By Conor Fay
Communications Intern, Food Systems Team

Philosophy is a subject matter concerned primarily with the question of how to live. I felt right at home in my first ethics class, always looking for ways to meld my studies in the classroom with my actions in everyday life. The most drastic questioning came following an argument by a classmate regarding the mistreatment of animals by humans and the extent to which so many of us are complicit as a result of our decision to eat them. That day was the last day I ate meat. 

A few years later, I learned about the impact the animal agriculture industry has on the environment.

  • ~⅓ of inhabitable land on Earth is devoted to livestock, and rates of deforestation continue to rise to serve this purpose
  • ~16% of global freshwater is used to grow livestock
  • ~14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions can be traced to animal agriculture

Before learning these things, I hadn’t even considered how land, water, or greenhouse gas emissions factored into an ethical diet and our food systems. It seemed to me there was an information gap at play that prevented people from making more sustainable choices at the dinner table. Much of this missing information is simply not obvious. Who would have guessed, for example, that greenhouse gas levels produced by animal agriculture (with cows specifically accounting for 1,984 lbs of carbon dioxide each year) is second only to the direct emissions created by fossil fuels?

After further research I recognized a second obstacle at play. Politicians and corporations who profit from the industry suppress the animal cruelty that takes place behind closed doors and hide the environmental effects of these practices so as not to jeopardize their investments or the votes they receive. All of this then places the burden on the public to research this subject matter on their own. 

This is when I made the decision to begin speaking about my beliefs and committed myself to the cause of climate change.


From climate change to climate justice

Over the course of this past year, I’ve had the pleasure of working for Konbit Sante, a nonprofit whose purpose is to support healthcare systems in northern Haiti. As I learned more about the region, I began to understand the extent to which Haiti and countries like it face the worst effects of climate change, despite having done the least to contribute to the problem. 

The climate crisis is not only characterized by issues of class and race, but also by the broader concept of justice. It’s the responsibility of each of us to ensure that justice is delivered. This means adopting sustainable practices like eating locally grown food products, trying plant-based alternatives to traditional animal products, and supporting regenerative agriculture initiatives. These decisions matter and their impact is far reaching. 


Taking action

In my work with MN350, I’ve had the privilege of helping promote the DefaultVeg campaign, which encourages small changes to social norms that help institutions make more inclusive and sustainable dietary decisions. Specifically, by setting plant-based food as the default option for cafeterias while allowing individuals to add meat to their meal if they so choose, this campaign has the potential to nudge all of us toward more climate-friendly meals. For more information, consider joining us at the DefaultVeg Kickoff Event on Tuesday, July 26, from 6:30–7:30pm. 

Whatever your reason for pursuing a different approach to food, I hope you’ll join me in connecting your values to the simple (but complex) act of eating. Learn more about MN350’s Food Systems team and how you can get involved.


Conor is 23 years old and is from Half Moon Bay, California. He is passionate about human behavior and its impact on climate change. He will be pursuing a master’s degree in marketing in the fall.