Why does eating meat (and I love meat) contribute to climate change?
I love meat. But why does everyone say that eating meat is causing climate change?
It’s because of the resources that go into meat production, the methane the animals produce during their life and their waste produces after slaughter is kinda big, the huge amount of deforestation necessary to farm them, and the impact of shipping it to you. Buying locally reduces that last impact, if possible, but the impact is still huge. The only three ways to reduce the carbon footprint of our red meat consumption is:
Reduce our red meat consumption by eating more chicken instead.
Reduce our red meat consumption by eating something that tastes exactly like red meat.
Maintain our red meat consumption but offset the carbon footprint.
Let’s talk about all three.
1. Less meat or less beef and lamb? More chicken?
Beef and lamb use more CO2 and produce more methane (it’s 30 times more damaging than CO2 and produced through cow flatulence throughout the life of the cow and rotting waste). The image below shows the tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions per person per year for each type of diet (source). It builds in supply chain emissions and consumer waste as well as consumption. In essence, lamb and beef cost the environment. Chicken significantly less so.
With food, red meat and imported foods have the biggest carbon footprints.
I eat meat. So I’m going to offset that. Partly by going to the gym, and partly through supporting a carbon footprint reduction project. And maybe a tiny bit by increasing the ratio of salads and veggies to meat on the plate. Except for steaks: offsets required.
2. Foods that taste exactly like meat? Impossible.
I’d be happy to increase my intake of food that tastes like beef but isn’t. But that’s impossible. Yes, I’m talking substitutes, but I know what you’re thinking: they taste like crap. Well, not all of them anymore. Several years I decided to became vegan on a two-week dare, and ended up as some form of vegetarian for 4 years. But I always felt I would return to meat. And I eventually did. But during that time I tried every possible meat substitute I could find. They didn’t taste like the real thing. But at a convention I was attending in early 2019, the canapés served were little meatballs on a mini piece of toast with a dollop of some sauce and a sprinkle of garnish. It was so delicious I had several more. They were cooked and looked the way a premium patty of ground beef should taste. Thumbs up. I had noticed a little sign on the serving tray that simply said Impossible Foods. I presumed that was the name of the caterers. I had no idea who they were. It turns out the meat was not meat at all. It was plant-based. I was extremely sceptical because it tasted …. impossibly real. Now I find restaurants are serving Impossible burgers, an even my local go-to Turkish/Mexican kebab/burrito place (Stuff’d) has an Impossible version of its chilli beef filling. So check out Impossible Foods, and find a restaurant who uses their sorcery and try it. There’s is a jaw-droppingly good plant-based mimic of beef.
3. How do I offset the footprint and what the heck are you talking about?
Imagine you had to live in a large airtight bank safe – full of air when you went in – but with no ventilation and it would be locked for a year. First up, you’d die when your oxygen ran out. How would you solve that? Well, you might get yourself a whole bunch of plants. How many? Well, my one-minute of research came up with this article which talks about being locked in an airlock and suggested you’d need 10,000 leaves, so probably 700 or so plants. At this point my analogy gets horrendously complicated: plants need sunshine and nutrients, what about toilet waste, or food and water, or madness… so I’ll give up. But basically in that example, every time you take a breath you deplete the oxygen and increase the CO2, so you need something to reverse that or you’ll die. On a planetary scale that’s what’s happening now. And your carbon footprint is everything you do or consume that produces CO2 (or something equally as environmentally damaging), and so offsetting that footprint is by finding some project that with your contribution can be your 700 plants. Here’s an article I wrote about offsetting programs, how much they cost, which ones I choose and why I don’t choose some alternatives. Lots of links and something that makes some sense I think. And here’s how to calculate your carbon emissions. But when it comes to my steaks, I love them. I love cooking them, I love eating them. And I have to import them (I live in Singapore: tiny island, no space for cattle ranches). But as the planetary stakes are also so high, I’ll undo any damage that passion has by choosing to offset my consumption of meat along with a bunch of other things, and perhaps help save the world over dinner. Finally, go here for a list of links to all my offsetting calculations and articles, and a video presentation too.
We can be climate-conscious carnivorous consumers. We can have our meat and eat it... and care for the planet.