Going vegetarian is a great way to use your diet to help the environment. To produce a side of beef it takes tons and tons of corn and other kinds of feed–basically, whatever you’re feeding the cow from birth to the day it’s slaughtered. It’s a much more efficient use of the land to grow crops that directly feed people. In addition, meat production generates all kinds of waste, from manure to the animal byproducts themselves. Manure can become toxic sludge that pollutes groundwater very easily. The impact of herds of farm animals on the can actually be negative in other ways, as well, including overgrazing and trampling of local plants and animals.
A person’s diet impacts the environment, as every type of food has an ecological footprint. The energy required for the production of food types depends on the amount of energy neeeded to produce/grow it, the type and distance of transportation, as well as where the food is on the food chain. Whether the food was produced organically or with pesticides, and the farming techniques that the farmers use all influence the ecological footprint of the person who will consume the food. Eating local and organic and vegetarian/vegan is the best way to help the environment through one’s eating habits.
If you really want to better understand how different diets affect the Earth, I would strongly recommend you read Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which looks at a number of different styles of food production and their different effects on the environment.
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