Borde: The value of conscientious consumption


Akash Borde, Columnist

Most people don’t put too much thought into what they eat at the dining hall. After all, a simple swipe gives us students access to a plethora of food options — all paid for in advance.

It’s easy to fill up your plate without thinking where your food comes from. But knowing how your food gets to your plate is important because some of that food is really bad for the environment.

Just two weeks ago, the Netherlands Nutrition Centre, a government program, issued a warning that everybody should limit his or her meat consumption to no more than two servings a week. We should all take this suggestion into account because the facts are clear: Meat consumption has a strong negative impact on the environment.

Raising livestock requires significant resources. It takes an enormous amount of land and water to raise a cow — almost 74.5 square feet of land and roughly 50 gallons of water — in order to make a quarter-pound burger.

Although these statistics are staggering, the biggest problem is not the resources livestock require, but how inefficiently all of these resources are used. Instead of feeding people directly, all of these resources must be used to first raise animals, which are then slaughtered for consumption. This process is wasteful. Researchers estimate that for every calorie consumed from eating meat, it takes anywhere from 5 to 50 calories of plant energy to feed the animal the meat came from.

Additionally, cows emit huge amounts of methane and nitrous oxide, estimated by the United Nations to be more destructive than all of the carbon dioxide humans release through transportation. In fact, if everyone were to stop driving, flying and boating, it would have less of an impact on greenhouse gas emissions than if all farmers decided to stop raising livestock.

In grade school, it wasn’t always easy to make decisions about food by myself. At school, I either ate the questionable-looking school lunch or brought something from home. I dearly miss home-cooked meals, but often there wasn’t much choice about what I could eat at home.

In college, there are so many more options. Choosing food autonomously is a lifelong process that starts now, at the dining halls.

According to the Humane Society, reducing human consumption of animal products by 10 percent will spare about a billion animals per year and decrease harm done by the animal agriculture industry.

Simply saying that meat tastes good doesn’t justify the environmental and economic costs that go into producing it. Even though living on a college campus can feel like a bubble sometimes, we don’t live in a vacuum from the real world. Our consumption choices have a real effect on the world, and we need to keep that in mind as we choose what to eat each day.

Regardless of whether you think slaughtering animals for food is ethically OK, it is hard to ignore the evidence showing how bad meat is for the environment. No matter how good Sargent’s burgers taste, it still doesn’t excuse all of the environmental impact required to produce that food.

Akash Borde is a McCormick freshman. He can be contacted [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.