Like most kids, my mom nagging me to finish my vegetables at dinner was a daily battle while I was growing up. I was never a picky eater, but vegetables just weren't as exciting as the rest of the food I had licked clean from my plate. I definitely inherited this attitude, as well as my taste buds, from my dad. The year I was born he won the National Beef Cook-Off (yes, the one on Food Network where a bunch of dudes and their grills compete for the title of King of Beef).
So naturally, I grew up with protein being the star of the show at every meal. While I respected my friends who chose to be vegetarian, I couldn't relate. Not to mention, eating meat-free would mean turning down my dad's Pacific Rim Glazed Flank Steak, which just wasn't happening.
It wasn't until I learned about the jaw-dropping environmental benefits a vegetarian diet can have that I first considered substituting my steak for spinach. Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation. A large contributor to these emissions is methane, a gas that is produced through the decay of organic waste. According to Science Magazine, methane gas is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2 gas over a time frame of 20 years, making agriculture a major detriment to the environment.
According to the US Geological Survey's (USGS) Water Science School, it takes 460 gallons of water to produce a 1/4 pound hamburger, while it only takes 32 gallons of water to produce a pound of corn. With the constant population growth happening all over the world, more and more people are dependent on livestock as their main source of nutrition, and these numbers could lead to devastating effects on our environment.
You may be asking yourself "Does being vegetarian once a week really make that much of a difference?" If every person in the United States went without meat once a week, we would save: 70 million gallons of gas, 100 billion gallons of water, and 3 million acres of land. We would prevent 3 million tons in soil erosion and 1.2 million tons of CO2, the amount produced by the entire country of France.
And finally, according to the Environmental Defense, if everyone substituted one meal of chicken per week with a vegetarian option, the impact would be the same as taking half a million cars off US roads.
As someone who is studying Environmental Science, I care deeply about the environment, and I was shocked by how much I had been contributing to its decline without even realizing it. I wanted to change that, and when I learned I could do so without giving up the things I love entirely, I didn't need any more convincing.
If you are like me and couldn't live without your favorite burger joint, but you also care about the future of our planet, consider integrating vegetarianism into your life. Whether it be a single meal or one day of your week, making these small changes is one way you can start doing your part to preserve our Earth.
It shouldn't be too difficult for Vanderbilt students, considering some of the best food on campus is vegetarian. Chef James' new grain bowls are a great way to get your protein without consuming meat, and with all the topping options you won't even notice it's missing. Grins cafe hosts an entirely vegetarian menu that will not disappoint, and you can still chow down on a (veggie) burger.
Consider these options and their benefits when planning your next meal. Mother Earth will thank you.