Your silence is a luxury — the reason why I quit eating beef

People quit eating meat for a variety of reasons, but for me, my morality played the biggest role.

A question that has persisted over the last few weeks for me has been "why?" Why give up the delicious convenience of a burger or the luxury of a lasagna pasta dish? What about late night tacos or early morning burritos? 

As great as those things are, and they are amazing, I finally hit a wall of morality. Will I call myself a student of sustainability while destroying the Earth through consuming its resources in a harmful manner? Sure, I can cut my shower times, recycle my plastic waste and turn off the light switch when I leave the room, but I question whether or not these sacrifices are as necessary or powerful as quitting beef consumption.

When we talk about being sustainable, we need to examine the effects of eating beef on water consumption. According to some studies, they estimate one pound of beef requires 1,647 gallons of water. This means your 1/4-pound hamburger can cost the environment 411 gallons of water. Additionally, the amount of pollution that cows cause is concerning. A recent study showed beef consumption accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gases. To put this into perspective, the amount of pollution we produce from planes, cars, ships and trains account for just 13 percent. If you were to quit eating beef, you would reduce your greenhouse gases more than if you stopped using basic transportation. That fact was the turning point for me.

When I think about living in a desert and living within my water footprint, I can’t help but feel I am damaging the environment when I chow down a burger. I don’t want to discredit the hard work of those who recycle or shorten their shower times either. That matters, makes a difference and you should be proud of it. But I want to challenge you, as someone who is a moral human, to think deeper about this issue of excess consumption.

I’m not here to proclaim you should become an outright vegetarian right away either. I have over time cut out one source of meat at a time with only chicken remaining. The first meat that I cut out of my diet was pork (roughly 718 gallons of water per pound). Be proud every time you say no to beef, even if you don't fully cut it out of your diet, because every time you don't, you make a difference — a difference of hundreds of gallons of water.

Can I call myself a student of sustainability knowing full well I live in a desert, and in a world where people are dying from not having their water needs met and still eat beef? I simply can't pass this off every time I take a bite into a piece of water-consuming meat.

A song that has been relevant lately was "White Privilege II" from Macklemore’s latest album. One of the biggest questions it poses is if the change we are working for is genuine. At the climax of the first half of the song, he screams a stanza that struck a few chords with me.

“You can join the march, protest, scream and shout
Get on Twitter, hashtag and seem like you're down
But they see through it all, people believe you now?
You said publicly, 'Rest in peace, Mike Brown'
You speak about equality, but do you really mean it?
Are you marching for freedom, or when it's convenient?”

While the message is a powerful reminder for how we address the issue of race, I think many of its values can be applied to sustainability. We can talk about sustainability, we can be a generation that talks the talk on solving climate change, but we all have to be willing to make personal sacrifices. We all have to be willing to do the things that are inconvenient.

Undoubtedly it is an internal battle, but I encourage and challenge you to join me and quit beef. You don’t need to change your whole diet. Take it out one step, one small victory at a time and you will have helped make change. 

At the end of Macklemore’s song, Jamila Woods sings a very soft, beautiful and moving line.

“Your silence is a luxury.”

Indeed, our silence on this issue is not a consequence we have to immediately confront.

Related links:

Letter: Save the planet every day

5 restaurants near all four ASU campuses for vegan, vegetarian Sun Devils


Reach the columnist at jarwood@asu.edu or follow @jimsthebeast on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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