When we think of farm animals, we may picture chickens clucking in a barnyard or cows idly chewing in a field. Sadly, this is not the reality for the millions of animals in the U.S. who are raised in unsanitary and inhumane animal factories, also called “concentrated animal feeding operations” (or CAFOs). Not only are these operations cruel to the animals, but this manner of “production” weighs heavily on the environment.
Cows, for example, are herbivores and meant by nature to be grass-eating. Grasses are naturally abundant and require just soil, water and sunlight to grow. However, cows raised in animal factories don’t eat grass, but are instead fed grain – mostly corn and soy – that is grown using a fossil-fuel intensive blend of fertilizers and herbicides. Our most fertile topsoil is, thus, reserved for growing corn, unfit for human consumption, to feed animals who weren’t meant to eat it in the first place! Meanwhile, animal waste in an animal factory is not cycled back into the land, but rather contained in large, putrid manure lagoons that release methane and seep into groundwater. Given this grim reality, one of the most important ways you can reduce your impact on the planet is to eliminate industrial meat and dairy products from your diet.
By contrast, 100 percent grass-fed beef is better for the animal, the environment, and our health. In fact, well-managed perennial grass and rangelands capture carbon dioxide from the air and store it as carbon in the soil. Rangelands, unsuitable to grow other crops, account for up to 70% of the earth’s land by some estimates. While the demand for grass-fed meat is growing at 20% annually, it still only represents an estimated 3% of total beef consumption in the U.S.
While grass-fed meat and dairy is healthier, more humane and more climate friendly than grain-fed meat and dairy, it commands a premium and is seasonal so you may want to reduce your meat and dairy consumption as well. Overall, meat consumption in the U.S. is far beyond sustainable levels, so reducing how much meat you eat—and choosing more sustainable meat when you do eat it—is a great way to be climate-smart.
Eliminating industrial meat and dairy from your diet may make you wonder, “Where will I get my protein?” Beans, nuts and legumes contain high levels of proteins, and dark leafy greens tend to be chock full of amino acids – the building blocks of proteins. Take this as an opportunity to expand your palate and experiment in the kitchen!