You may have seen meat-free tables popping up during Monday dinner in your college, or, if you’re in Calhoun, you might have friends that participate in the Vegan Vednesday table. Organized by the Yale Office of Sustainability, these informal tables are part of a wider Meatless Mondays movement which has been gaining popularity on college campuses throughout the world. The movement encourages students to opt for a meat-free meal one day a week for the sake of their health, the environment and animal welfare. Whether you’re a proud vegetarian or a chicken tenders lover, these tables give us all reason to pause to consider the broader implications of the choices we make at mealtimes.
To start with the environmental side of the issue, it is quickly becoming common knowledge that eating meat is simply not sustainable. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says that animal agriculture is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” The same report says that the livestock sector is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector. In terms of lifestyle changes, reducing meat consumption is even more commendable than driving a Prius, or riding your bike to work. It is an unfortunate fact about the current discourse around climate change that industrial agriculture is often left on the sidelines, but research clearly shows that human carbon emissions are closely linked with human meat consumption. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading expert body on the issue, says: “In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive opportunity.” Pachauri recommends individuals first give up meat one day a week and then decrease their consumption from there.
If environmental considerations weren’t enough, there is also the animal welfare side. We have all watched the videos portraying animals being beaten and tortured to death in the already gruesome living conditions on factory farms. And to be sure, there are many things terribly wrong with the way that animals are treated in the meat industry. However, the one that gets me the most is the way that pigs are treated. If you haven’t seen the videos of Esther the Wonder Pig bathing in her kiddie pool or playing with her owners Steve and Derek, then I strongly recommend following her on Facebook. Unfortunately, millions of pigs aren’t as lucky as Esther.
The reality is that most pigs spend their lives in heartbreaking conditions on factory farms. Many pigs in the United States are kept in “gestation crates” — cages for mother pigs so small that the pig inside cannot stand or turn around for her entire life. It is common for pigs to begin to obsessively gnaw at the bars of their cage, or to show other signs of mental trauma. Basically, they go insane. Their life presents a stark contrast to Esther’s. And all this before they are slaughtered and turned into bacon and pork. It should be further emphasized that this does not represent the isolated cruelty of a few disillusioned workers. This cruelty is standard industry practice, and we condone it every time we put pork on our plates. This situation sounds dire, and it is, but there is a positive upshot — each and every one of us has the opportunity three times a day to help improve this situation. By choosing to leave animal products off our plate at our next meal, we can substantially cut our carbon footprint, and we can help the billions (yes, billions) of animals currently kept on factory farms in the U.S.
Reducing meat consumption can seem like a significant lifestyle change. I understand — I used to be a bacon lover myself. However, the impact that each of us can make is tremendous, and many find that the change is not nearly as difficult as it first seems. At the very least, it is worth taking the first step and trying it for one day. Show your college sustainability coordinators that they have your support and sit down with them at your college’s next Meatless Monday table.
Robert Yaman is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.