When I decided to try a vegan lifestyle, the only thing I knew for sure was that it would mean excluding meat, dairy and any animal products from my life.
I saw it from a nutritional viewpoint. I had to find substitutions for all my favorite snacks and desserts like buying or making nice cream, which is blended fruit like bananas or strawberries with peanut butter or vegan chocolate chips, instead of regular ice cream, using agave nectar instead of honey, eating vegan salt and vinegar chips instead of BBQ chips and ordering tofu instead of chicken skewers.
I never thought about how being vegan would affect my carbon footprint. In fact, I had not thought about my carbon footprint since my seventh grade earth science teacher had the class log their weekly activities to calculate greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide produced on a regular basis.
Studies done by Oxford University in 2014 found that someone who eats at least 3.5 ounces of meat a day – about the size of an iPhone – generates 15.8 pounds of carbon-dioxide each day, while vegetarians and vegans produce 6.4 to 8.4 pounds. Our actions and choices leave an everlasting footprint on the world, but the way we prepare our food can reduce these results.
Animals increase air pollution
By the time a cheeseburger is placed onto a plate, the meat and dairy products have undergone an energy depleting journey that begins with the creation and system of the farms. Forests – which absorb greenhouse gases – are cut down through deforestation methods to supply farmland and grow crops for farmed animals. Animal manure releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and the chain of feeding grain and water to farm animals, killing them and then processing, transporting and storing their flesh, requires extensive amounts of energy.
Factory farms also produce enormous amounts of methane due to the acres of cesspools filled with feces that billions of chickens, turkeys, pigs and cows excrete. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has shown that animal agriculture is globally the single largest source of methane emissions and is more than 25 times as effective as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.
Food’s carbon footprint is the collective production of greenhouse gas emissions released by growing, rearing, farming, processing, transporting, storing, cooking and disposing of the food people eat. Although methane does not linger in the atmosphere for as long as carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas absorbs the sun’s heat and warms the atmosphere at such high rates that it is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Scientists at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden calculated ways to combat climate change and found that cutting greenhouse-gas emissions from transportation and energy is not enough. Fredrik Hedenus, lead scientist of the study, said reducing meat and dairy consumption is key to bringing agricultural climate pollution down to safe levels.
Agaly De Jesus, junior kinesiology major at the University of La Verne, was a vegan for two years before turning to a vegetarian diet. De Jesus said she learned about carbon footprints after conducting her own research.
“I first heard about carbon footprint in ‘Forks Over Knives’ and ‘Cowspiracy’ when I was 18 or 19,” De Jesus said.
“Forks Over Knives” is a documentary about using food as medicine, and “Cowspiracy” is an environmental documentary that focuses on the destruction animal agriculture inflicts on the world.
“Making people watch interviews or movies about it would educate them and make them aware of their impacts,” De Jesus said.
De Jesus said her introduction to biology class at the University briefly went over carbon footprints.
“It’s not a conversation that comes up,” De Jesus said. “I somewhat grazed over it in my class, but getting people to actually care about it is a struggle sometimes.”
De Jesus suggested making small changes like meatless Mondays, an idea developed by the U.S. Food Administration during World War I to reduce food consumption. Meatless Mondays were reintroduced in 2003 when health advocate Sid Lerner started a campaign to raise awareness on preventable diseases associated with meat consumption.
Noel Cabrera, senior public relations major, gradually became a vegan after eating a vegetarian diet for four months. He narrowed down his dietary decisions to three main reasons.
“Health reasons are probably the main concern that I have,” Cabrera said. “The second is environmental, and the last is for moral and ethical reasons.”
Cabrera said he regularly researches medical journals and documentaries to stay motivated and informed.
“Looking at the mistreatment of animals will shock you for a week or two, but when you research and learn about the environmental repercussions, it makes you stick to a plant-based diet.”
Cabrera did his senior project on the environmental effects deforestation has had on Costa Rica.
“School doesn’t teach us about it,” Cabrera said. “Our generation itself could slowly start moving towards more environmentally friendly ways of feeding ourselves.”
Cabrera interns with Planet Rehab, a non-profit organization in San Dimas that works towards conserving nature and preserving the Earth.
“Humans could totally save the planet, but we don’t care enough,” Cabrera said. “It all revolves around greed.”
A greener future
For his senior project, Cabrera organized an on campus event for Planet Rehab and invited professor of biology and biochemistry Jay Jones to speak about the environmental crisis in Costa Rica.
Jones has worked at the University for 30 years and has traveled to Costa Rica, Guatemala, Ecuador, Belize, Borneo, Japan and Baja California to learn and educate others on environmental issues.
The self-titled “white coat” can almost always be spotted walking around campus in his white lab coat and said he will talk about the prevalent environmental crisis with anyone who will listen. Jones said there are three types of footprints: institutional, national and individual.
The professor tries to reduce the University’s institutional footprint by turning off the lights in the Mainiero hallway. He also placed signs under the large oak trees that beautify our campus to prevent people from stepping on the roots. Many of the trees in front of Miller Hall have been affected by students and visitors stepping on their roots, which impacts the soil and kills the trees.
“Of course, the footprint we have the most control over is the individual,” Jones said.
Jones hosted “Off Fossil Fuels: On To The Clean Energy Revolution” May 13 in Mainiero Hall. A small group of students and community activist members watched a livestream video from offfossilfuels.org and shared ideas on how to be active scientists.
Jones works on reducing his individual footprint by not eating poultry. He said his dietary decisions comes from an ethical viewpoint, as he grew up raising chickens in Illinois. He owns an electric powered Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf and invites anyone to use his cars. The “white coat” said eight people have taken him up on his offer.
Tips for reducing carbon footprint include eating a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Livestock farming produces 20 to 50 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, and a vegan diet has the lowest carbon footprint at just 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide.
Purchasing locally grown food reduces the carbon footprint by cutting down the chain of transportation. Eating organically raised crops is another way to lessen the footprint because organic-certified farms must use natural methods for soil fertilization, weed prevention and pest control.
Gabriella Chikhani can be reached at email@example.com.