A friend of mine recently said, “It’s hard to become a vegan within a decade of eating at Tucano’s.” But during this ecologically fragile time in which we live, it’s hard not to become a vegan (or at least a vegetarian) when you come to realize just how much animal products negatively effect the environment. The most serious environmental concerns, such as global warming, wasted land and water, and pollution, are directly linked to eating meat.

One does not need to completely give up meat in order to make a difference. According to Environmental Defense, if every American simply skipped one meal of chicken per week and replaced it with a vegetarian meal, the carbon dioxide savings would be equivalent to taking more than 500,000 cars off of the roads.

Along with carbon dioxide, methane is a gas that causes the earth’s temperature to rise by trapping heat in the atmosphere. The number one source of methane throughout the world is the meat industry, which releases over 100 million tons of the gas a year. According to Noam Mohr, a prominent physicist, “Methane is 21 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.” By reducing the amount of meat eaten, we reduce the amount of methane production, therefore slowing down global warming.

Another pressing environmental issue is that of wasted land and water. With approximately 800 million people in the world suffering from hunger and malnutrition, using land and water wisely for the production of food is crucial. Cornell scientists have advised that the United States could feed these 800 million people with the grain that livestock eat. The amount of water livestock require is mind-boggling. The Water Education Foundation reports that it takes 2,464 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, but only 25 gallons to produce one pound of wheat.

Pollution of our water and air is another result of a meat-based diet. Livestock in the United States alone produce 2.7 trillion pounds of manure each year. Just to gross you out a bit (if you aren’t already disgusted by now), that’s about ten times more waste than produced by every American. This outrageous amount of manure pollutes our natural resources, sometimes spilling into water and killing aquatic life.

So my friend might really like Tucano’s. But I bet he likes clean water, fresh air, and the planet more. In that case, maybe he should reconsider his undying love for chicken hearts wrapped in bacon. It is understandable that changing one’s eating patterns can be difficult, so I am not telling everyone to completely give up meat right away. Start small. Replace one meat meal a week with a vegetarian meal. Hold off on that second Quarter Pounder. Give tofu a try. Small changes will lead to a healthy future for everyone.