Sustainable Living Challenge

Week 6: Are Cow Belches Contributing to Climate Change?

In a word…yes.  Yes they are.  So now that’s covered and we can all go home.  End of post.

Except you may be scratching your head and wondering how.  You may also be waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I can hear some of you asking, “Oh no…Is this a vegan rant?”.  Sorry to disappoint, but no, it is not.  Like all of these challenges, there are always small changes you can make to have a large, positive impact on the planet.  You don’t have to go vegan today, or ever (I’m still not there!), but there are still things we can all do to reduce the impact of our food on the planet.

So Wait…Why Do You Have a Problem With Cows?

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A beautiful rendition of a cow stomach, if I do say so myself.

To be honest, it’s not just cows.  Meat consumption, particularly that of red meat, is not great for the planet.  For starters, our red meat comes from ruminants like cows, goats, and sheep.  These animals have four stomach compartments, which biologically speaking is super cool!  Environmentally speaking…less cool.  One of these compartments, the rumen helps break food down through fermentation.  This process produces the greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide, which are released when cows and other ruminants…well, belch.  Domestic ruminants like cows account for a quarter of all anthropogenic* methane emissions!  This puts them in second place, right behind fossil fuels!

Poultry production can also contribute to our greenhouse gas emissions.  Poultry production does not emit as much methane as beef production, but it’s still a contributing factor to our carbon footprint.  Not only does poultry farming require the use of fossil fuels to operate equipment, but the manure produced by chickens accounts for the majority of the methane that originates from poultry farms.

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None of this is to say that cows or chickens are inherently evil.  I mean…have you ever seen a Highland Cow (pronounced “helen coo”)?  They’re pretty darn cute!  But it does mean that we need to think about how our diet affects our environment.

You Are What You Eat…Or Don’t Eat

A study done in 2014 found that people who consume >100g of meat each day produced the highest levels of food-related greenhouse gas emissions (7.19 kgCO2e/day).  On the other end of the spectrum, vegetarians produced around half the amount of emissions (3.81 kgCO2e/day), while vegans produced less than half the amount of emissions (2.89 kgCO2e/day)!  Isn’t that insane?!  By just changing your diet, you can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate change!

In a list of top 10 foods for which reduced consumption correlated with reduced greenhouse gas emissions, beef was #1, nonfat dry milk was #2, pork was #3, and chicken was #4.  If you want to see a detailed list of greenhouse gas emissions related to different foods, click here!

Hippie Homeowner Habits

IMG_20170131_170258164_HDRSo I did promise that this was not going to be a vegan rant.  And it’s not!  But I hope you read this and think about how much meat you eat on a daily basis.  Do you eat meat with every single meal?  Maybe reduce it to once a day.  Maybe you just eat meat at dinner time.  If this is you, try to incorporate “Meatless Monday” into your week.

There are tons of delicious recipes in the world that don’t contain meat.  So this week, my challenge to you is to go forth and find them.  See how many times you can make a decent meal that doesn’t have meat.  See if you can cut out red-meat altogether, even if you aren’t quite ready to hop on the vegetarian bandwagon.  Take baby steps.  That’s how I got started!

And if you’re not sure where to look for good recipes, here are some of the blogs I’ve started checking out:

Simple Vegan Blog: Looks like they’ve got some more cheese recipes for me to try!

Oh She Glows: Lots of vegan recipes across the board!  I think her Roasted Tomato Pizza is next on my list!

Naturally Ella: Great for seasonal vegetarian meals so you can also focus on local ingredients.

Cookie and Kate: She has a dog and fantastic vegetarian recipes.  What more can I say?

Top With Cinnamon: This one isn’t exclusively vegan/ vegetarian, but she has tons of meat-free recipes.  I’ve been following her on pinterest for ages and her pictures make me drool!

Going the Extra Mile

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So let’s say you want to go vegan.  How do you get started?  Well first off, take it SLOW!  It’s relatively easy to go “vegan” and not get all of the nutrition you need.  I mean…oreos are technically vegan.  So do your research and make sure that you are still getting all of the nutrients you need from your diet.  A great resource to check out is The Vegan Society.  They have lots of information about how to get all of your nutrition from a vegan diet.  I highly recommend joining a support group as well.  I’m part of the Vegan Beginners 101 group on Facebook and it’s a really fun, supportive community!

In Summary

If you think about it, we live in a pretty crazy world if burping cows can contribute to climate change.  But that’s the truth of it!  And even though we can’t ask cows to “please stop belching”, there are some other actions we can take:

  1. Reduce your consumption of red meat and try to remove it from your diet entirely.
  2. Try to increase the number of times you have a vegetarian/ vegan meal each week.
  3. Do your research and see if a vegetarian/ vegan diet is doable for you.  If it isn’t, think about starting with the basics and working your way up.

Disclaimer

I felt like I needed to add this section this week.  Do NOT put your pets on a vegan diet if they are not herbivores!  Cats and dogs are carnivorous and need meat to be healthy!  It’s different for humans because we are omnivores and don’t necessarily need meat if we get our nutrition from other places.  And please do your research before making any huge dietary shift.  You want to help the planet, but you also want to stay healthy :).

*Anthropogenic: Originating from human activity

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