Earth Month Exchange

May 2, 2024
3 mins read

Savannah Ramirez ’27
Guest Writer

It’s so easy to go through the business of our daily lives, utilizing all of the conveniences of packaged foods, fast food, and other options while forgoing any thought on their environmental implications. Throughout Earth Month we should all take this time to reflect on our collective and individual actions to mitigate waste. As members of the rising generation, we have a responsibility to call for and be the necessary change to a more sustainable future. Our lives and the lives of those who come after us will be impacted by the choices and actions we take today. One of the easiest ways that we as individuals can decrease our individual footprint is by reducing our consumption of animal products.

Our consumption of meat has increased drastically over the past decades and continues to rise, which poses problematic health, environmental, and ethical impacts. The agricultural production of meat and other animal products produces an exponentially greater amount of waste than that of the dining halls. According to the feed conversion ratios, cited by Forbes, “Chickens typically require between 1.5 and 1.9 kg of feed to grow 1 kg of body wight. Cattle, meanwhile, require between 4.5 kg and 7.5 kg of feed to grow just 1 kg, and pork falls somewhere between the two.” This creates a problematic amount of waste within the system before the food even lands on our plates, as the production process requires more calories than the actual calories of meat produced. Animal products produce 100% to 2,500% more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than plant-based foods, with meat at the higher end of the spectrum. This doesn’t mean that we need to commit to being 100% vegan or vegetarian. Each meal that cuts out these high-impact foods is a step in the right direction and can make a difference. 

The dining halls on campus have initiatives to increase their sustainability, but students need to pressure them to take further action. In 2002, some students from Scripps Professor Nancy Nieman’s food politics class tried working with the dining hall manager to implement a Meatless Monday model, but this was perceived as a punishment by the students. Why does a decrease in meat constitute such a punchback when it helps honor the Earth environmentally, socially, and ethically? Many schools in the U.S. have begun the process of implementing more plant-based models to achieve their goals of providing healthy options for students and lowering their contributions to climate change. The LA Unified School District has been working to make changes to its cafeterias and implemented a Meatless Monday model in 2012. Additionally, in New York, Mayor de Blasio pushed for Meatless Monday in all public schools in 2019 to help decrease GHG emissions. These institutions have pushed for Meatless Mondays to combat these issues, making plant-based eaters feel more included and “flexitarians” more appreciative of the opportunity to explore new, environmentally friendly options.

While we should all work to reduce our consumption of meat individually, we are stronger in numbers. The previous pushback around Mindful Monday and other plant-forward initiatives are valid as “changing human behavior, especially regarding something as important and intimate as the food we eat, is challenging, no matter a person’s age.” It can be a hard switch, especially with the social and political influences. Some people may never fully abstain from animal products, but it is about doing the best we can as individuals to lower the amount we are consuming. This combined with pushing for institutional changes, like more readily available options in the dining halls, is a starting ground for bringing awareness to the unsustainable model of the agricultural industry. As Hannah Hughes PO ’25 framed it, “ It’s a fine line, because we need to fight corporations, we need to go up against these bigger institutions, but at the same time you as an individual also do have power.”  We need to start exercising this power to bring forth the changes in our communities that will set us in the direction of reducing our emissions, and caring for our planet. 

Plant-forward campaigns help bring awareness to the political and exploitative model of factory farming and animal agriculture. This shift allows us an opportunity to reflect on the industries’ contribution to GHGs, deforestation, chronic disease, infectious diseases, pollution, and many more issues. Our demand for these products allows these companies to maintain their power.  We need to decrease our demand, whether that be through institutional programs like Meatless Monday or individual choices, to make the industries aware of our disapproval of their practices. An increase in plant-based and lower emission options at the dining halls allows students to easily, “take control and make those climate-friendly decisions every day, three times a day when they’re eating their meals,” said Hughes.  Not only is eating a plant-forward diet better for the health of the planet, but it can reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol to name a few. A small shift, while it seems to have no grand effect, can add up to help the health of the environment, animals, and our health. We all have an option at every meal, so which option will you choose?

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