Eating Less, Better Meat: Yes We Can

From Civil Eats:

By Lisa Frack
July 18, 2011

I’m a vegetarian. But my husband’s not. And, go figure, my kids aren’t either. Which is exactly why I care about the meat I buy. Yes, I buy meat. I’d rather not, but if it’s coming into the house–and into my kids’ bodies–then I need to know exactly what I’m buying. And I not only want to know how it’s affecting my family’s health, I also care deeply about how it’s affecting our family’s environmental footprint (including climate change).

Enter Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) new Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health. In it, EWG took a close look at how a variety of protein foods rank when their total, “cradle-to-grave” greenhouse gas emissions are calculated. Then we factored in the non-climate environmental impacts (like water pollution) and health effects of meat and confirmed that, indeed, not all meat is created equal.

Different foods generate different amounts of green house gases

Our lifecycle comparison shows that, pound for pound, lamb, beef, cheese, and pork generate the most greenhouse gases (GHGs) of the protein foods we looked at; beef emits four times as many GHGs as chicken! They also tend to be higher in saturated fat and have the worst overall environmental impacts because producing them requires the most resources, mainly chemical fertilizer, feed, fuel, pesticides, and water.

If you’re scratching your head, wondering how exactly eating meat generates GHGs, there are three main sources: Feed production, ruminant digestion, and manure. In other words, growing animal food, farting animal food, and pooping animal food. (Excuse our language, but it’s clearest–and likely more memorable–this way. Plus, my eight-year old son thinks it’s hilarious.) For a bite-sized description of the climate and environmental impacts of each stage of meat production (there are many: Growing feed, grazing, slaughtering, transporting all of it, eating, and wasting), see the meat lifecycle graphic on EWG’s Web site.

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