Recognize the negative effects of animal consumption
Though active, the environmentalist movement on this campus has been almost blind to one issue in particular — animal consumption. While it tries arduously to curb electricity usage, encourage recycling and fight for divestment from fossil fuels, it misses the point that mitigating climate change and its effects must include a plan to reduce our reliance on meat, fish and animal products. Brandeis will never be taken seriously as an environmentally friendly campus until the institution, the faculty, the students and the environmental movement on campus start to seriously grapple with the fact that what we put on our plates every day is a large catalyst for climate change.
It is important to note, however, ways in which Brandeis is already addressing the destructive nature of animal agriculture. There are a significant number of vegetarians and vegans on campus; decent food options for them in our dining halls and efforts like Meatless Monday show how many Brandeisians are conscious of the way meat consumption affects our planet. On a personal note, when I have talked to students, shown videos or handed out leaflets about reducing meat consumption through the Brandeis Veg Club, I received a lot of positive reactions, and many people seem to already understand the issues, furthering my idea of the student body as a particularly knowledgeable group.
Yet our campus is not talking enough about the issue or doing enough to create the urgent changes warranted.
Animal agriculture is one of the biggest causes of climate change today. It accounts for the use of 30 percent of the world’s non-ice surface and one-third of the world’s fresh water, according to a Dec. 16, 2013 Time article. Additionally, in 2006, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that “18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions is directly attributable to livestock production, which is more than the emissions attributable to the entire transportation sector.” In terms of deforestation, the World Bank found that “90 percent of the razing of the Brazilian Amazon” is connected to the production of animal agriculture, according to a 2004 report. Fishing is also an environmental hazard: It is responsible for an estimated 75 percent of the world’s fisheries being exploited or depleted, according to a Nov. 3, 2006 study published in Science magazine.
The case for consuming less meat, fish, dairy and eggs for environmental purposes is very well-founded. According to a Dec. 14, 2005 article in The New Scientist, the switch from a “normal diet” to a vegan diet would prevent 50 percent more emissions than the switch from a “normal car” to a Prius. So why is the image of an environmentalist, on this campus and beyond, still a Prius driver and not a vegan?
Too often it seems that these diet considerations are lost from conversations about environmentalism on campus. Case in point: The Climate Action Plan, a 26-page document written by the President’s Task Force on Campus Sustainability from October 2016, outlines a list of ways that the University can “reduce emissions relatively quickly.” While the plan contains many common sense ideas — both tried-and-true and more innovative ones — the focus was mainly on areas such as transportation, buildings and renewable energy. Day-to-day efforts include increasing recycling and composting rates along with conserving electricity in buildings. What was notably missing from the plan was any mention of reducing our reliance on animal products on campus. The issues inherent in animal agriculture as it exists cannot simply be ignored if we, as a community, want to commit in a serious, meaningful way to environmental protection.
Linked to the Climate Action Plan and the Task Force, the Brandeis Sustainability Fund — now in its second year — has never included a project related directly to Brandeis’ meat consumption, even though a project of that nature could effectively save even more resources.
Another example is that each semester, Brandeis Student Union Dining Committee puts on a “Meatless Monday” in Sherman for dinner where Sodexo makes only dishes without meat or fish. And each semester, while the committee generally receives a lot of positive feedback, there are also a lot of grumbles and angry comments generally regarding the lack of meat for the one meal, dramatized to make it seem as if a basic necessity has been taken away. However, meat is not a necessity because it has been shown that among vegetarians and non-vegetarians with similar lifestyles, vegetarians are proven to have a lower risk of heart disease, according to a study from the American Society for Clinical Nutrition.
A final issue surrounding the lack of conversation about factory farming practices is its absence from environmental classes. While I have only taken three Environmental Studies classes at Brandeis, all three at some point dealt with our food system, climate change or animals themselves. However, the classes steered away from addressing animal agriculture in a serious way and were reluctant to discuss the issue head-on in the curriculum.
In general, the only academic interactions that we have with animals are in biology classes where we learn about them in purely scientific, bodily terms. While some larger universities have specific programs for animal behavior or ethology, Brandeis offers one class on the matter each year. While that is understandable for the size of our school and for its academic focuses, it leaves a huge gap in the academic offerings related to animals. Even in my Introduction to Psychology class, the connection between human health, behavior and psychology to those of animals was never explicitly mentioned, even though there are prominent movements now that can connect human health and behavior with that of other animals.
We must therefore wrestle with how our glaring hole in discussing animal agriculture issues can be in part attributed to a glaring hole in our empathy toward — and conversations revolving around — farm animals and their treatment. After all, people living on campus have limited daily interactions with animals, let alone the sort of animals that would end up on our plates. We do not have access to “farms” that raise meat or slaughterhouses that end their lives, and the only animals that can be found at Brandeis are a few pet fishes, an occasional dog being walked, the rodents used in research and, of course, the meat on our plates.
Like most people, Brandeisians are prone to cuddle the “therapy dogs” and eat a burger right after, not thinking about the cognitive dissonance inherent in that. We have to start the conversation and give some kind of a voice on campus to the creatures in the world. In 2016 alone, 4.6 billion farm animals were killed, according to the Humane Society. This trend seems to be changing as more and more people are understanding that while using reusable cups, reducing air travel or attending climate marches are important steps for reducing environmental degradation, one of the most impactful and bold stands against climate change is simply leaving meat, dairy and eggs off our plates.
Let’s incorporate factory farming of animals into our environmental conversations and initiatives on and off campus. Let’s add empathy and behavioral observation into our conversations about farm animals. And let’s remember that keeping meat, fish, eggs and dairy off our plates is a simple and impactful way to choose compassion and help prevent further climate change.