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A Life Decision

12/08/2009

by Ben Levenson

When I was a sophomore in high school, one day I decided, “this will be the last hamburger I eat for a long long time.” But my reason was not that I was an animal rights fanatic or because I thought meat was gross. It was a bit less traditional.

I decided to stop eating hamburgers and meat in general because I care about the environment. I had seen a video based on the book Diet For a New America by John Robbins about the wasteful methods of food production in our country and the meat industry’s role.  The video talked of the exorbitant amount of resources used to produce meat compared to grains. It talked of the water and the land use problems associated with factory farming. It pointed to how 10 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat. According to the UN, meat production accounts for 9% of carbon dioxide emissions, but 65% of nitrous oxide emissions, a gas 296 more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and 37% percent of methane emissions, which are 23 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide. You can lower your greenhouse gas footprint more by giving up meat than by giving up driving. I was skeptical.

I loved my hamburgers. A lot. Meat was a staple of my diet and giving it up just did not seem possible, not yet at least I just passed this off as crazy and decided it would not matter if I ate meat- I’m only one person in 300 million of 6 billion.

But the movie would not leave my thoughts alone. One compared to ten! Ten pounds of grain wasted to produce one pound of meat! How many hungry people can those extra nine pounds of food feed? Perhaps the 840 million people living hungry worldwide. And how much resources are wasted? A lot- not only the 9 pounds of grain, but all the water and fossil fuels used to produce this grain. Therefore, the issue of meat consumption runs deep for our country and the world; It promotes a system of waste that is toxic to our environment.

So I decided to stop eating meat. I could not support such an unsustainable system. True- my suburban New Jersey friends thought I was crazy my mom had to prepare two dinners every night (one of meat and one vegetarian), and I fought the temptation to deem my actions meaningless in the ‘grand scheme of things.’ Then I thought about why I care so much about our environment. Its natural, its real and it is beautiful. I love trees and rain and fall breezes. For these things I decided my actions were not worthless. I decided my own personal choices actually affect a lot.

Our personal consumption is our power. What we eat, what we buy, and how we use our money is our greatest voice. So, it’s the best incentive we have to convince the people in suits who make laws. This may seem outlandish, but businesses get their money from consumers. A sizable portion of this money goes toward lobbying and financing campaigns. Thus, we cede a certain amount of our own personal power to these companies and we allow them to influence legislation. While its not pretty, money equals power. Let’s be conscious about how we use that power. 

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