There is no better time to positively change one’s diet and lifestyle than the start of the school year. While the use of meat and dairy products is typically taught and ingrained in most people’s lives from childhood, students must critically reflect on the consumption of animal products and the implications of that choice.
Factory farming, which produces the vast majority of meat, egg and dairy products consumed in the U.S., promotes inhumane and unsanitary conditions. Factory animals are gravely mistreated — they do not have adequate room to turn around and are loaded with antibiotics due to the rampant diseases endemic to factory farms. The egg industry sends male chicks through grinders right after birth to kill them because they cannot lay eggs and thus are economically useless. Going vegan can save over 100 animals per year, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — even simply cutting out meat once a week is enough to make an impact.
Additionally, meat production is incredibly unsustainable and environmentally damaging. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, animal agriculture negatively impacts both human health and the environment. The livestock sector is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and 8 percent of global water usage, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Producing a calorie of meat requires 11 times more fossil fuel input than producing one calorie of plant-based food; animal excrements also produce massive amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Meat is also an inefficient use of resources. According to PETA, 13 pounds of grain produce only one pound of meat. The global food supply could grow greatly if land currently used for growing food to feed livestock (in addition to the lands used for the livestock themselves) were instead put toward producing plant food for direct human consumption.
Forgoing meat does not only help the environment; it also brings numerous major benefits to human health, including decreased cardiovascular disease, fewer food-borne illnesses, lower chances of diabetes and longer life spans. Humans also do not need to eat meat for protein. Vegans and vegetarians have access to several sources for protein: beans, tofu, nuts and vegetables. In fact, one cup of cooked spinach has roughly five grams of protein — about the same as one ounce of grass-fed beef. Most non-vegetarians or non-vegans actually consume too much protein, which can cause health issues like kidney problems.
Fighting against animal abuse and factory farming is also an important human rights issue. Human Rights Watch has called working in slaughterhouses “the most dangerous job in America.” Factory farms often seek out immigrant and migrant workers and subject them to physically and psychologically unsafe conditions. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, approximately one-third of slaughterhouse workers report illness or injuries annually. Workers at slaughterhouses may also develop desensitization to violence, which can lead to a higher incidence of violent crime, such as child abuse and domestic violence.
Finally, one of the most common concerns expressed with going vegan or vegetarian is that it is too expensive. Certain types of fancy meat replacements are more expensive than conventional options. However, basic vegan staples (such as pasta, grains, nuts and beans) are actually quite affordable. Meat prices are rising dramatically — wholesale pork prices are predicted to increase by 10 to 11 percent, compared to the 5.8-percent increase in the price of fresh fruits over the past year.
All of Dartmouth’s dining halls offer vegetarian and vegan-friendly options. Even without eliminating meat entirely, steps such as adopting Meatless Mondays can have a significant effect on the environment, health, animals and workers. This term, make a positive change and consider a meat-free lifestyle.
Jennifer Davidson ’15 is the co-president of the Dartmouth Animal Welfare Group, a student group that collaborates with national animal rights organizations.