Meatless meals help reduce environmental footprint

Earlier this year, my husband spent four weeks in Guatemala attending Spanish language school and living in a Guatemalan home.

Margarita, the owner, provided three meals a day. The Guatemalan diet includes a lot of corn, beans and plantains. She did not serve large portions of meat and. in fact, Margarita often made vegetarian meals with beans providing the protein.

Imagine my surprise when my husband, a diehard meat and potatoes guy, on his return to the Keys declared that he enjoyed the occasional vegetarian meal and we should incorporate that into our routine.

After a couple of years of trying to convince him to do this, it took a trip to Guatemala and the veteran cooking skills of a lady who knew how to use simple ingredients and less meat to create tasty filling meals to make it happen.

I have my own reasons for wanting to cut back the amount of meat in our diet -- our health and the environmental impact of the livestock industry.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports the global livestock industry generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all the planes, trains and automobiles on the planet. The industry consumes nearly 10 percent of the world’s freshwater resources, and 80 percent of farmland is devoted to the production of meat.

And there’s more to come. Meat consumption in developing countries has doubled from 31 pounds in 1980 to 62 pounds in 2002, and meat production will double by 2050.

If everyone had one meatless day a week, the resulting reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the course of the year would be as though the U.S. had switched from cars running at 22 mpg to cars running at 50 mpg. It would save about 1 ton of water -- enough to fill up the bathtub 22 times per week -- and 12 billion gallons of gasoline.

We are not going meatless, we have just made a small adjustment in our dinner plans. Once a week, I cook up some rice and beans, a vegetable lasagna or a rice and vegetable stir-fry. It really is very easy. In my case, it took a trip to Guatemala to make it happen. You don’t have to go that far.

-- Shirley Gun is a member of the Keyswide nonprofit Green Living & Energy Education. She writes about green living and the four R’s -- reducing, reusing, recycling and rot (compost). She can be reached at