The Meatless Mondays campaign’s success is nothing short of a phenomenon. Schools, city governments, even entire armies have taken to the program—giving up meat one day a week—in order to enhance human health and curb our impact on the environment.
But a new study finds that if you’re still eating dairy products on your Meatless Monday (or any other day), you’re doing the planet no big favor.
According to AlterNet:
Surprisingly, when comparing a USDA recommended diet of 2,534 versus 2,000 calories, [the study authors] found shifting calorie consumption down to 2,000 calories only decreased greenhouse gas emissions by 1 percent. Moreover, shifting to the healthier, recommended USDA diet, while still eating 2,534 calories, would actually increase emissions by 12 percent overall. Their reasoning? Dairy. Decreasing calories by 20 percent is one thing, but “decreased quantities of meat, poultry, and eggs and an increased need for dairy in the diet,” is another, and it plays a large role in why the drop in emissions is not higher.
For all intents and purposes, there is no environmental distinction between meat and dairy products. Just like animals who are raised for their flesh, animals who produce dairy require large amounts of food (which are most often genetically modified and reliant on herbicides and pesticides harmful to the environment), water and other resources. They produce methane too, which is a leading contributor to greenhouse gases. And dairy cows live about twice as long as beef cattle, meaning each cow is producing twice as much methane over her lifetime.
“For all practical purposes, we should expect that the environmental impact associated with our diet would decrease when we decrease caloric intake in general,” said study author Martin C. Heller from the University of Michigan. “But obviously the point of that study is it depends on what you eat.”
And certainly from an ethical standpoint, the suffering of a dairy cow may be significantly more profound than that of beef cattle. From her constant artificial impregnation to keep her lactating “fresh” milk and the painful mechanized milking machines that lead to infected udders, to the longer lifetime enduring these conditions—which can last 5 years or more for a dairy cow compared with 15-20 months for beef cattle—the argument for choosing both milk-free and Meatless Mondays is strong.
Certainly, if you are going to consume any animal products, don’t let them go to waste. Heller says that the amount of food waste in the U.S. is “roughly equivalent in greenhouse gas emissions to the savings the U.S. would realize, as a country, going to a completely vegetarian diet.”
Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
Related on Organic Authority