Food Production: What is the cost?

How many times a week do you enjoy a fast food meal from your favorite chain? A better question to ask yourself is how many of those meals contained meat? First, let’s take a look at the factors that play a role in making fast food restaurants a possibility, and the effects of those factors. According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the livestock sector represents “14.5 percent of all human-induced emissions” and “plays an important role in climate change” with “beef” and cow milk production accounting for the majority of emissions. With meat, eggs, and dairy products like milk being the main components used in fast food meals, these numbers are scary.

Then there’s fast-food packaging, which comprises almost half of the litter found on U.S. streets. And, to prevent grease leakage, many fast-food companies coat their paper packaging with a chemical called perfluoroalkyls, which are toxic compounds that can harm the environment along with human health.

Food production has always played a key role in our environment, however the effects of the large-scale food industries are affecting our climate in a negative way. The world’s food and agricultural systems produce more than a quarter of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, and nearly two-thirds of those emissions are linked to animal meat products. That’s especially true for Americans, who consume about three times more meat per person than any other country. The U.S. food system has seen a substantial increase in the animal product output over the past 50 years. Although more food is produced than ever, the current system also leads to unintended environmental consequences, for example an increased rate of pollution. Contaminants are emitted into the environment, are transported and/or transformed, and  eventually are deposited in a location where they may negatively affect human and ecosystem health. These negative effects on human and ecosystem health are most often dealt with through the implementation of new regulations to reduce or eliminate emissions of the contaminants. However, sometimes these regulations can only go so far, and are not guaranteed to be followed by everyone.

How to help.

The good thing about this is that there are small ways that YOU can help reduce your own personal food related carbon footprint. One of the biggest ways, is cutting down on meat intake, or switching to a plant-based diet as a whole. However, going completely meat-free is a difficult thing to jump right into. Let’s go back to our trip to the fast food restaurant, let’s say in general you would go to McDonald’s and order a Big Mac with fries. The next time you go, try to order just a large fry, or a filet-o-fish, which does not contain any beef/chicken products. If you want to take the challenge a little further, cut fast food out entirely, and shop for quick lunches at the grocery store, where there are many more meat free options, that are probably a lot healthier for you too! Aside from many more options, at almost every grocery store they have artificial meat products, like veggie burgers, vegan chicken nuggets, etc. If cutting out meat and fast food is a little too difficult for you, start out by designating a day where you do not eat meat. For example, every Monday could be “meatless” Monday, or every Friday, “fast food free” Friday.