A Carnivore’s Carbon Footprint

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“All meat is not created equal,” reads a new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health” evaluates 20 common protein-rich foods to determine the healthiest picks for the planet and for our bodies.

The best bet is the friendly lentil. The worst offenders? Lamb, beef, and (say it ain’t so!) cheese. The amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) they generate–from feed production, ruminant digestion, and manure–along with their fat contents and cradle-to-grave carbon footprints put them at the bottom of EWG’s impact chart:

Eating less meat and cheese can make an astonishing reduction in GHG emissions, says political food blog Civil Eats:

Just like reducing home energy use or driving less, skipping meat once a week can make a meaningful difference in GHG emissions if we all do it. According to EWG’s calculations, if everyone in the U.S. chose a vegetarian diet, it would be the equivalent of taking 46 million cars off the road or not driving 555 billion miles. To present a likelier option, if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, it would be like not driving 91 billion miles-or taking 7.6 million cars off the road. 

That said, not all lamb chops are evil. On the farm where I grew up, for example, we had a modest flock of fifty sheep and, although they were raised for meat, the cycle was about as humane and environmentally responsible as it comes: We gently moved them from pasture to pasture, where they grazed on grass and alfalfa; we lovingly sheared them onsite, selling the lanolin-soft wool; we lambed them in the spring, midwifing the hardest births; and, finally, we took the lambs to a small processor just eight miles up the road.

If you’re in search of ethical, eco-friendly, health-smart meat, look for local, lean, pasture-raised cuts, given no antibiotics or hormones and, preferably, certified “organic” and “humane.” Want help losing your appetite for meat instead? Read Will Wlizlo’s soberingly graphic Utne Reader post “Inside the Meat Processing Plant.” (Shudder.)

Sources: Environmental Working Group, Civil Eats

Infographic by Environmental Working Group.

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