Before I was introduced to the plant-based lifestyle, I thought people went vegetarian purely for animal welfare or cultural practices. My friends who followed meat-free diets touted 'animal cruelty' as their mantra. The media often portrays non-meat eaters as stereotypical hippies.
Truthfully, I was very misinformed. The choice to go meat-free has many environmental benefits and is attracting new followers at a much greater rate. For me, environmental concern was the primary reason why I began giving up meat and dairy, as these industries undoubtedly contribute to climate change.
Stanford University's Wood's Institute for the Environment has found that meat production has tripled in the past three decades. Americans in the fifties and sixties ate meat only a couple times a week. Today, it is common for families to prepare meat dishes every day.
This demand for meat has severe consequences. Nearly one-third of farmable land is used for livestock grazing, displacing humans in poorer regions and overworking the soil upon which these communities rely.
Furthermore, the amount of water used by the meat industry is huge: a single cow can drink up to 50 gallons of water a day, aggravating droughts and depleting the resources in various regions. Combining these statistics with the amount of waste livestock produces, PETA estimates that the meat industry contributes up to 51% of greenhouse gas emissions globally.
Luckily, many simple plant-based swaps also exist to help you replace meat-products in your diet. Tofu is an easy, neutral-flavored soy protein that can easily substitute for chicken or turkey. It is delicious in Asian cuisine, and is very versatile.
If you have concerns about protein, fear not. Many grains and beans provide satisfying carbohydrates and protein to keep you going. As a last resort (as they are usually highly-processed), many faux-meats exist for when you are craving the texture of animal meat.
College is often touted as a place where good diets go to die, but eating for the environment and your health has never been easier or more accessible. Whether you are a bi-weekly or full-time herbivore, you can rest assured that your actions are benefitting you and the planet in the longterm.