Beef is the New Coal
“Livestock production is climate destruction”
Swapping out meat for plant-based alternatives would reduce a meal's carbon footprint significantly, Julie explained, as livestock production accounts for nearly 15% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, with cattle responsible for two-thirds of that.
“Livestock production is climate destruction. And beef, in particular, is a real climate villain.”
The ruminant digestive systems of cows ferment grass and other feed in multiple stomach compartments, burping methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over 100 years. And cattle’s relatively long lifespan compared to other meat sources compounds their outsized climate impact.
Per gram of protein, beef production typically has more than 6 times the climate impact of pork, more than 8 times that of poultry and 113 times that of peas.
But there is heartening news, Julie noted. Beef is becoming the new coal, shunned by elite tastemakers over global warming concerns and losing some sizzle from an expanding buffet of increasingly cheap alternatives.
A top Manhattan restaurant, is going meatless. The top cooking site has stopped posting new beef recipes. And The Culinary Institute of America is promoting “plant-forward” menus.
And as new trends always start with the youngest generations, new initiatives are consciously targeting young people to shape food preferences at a time of life when most are adventurous eaters and still forming tastes for a lifetime — the college years. Students with newfound freedom are often curious about dishes inspired by global cuisines that might use less, or no, meat.
She told us about a consortium of several dozen colleges, including Harvard and Stanford, that have joined in a “Menus of Change” collaborative to shift students to healthier, more climate-friendly diets. It's a powerful program given that students come in to the same dining halls three times a day, sometimes for years. That’s surely sculpting their food identities for many years to come.
Many school and corporate cafeterias have dropped all-beef patties for blended burgers made of one-third mushrooms.
Other positive trends suggest the meat alternatives are well on their way to “parity” in taste and texture and will soon beat conventional meat on price, too.
And fortunately — just as falling costs for natural gas, wind and solar power have become drivers in shutting down coal plants reviled by environmentalists — millions of pocketbook decisions can collectively play a major role in climate-friendly diet transitions that diminish the economic appeal of the massive planet-heating livestock industry. No government regulations required.
Still, with our poor dietary choices influenced far too much by Big Food advertising and irresistible bliss-point fast-food offerings, our bodies are struggling with chronic nutritional deficiencies.
Sadly, noted Julie, so are our farmlands.