Kenneth Worthy Ph.D.

The Green Mind

Beef Down, Atmosphere Up

Americans are eating less beef, and it’s good for their bodies and the planet.

Posted Mar 25, 2017

Americans are eating less beef. And that’s not only good for them—it’s good for the planet, too.

According to a report released this week by the Natural Resources Defense Council, discussed in various news outlets, such as The New York Times, between 2005 and 2014, a 19 percent drop in beef consumption, among other changes in Americans’ diets, resulted in a reduction in climate-change pollution equivalent to taking 57 million cars off the road. Eating less beef was at the center of a 10 percent decline in diet-related climate pollution over less than a decade.

A whole cavalcade of benefits follow from eating less meat. One study of half a million people found that those eating the most red meat were 30 percent more likely to die during a 10-year period. Reduced body fat, lower blood pressure, lower risk of heart disease and cancer, more energy, feeling happier, and even smelling better (!) are all potential benefits of eating less meat or entirely plant-based diets, a new, hip movement in American life.

You may have heard of one or more of these benefits. They’re starting to become ingrained in American thought, and the stigmas attached to eating plant-based diets are falling away. People’s health is benefiting from this change, but so are their wallets: plant-based diets are cheaper, and it’s much less expensive to stay healthy than to get sick! The ongoing fights over healthcare in U.S. national politics has a lot to do with the large number of medical bankruptcies taking place in the country: many people’s life savings are wiped out by disease.

Benefits Beyond You

It’s easy (and, for some, such as many national politicians in the U.S., including the new president, politically expedient) to dismiss global climate change as the international emergency it is. The most deleterious consequences happen mostly to other people and poor people in faraway places and will really hit future generations. But it’s far from an abstract problem. As I’ve written before, as many as half a million people may already be getting killed each year as direct consequences of global climate change today.

That’s actual deaths caused by the actual actions of people including most of us living in the industrialized, “rich” nations.

What actions? Our flying, driving, and buying decisions all contribute (doing less of all these things helps). But high on the list, as much as half of all our individual contribution to climate change may come from eating the products of animal agriculture—meat and dairy.

Americans’ bodies and the environment are both doing better with the lower consumption of meat, but the good news doesn’t end there. Less consumption of meat produced by industrial agriculture means less suffering in the world. Billions of factory farmed animals in the U.S. live miserable lives each year, which can weigh on your mind. So eating less meat can be expected to have positive psychic benefits as well.

In my book Invisible Nature: Healing the Destructive Divide between People and the Environment I discuss the myriad environmental damages that we contribute to but that lie beyond our consciousness because they happen elsewhere, to other people. But there's another difficulty of our dissociated modern lives: When people do something GOOD that aligns better with their values, they may also not see the benefits unfolding in the world.

Such is the case for reduced beef consumption. People are feeling better and living longer because of it. But they are also doing INVISIBLE good in the world, helping create a healthy environment for all where global climate change plays out a bit more slowly—and thus reducing the suffering of other people as well as animals.

Well done, America!

My book: Invisible Nature: Healing the Destructive Divide between People and the Environment

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