans consumes 321 grams of meat daily. Based on current nutritional guidelines, this is about three times the recommended amount.
On an environmental level, our meat habit can hurt wildlife. More and more forest land is being used as pasture for livestock. Deforestation results in habitat loss, putting endangered species at risk of extinction. It also increases carbon emission and affects climate change.
Today, livestock production accounts for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse emissions, the same amount produced by all the cars, planes, boats and trains combined, while many people continue to believe transport is the bigger contributor to global warming. Meat production also plays an important role in depleting the world’s scarce freshwater resources, and polluting them with animal waste, antibiotics, fertilizers, pesticides and hormones.
On a social level, our meat habit is contributing to food insecurity. In the European Union (EU), two thirds of the agricultural land is being inefficiently used to grow animal feed. This land could instead be used to grow plants as direct nutrition for humans. If that were the case, 70 percent more calories could become available, enough to feed an additional 4 billion people.
As the world’s cities see a boom in burger restaurants, the author calls for a “diet-altering awareness” to ensure the sustainability of people and the planet in the not-so-distant future. However, today more people worldwide are adopting a Western diet and rarely think about universal values. This is why change can only happen when all of us take responsibility.
“Meatless Mondays” is a non-profit initiative of The Monday Campaigns, in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for a Livable Future, urging people to go meatless once a week for their health and that of the planet. It means choosing plant-based alternatives and forgoing meat, chicken, fish and dairy, as all animal products have significant environmental footprints. The more meatless days you have a week, the greater the environmental and health benefits.
Take up the challenge today. Instead of red meat, opt for protein-rich vegetarian alternatives such as dry beans, lentils, tofu, quinoa and nuts. There are many vegetarian options when eating out, such as quinoa salad, veggie burgers, bean and rice burritos, and falafel sandwiches. Making it a weekly ritual is easier than you think.