Did you know October is Vegetarian Awareness Month? What better time to learn about how human consumption of meat impacts the planet and all who dwell upon it?

Ditching the burgers can lower your cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular disease. It minimizes your carbon footprint and preserves arable land. Plus, creatures with feathers and fur thank you for doing your part to stem the cruel practice of factory farming.

Meat Consumption Contributes to Greenhouse Gasses

Right now, the Amazon rainforest blazes are in large part due to farmers setting fires to clear land for beef production. Brazil is the largest producer of beef in the world. Fully 50% of the area used for raising cattle used to be jungle. Countless species of plants and animals have gone extinct as a result.

Scientists have debunked the myth that the Amazon rainforest creates 20% of the world’s oxygen supply. However, the region helps control the planet’s climate by absorbing carbon dioxide. Thus far, an area larger than Puerto Rico has gone up in smoke. If global temperatures rise by as little as 1.5 degrees, catastrophes like storms threaten to rage out of control.

Quitting meat also decreases the greenhouse gasses that are accelerating global warming. Cattle release a significant amount of methane through flatulence. Their manure also emits this dangerous gas into the atmosphere.

Cattle aren’t the only creatures who contribute to pollution. Runoff from factory farms can contaminate the water supply. It renders streams and rivers inhabitable for native fish. Swimming in contaminated water can cause staph infections when bacteria enter the blood through open cuts.

Producing Meat Uses Arable Land That Could Feed Hungry People

Dairy cows consume 110 to 120 pounds of wet food each day or 50 to 55 pounds of dry feed. That food could go a long way toward addressing world hunger.

And if everyone reduced their meat consumption from 25% of their diet to 15%, billions of more people could eat.

Much of the world’s corn and soybean crops go to feeding pigs for slaughter. People could redirect these foods to areas stricken by disaster or drought that make farming difficult.

Eating Meat Causes Untold Animal Suffering

Factory farms lock pigs in gestation crates that are so small that the creatures can’t even turn around. Millions of sows spend their entire lives imprisoned on hard, concrete floors, unable to move much more than their heads.

Think twice before you order that veal Parmesan. Farmers rip these calves away from their mothers less than 24 hours after the mom gives birth. Those in the dairy industry claim that later separations prove more stressful after the bond develops. But calves raised on mother’s milk exhibit more social and playful behavior than their peers.

You wouldn’t dream of barbecuing Fido or Fluffy. However, animals like cows and pigs are every bit as sentient and intelligent as household pets. Even chickens can perform basic math tasks and recognize humans and their barnyard mates. Slaughter traumatizes animals, and some connoisseurs swear this affects the taste of the flesh.

Meat Consumption Negatively Impacts Human Health

Research shows again and again that eating meat ups your chances of developing cardiovascular disease.

Additionally, scientists have linked the consumption of red meat to increased risks of several forms of cancer, including colorectal and stomach cancer — the method of preparation matters. Curing and smoking create cancer-causing chemicals, so if you choose to eat meat, select unprocessed versions. Avoid lunch meats and bacon.

Ideas for Cutting Back

Why not start reducing your consumption of animal products by implementing “Meatless Mondays” and choosing to forego meat at some meals?

Start your day with a fruit and cashew-yogurt parfait instead of bacon and eggs. Pack a kale-spinach salad with avocado green goddess dressing for lunch. For dinner, whip up some pasta with marinara sauce.

Do Your Part to Reduce Meat Consumption — October and Always

Vegetarian Awareness Month is the perfect time to remind people how to help the planet and the animals who share it. When you choose plant foods over animal products, you truly make a difference.