At CEC’s “The Earth on Your Plate” program on February 23, Mohan Gurunathan offered dozens of reasons why people should transition from meat to a plant-based diet. His approach is not to confront people but, rather, to provide them information and lead by example.
Mohan, who is an engineer, entrepreneur, and food systems expert, said, “Reducing your consumption of animal products is the single biggest way you can protect the Earth.” If all humans ate a plant-based diet, he pointed out, “We could reduce agricultural land use by nearly 70 percent, along with huge reductions in water usage, fertilizer usage and manure pollution. We would also be able to feed up to 12 billion people.”
He added, “Farm animals produce around 130 times as much feces and urine as humans, and we have almost no laws to regulate how this waste is disposed.” Mohan also noted that farmers spread vast amounts of untreated animal manure on farmland. “The manure runoff from farms causes a multitude of issues, including groundwater contamination, pollution of rivers and streams, algal blooms, massive fish die-offs and dead zones in the ocean,” he said.
A graph he displayed showed that cows typically consume around 25 units of plant-based protein to produce one unit of protein for humans. In comparison, pigs require around 10 units, and chickens need around 4.5 units to produce one unit of human-edible protein. “The resources that go into one burger could feed people 25 vegetarian meals,” Mohan said, adding that it takes around 660 gallons of water to produce that burger – enough water for a month’s worth of showers.
Mohan showed a Google Earth video which displayed an endless patchwork of farms across the Midwestern U.S. and the Central Valley in California. “By far the biggest use of land, 41 percent of land in the continental US, is used for feeding livestock,” he declared. Worldwide, 27 percent of all global land is used to grow food for livestock. In comparison, only 26 percent of all land on Earth is covered by forests, which are essential for taking carbon out of the atmosphere. If all the land used to grow livestock feed was restored to wild lands, it could make a significant dent in stopping climate change.
Among his other points were:
- Worldwide, 800 million people do not have enough to eat, yet each year we grow enough food to fatten 70 billion farm animals.
- In the U.S., animal agriculture is responsible for between 16.5 to 28 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. This is more than the emissions generated by all our transportation systems.
- Ninety percent of ocean fish stocks are either depleted or overfished. Almost 40 percent of the 1 trillion fish caught each year is bycatch (unwanted fish) that is simply discarded.
- Today, 60 percent of all land mammals on Earth are livestock, and just 4 percent are wild animals.
- In the U.S., 80 percent of antibiotics sold are given to livestock. Many animals are kept on a continuous low-level dose of antibiotics, leading to the development of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. “Crowded factory farms are incubators for disease. In the history of human disease, approximately three out of every four pandemics originated in animals before jumping to humans,” he said.
- The meat and dairy industries use one-third of the world’s freshwater.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture heavily promotes and subsidizes meat and dairy production and consumption. More than 99.9% of government food subsidies go to those industries.
- Plant-based diets can significantly reduce the risk for heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes, which are among the leading causes of illness and death in the U.S.
Mohan left out the section of the talk which examines how farm animals are treated in factory farms and slaughterhouses, due to the time limit and audience preference. He suggested that this is an important moral and ethical dimension that everyone should consider when choosing what we eat.
- What can people do? Mohan recommends:
- Ask your U.S. senators and representatives to support the Farm System Reform Act, introduced by Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, which will place a moratorium on new factory farms.
- Gradually add meatless days to your diet.
- Try some of the many great substitutes for meat and dairy foods.
- Switch from cow’s milk to a plant-based milk.
- Ask restaurants to serve meatless dishes.
- Search the Internet for vegan versions of your favorite recipes.
- Teach your friends and family about these important issues.