What to Eat: The Environmental Impacts of our Food

Voiced by Jason Schwartzman

What we eat matters.

Small decisions we make every day about what we eat can make a huge difference. Going vegan may be a big step, but simply lessening our meat consumption still goes a long way. If we all pledged to eat meat free meals throughout the week, we'd not only be healthier individuals but our planet would benefit too.

Hear from the experts.

We've interviewed some of the top experts in food and environmental fields to learn more about factory farming and its impact on the environment.

Pledge a meat free day

Do you think you could eat vegetarian for a whole day? It's easier than you might think. There's a ton of food that's good for you and the environment.

A meat free day

Pledge a meat free month

You're ready for a challenge. Not eating meat for only a day was a piece of cake. You found some awesome vegetarian recipes and are ready to try them out. Do you think you could eat meat free for an entire month?

A meat free month

Pledge to be meat free

You're ready for a lifestyle change, whether it's motivated by your health, the environment, animal welfare, or a combination of the three. This is a big step, but we think you can do it.

To be meat free

Facts about factory farming

1. Global Warming

The majority of global warming is caused by the gases carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. According to the 2006 United Nations report, Livestock's Long Shadow, animal agriculture generates 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, including 9 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, 37 percent of methane emissions and 65 percent of nitrous oxide emissions worldwide.

2. Manure

Animals raised for food in the U.S. produce more manure than people. This manure is not treated and is stored in lagoons or sprayed onto crops. As it decomposes, urine and manure from farm animals releases hazardous gases into the atmosphere. Manure from factory farm operations contains pollutants such as antibiotics, pathogens, heavy metals, nitrogen and phosphorous, which, through manure lagoon leaks or spills enter into the environment and threaten water quality across the country.

3. Land use

Vast tracts of land are being destroyed to fuel the world's growing addition to meat, dairy and eggs. Scientists at the Smithsonian Institute say that the equivalent of seven football fields is bulldozed every minute for animal agriculture. Hundreds of millions of acres of forests and rainforests worldwide have already been cleared for livestock grazing or animal feed crops, resulting in a loss of biodiversity and additional CO2 being released into the atmosphere.

4. Inefficiency

Growing crops to feed animals is a very inefficient system that wastes valuable resources. It takes an average of 16 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of beef and takes 11 times as much fossil fuel to make 1 calorie from animal protein as 1 calorie from plant protein.

5. Water usage

It takes an estimated 4,000 gallons of water to produce one day of animal-based food for the average American. One day of plant-based food only requires about 300 gallons. According to the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, "87 percent of the use of freshwater in the U.S. is used in agriculture, primarily irrigation." Worldwide, agriculture accounts for 93 percent of water depletion, with the vast majority of freshwater used for farm animal feed production. Factory farming wastes so much water that you can save as much water by not eating a pound of beef as you can by not showering for almost six months.

6. Air Pollution

The EPA reports that roughly 80 percent of ammonia emissions in the United States come from animal waste. Atmospheric ammonia can disrupt aquatic ecosystems, ruin soil quality, damage crops and jeopardize human health.

7. Water pollution

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), agriculture is the single largest source of water pollution in rivers and lakes, and the waste from factory farms is a significant part of the problem. In fact, waste generated by factory farms has already polluted over 35,000 miles of river in 22 states and has contaminated groundwater in 17 states.