In 2021, when Yale announced a new target of net zero carbon emissions by 2035, President Salovey made a “simple commitment: every part of Yale will do its part.” Two years on, that most quintessential part of Yale – the dining hall – still hasn’t gotten the memo. Two to three meals a day, seven days a week, we are served a diet heavy on meat and light on carbon reduction. We don’t need to get rid of every beloved burger and fajita to begin balancing things out. Instead, Yale should follow the example of other schools across the country and supplement Taco Tuesday and Chicken Tender Thursday with one more alliterative affair: Meatless Monday, one day a week when the dining hall commits to serving vegetarian fare.
It is hard to overstate the impact of the food industry on our planet. Conversations about climate change naturally tend to focus on conspicuous emitters, like cars and planes, but the impact of these gas-guzzling beasts pales next to the global toll of agriculture. Estimates vary, but food systems are thought to comprise a whopping quarter to a third of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Animal agriculture alone accounts for nearly 15 percent of global emissions, more than the entire transportation sector combined.
As this last statistic shows, all foods are not created equal. Eating meat is an almost uniquely inefficient form of human nourishment. Indeed, animal products account for over 80 percent of farmland worldwide but make up less than 20 percent of all calories consumed. The tradeoff between the calories required to raise meat is even more striking. Roughly 25 calories of feed are required to create one calorie of beef. For chicken, the most “efficient” meat, this ratio is nine-to-one. Imagine if you had to throw out nine platefuls of pasta each time you wanted spaghetti in the dining hall.
Around the world, natural ecosystems are on the brink of collapse from the weight of meat production. In the Gulf of Mexico, a hypoxic dead zone larger than the combined size of Rhode Island and Delaware has been linked to fecal runoff pollution from factory farming. In the Amazon, roughly 80 percent of deforestation is estimated to come from land cleared for meat production. Fish consumption is no less taxing on natural ecosystems. Around three-quarters of all fisheries worldwide are depleted from overfishing. Trawling, a widespread practice in which heavy nets are dragged across the ocean floor, was recently estimated to release one gigaton of carbon dioxide every year from deep-sea sediments. That’s more than annual pre-pandemic emissions from the entire aviation industry.
While we’re mainly focusing on the climate impacts of the meat industry here, we should not forget that there is a fundamental difference between factory farming and the factories that churn out cement or fast fashion. At the bottom of each of the statistics we have mentioned is an animal fighting for its breath, just as we would do if we were in its place. Humans have eaten animals for as long as we’ve been humans — there’s no question about that — but the vast economies of scale that allow the meat served in our dining halls to be so cheap have opened up novel opportunities for production and suffering. We have all seen the grainy, black-and-white footage of chickens slaughtered and pigs penned so tight that they cannot stand. There is a reason that these clips are always shot undercover: the meat industry knows that what they are doing is wrong, and they do their best to hide it.
Refraining from meat once a week as a campus community won’t erase the damage done to our planet and our conscience by factory farming, but it’s a good first step. Across the country, schools of all forms and sizes have implemented Meatless Mondays with great success. Colleges like Emory, Franklin and Marshall and Johns Hopkins have proven the feasibility of the program and can serve as models for its implementation at Yale. Perhaps even more impressively, New York City public schools recently introduced Meatless Monday and are now serving vegetarian-only meals on the first day of the week to over a million students.
The idea of Meatless Mondays originated over 80 years ago as a part of a rationing campaign in World War II. Just as that rationing effort was part of a larger struggle, Meatless Mondays at Yale would play a small but significant part in accomplishing a much broader goal. As President Salovey said, our commitment to combating climate change need not always be complex. Something as simple as abstaining from meat once a week as a campus community can make a difference.
Immanuel Bissell is a junior in Pierson College. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Gabriel Colburn is a junior in Trumbull College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.