What’s at steak: Why Marin should consume less beef

Jenna Dahlin

Two friends walk into the modern atmosphere of The Counter, music is playing in the background, and they slide into the nearest booth. They order two one-pound cheese burgers, fries and shakes, ignorant to the true impact of their seemingly innocent lunch date. With the amount of energy used to create their burgers, one could drive the distance to Yosemite, keep a light bulb burning for 20 days or take 30 baths, according to the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science.

Due to the negative environmental and health effects of eating meat, as well as dramatic resource depletion caused by the cattle industry, it’s critical that Marin takes active steps as a community towards the elimination of beef within our culture.

The U.S cattle industry has and continues to decimate the environment. According to a 2006 report by The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, animal food production now emits 51 percent of greenhouse gas emissions which surpasses the transportation industry and electricity generation as the greatest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. With the current demand of beef from American consumers, this trend continues to be threatening.

As delicious as a steak may be, is it worth the consequences? Morally, is it considered selfish to put your personal satisfaction of eating a burger above the wellbeing of our only planet?

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The levels of greenhouse gases emitted from the production of beef result from both processing the meat as well as from the cows themselves. According to Climate Central, the average cow in the United States releases 117 pounds of methane each year. Methane is far more threatening to Earth than any other natural gas because it traps up to 100 times more heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide. The continual increase in global warming has brought many to reflect on their own impact. Yes, there are little things one can do such as turning off the lights, biking instead of driving or recycling your cans, but at the end of the day, reducing your beef consumption is not only an attainable goal, but is arguably the most effective.

Alongside the environmental problems the beef industry generates, comes complications with resource shortages. According to a 2006 report by The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, an estimated 30 percent of the Earth’s ice-free land is involved in livestock production. While space is an issue, so are the immense resources it takes to sustain cattle. It takes 2,400 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef, which is 11 times more water than necessary for other livestock products, on average, according to the National Academy of Science.

Now, most Marin County residents take pride in our community’s environmentally friendly lifestyle, but is this really justified? According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Marin is part of the problem. Seventy six percent of all agricultural land in Marin is used for pastureland. On top of this, cattle are the highest produced livestock in Marin. Generally, Marin’s real estate is considered more desirable than most, so the excessive amounts of land devoted to cattle are extremely wasteful. Marin continues to contribute to the issue with additions of two new burger restaurants: Shake Shack and Gott’s Roadside Burgers.

According to the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, while 56 million acres of land are used to grow the immense amounts of feed needed to sustain farm animals, only four million acres are used to produce plants for humans to eat. Because of resource limitations, less land should go towards livestock pasture and feedlots to allow for more crop based agricultural practices.

Plant-based diets are more sustainable for the predicted increasing population, and in terms of personal health, plant based diets are far more beneficial to one’s life span. A case study conducted by the National Institutes of Health observed 120,000 participants, including 37,000 men and 83,000 women concluded those that consumed the highest levels of red meat were at higher risk of mortality. The study found that one additional serving of red meat each day increased chances of death by 13 percent. According to the study, if people had consumed less than half of the average serving per day, 9.3 percent of the deaths of men and 7.6 percent of the deaths of women could have been prevented.

The purposeful assault of our environment and wasting of resources (when hunger and starvation currently impacts millions) is transparently negative, so why has this been overlooked by so many?

Author and founder of the EarthSave Foundation, John Robbins, said that, “A reduction in beef and other meat consumption is the most potent single act you can take to halt the destruction of our environment and preserve our natural resources. Our choices do matter.”

I’m not saying give up your lifestyle, convert to veganism and devote your life to ending corruption within the livestock industry. But, beef can easily substituted out of a diet. For example, using ground turkey instead of beef or even eating it less frequently will have a strong influence on our environment. So, if you do find yourself at In n’ Out, be conscious that your actions make a significant impact on things beyond yourself.