This Earth Day, why not adopt a four-pronged approach to saving the planet?

April 22, 2013 | Tita

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For more than 40 years, Earth Day, celebrated on April 22, has been inspiring people to protect the environment. Quickly -- off the top of your head, what is the single most important thing you can do to lessen your impact on the earth? Recycle your newspapers? Drive a hybrid car or take public transit? All these actions really do help but nothing helps more than reducing or eliminating your consumption of meat (having fewer children helps too but this isn’t something you can easily employ retroactively!)Long shadow.

Numerous scientific investigations including a recent United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) study advocate eating less meat in order to avoid further environmental damage, because current farming practices are destroying the natural world.  Another UN study, Livestock’s Long Shadow, reports that the livestock sector is one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental damage, both locally and globally.

Animal farming is related to land degradation, climate change, air and water pollution, water shortages and loss of biodiversity. Pollution from fertilizers threatens human health and the environment by causing toxic algal blooms –- and 80 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizers is consumed indirectly by livestock. Did you know it takes 420 gallons of water to produce one pound of grain-fed chicken?  And the amount of manure produced by factory farms is three times greater than the amount produced by humans? According to the United Nations, “A substantial reduction of impacts [from agriculture] would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change away from animal products.”

Per-capita meat consumption has more than doubled in the past 50 years and global population continues to increase. ThWorldwatch coverse overall demand for meat has increased five-fold, putting increasing pressure on the availability of water, land, feed, fertilizer, fuel and waste disposal capacity. The Worldwatch Institute posits that meat consumption is a driving force behind deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities and the spread of disease. Switching to a vegan diet can cut 90 percent of the total emissions your eating habits contribute to global warming, while, according to data from Carnegie Mellon University, switching to all-local foods will only reduce emissions by four percent! Read more in Worldwatch Institute’ Ryan kales ejournal available free with your library card.

Reducing your meat consumption is soooo easy now –- start with Forks Over Knives (also available in DVD and ebook) and the Forks Over Knives cookbook. A vegetarian diet will also help you lose weight, lower your cholesterol and prevent (or even reverse) chronic conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes and help you look hot. The right food not only helps the planet but is your best medicine.


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Avoiding meat also means avoiding the consumption of fecal material as almost 90 percent of all store-bought meat shows contact with Enterococcus faecium –- a bacteria in fecal matter. As strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria become more commonplace because of their use in factory farming, the less we are able to use the drugs to treat human disease.
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Need some support? Join Toronto Vegetarian Association for nutritional information, podcasts, menu ideas and restaurant advice; is another great resource. Check out all the amazing veg blogs out there and sign up to receive regular emails so you always have new recipe ideas for inspiration. Take part in’s Vegan Challenge because a vegan diet has even less of an environmental impact (a 2009 study by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency reported that transitioning to a vCat and Cowegan diet would mitigate climate change costs by around 80 percent whereas just eliminating meat reduces costs by around 70 percent). To quote one rabble blogger, “It sounds overwhelming. It sounds impossible. But so does ending gender-based violence or eliminating institutional racism... We can tackle the Vegan Challenge the same way we do global injustice, by starting with small daily actions.”

Food choices matters. Every time we sit down to eat, each of us can help create a greener, kinder and healthier world simply by leaving animals off our plates.