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  • Nora Comtois, Contributing Writer

Mystery Meat: Is the Environmental Impact the Mystery and Not the Meat?

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

Sure, those chicken nuggets, that turkey sandwich, and that hotdog may look delectable once served, but considering that countless animals are slaughtered just for the purpose of making some cheeseburgers, meats don’t seem worth eating anymore. Besides the gruesome animal cruelty that takes place inside the factories, industrial animal agriculture also emits tons of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere—the most potent greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. In fact, the United Nations predicts climate change to be irreversible by the year 2030—less than ten years away! And since industrial animal agriculture is one of the top greenhouse gas contributors, it’s imperative we alter our diets. But it’s not all or nothing; any dietary change leading to meat reduction helps.

I used to eat school lunches, like many other students, a few times a week. Unfortunately back then, there were never options like veggie burgers or meatless meatballs at school; so when I became vegetarian in second grade, I had to bring my own lunch daily. But according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, half of the national student population buys school lunches every day. In the DeKalb County School District, this represents about 50,000 students, making us a great contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Because of this, DeKalb County schools should mandate “Meatless Mondays” for the cafeteria menu to help reduce the rapidly increasing, dire state of global warming.

Not only do factory farms rely on fossil fuels to ventilate and operate their facilities, but they also power the transportation of animals to the farms and then the meat to our 138 DeKalb schools, thus releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And humans’ carbon footprint from the production of animal products alone is about 80%. If a person eats one meatless meal per week, their carbon footprint would reduce by 2.5 pounds (Climate Generation). This means that implementing “Meatless Mondays” could reduce 125,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions each week from just our county, the equivalent of taking about 80 cars off of our roads (Environmental Defense Fund).

The average amount of beef produced per cow is 440 pounds (Clover Meadows Beef) and with our school district consuming about 3.5 million pounds of meat per week from school lunches alone, that’s around 8,000 cows. And since cows’ digestive processes produce between an average of 200 pounds of methane per year, according to the study by the University of Adelaide, this means that the county releases a little over 1.5 million pounds of it annually. By implementing “Meatless Mondays,” we would reduce methane gas emissions by roughly 200,000 pounds.

Although there are no statistics about nitrous oxide emissions to be applied to DeKalb, it’s understood that when meat production decreases, there will be fewer animals with less manure and fewer nitrogen-based fertilizers (which grow the crops that are fed to the animals) to release nitrous oxide.

The DeKalb County School District School Nutrition Services is in charge of the school lunch menu. With a proposition to their faculty, such as the Executive School Nutrition Services Director, “Meatless Mondays” can be implemented. Do you think that we should implement this? 85% of DeKalb student survey-takers did.


*All of the statistics are based on global, national, and state information that we applied to DeKalb County. For those calculations, the total number of days in a year is used rather than the number of days in a school year.*

The Educated Choices Program is a non-profit organization that educates students “about the impact of their food choices... related to human health, the environment and animals.” For more information about industrial animal agriculture, visit their resources page:

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