Published March 18, 2009
I met a friend at local Ann Arbor pub for lunch today and, together, we sat down for a nice, modestly priced meal of global warming. (With a side of "Maize and Blue" chips and salsa, too.)
Wait, how can you eat global warming for lunch? you might ask.
OK -- we didn't actually order global warming or greenhouse gases or anything; that's not on the menu. What we ordered were two delicious salads that came with a generous amount of steak. Mine medium-rare, his well done -- and hot off the grill at that.
So you ate steak. Big deal, you might add. What does steak have to do with global warming or greenhouse gases?
Glad you so conveniently asked. The meat us carnivores eat -- especially steak -- has a quite a significant carbon footprint. Most animals, like cattle, release gases such as nitrous oxide and methane, which are both greenhouse gases and, as The American Prospect's Ben Adler has written, actually are nearly 30 times more damaging greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide.
In 2006, the United Nations, Adler writes, reported that the international livestock sector produces 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. At the time of the U.N. report, that was more than the global transportation sector's emissions.
Adler goes on to write that:
Animal agriculture is responsible for local pollution from animal waste and chemical use and for greenhouse gas emissions from the energy-intensive process of growing feed and raising livestock, plus the, ahem, byproducts of animal digestion. It would be much easier -- and cheaper -- to give up meat than to, say, convert an entire country's electrical grid to using solar, wind, or nuclear energy.
Having done a bit of research on the topic before writing this post, I had all of this in mind as I dug into my steak salad today. It's not that I don't care about the environment -- this project should attest to that -- but cut down on my meat intake?! Stop cooking my favorite lamb rack recipe? Bid farewell to chicken? I fully embrace my carnivorous habits on a daily basis, so I'm reluctant to cut back on eating meat.
But for the sake of our "Going Green" project and the spirit of experimentation, I've decided to drastically scale back my penchant for eating meat.
First, I outlined my existing eating tendencies. With regard to chicken, I probably eat two to four chicken breasts a week, five or six chicken nuggets and the occasional half-dozen to dozen chicken wings. Beef-wise, I eat two to three hamburgers a week and usually a nicer meal or two involving steak -- a nice cut or steak salad. Apart from that, there's the occasional bacon with breakfast and lamb rack on special occasions. With a bit of simple arithmetic, that comes out to roughly 20 incidences of eating meat per week.
I'm going to cut that down by 75 percent, to 5 meat-eating occasions a week. I figure that should be a significant step toward cutting my carbon footprint through my eating habits.
Mind you, one college guy cutting down on how much meat he eats won't necessarily make a huge impact. According to a University of Chicago study, if all Americans ate a vegan diet it would cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 6 percent, probably more. What's more, even if all Americans did cut a significant amount of meat out of their diets, it would still take time for the decreased demand in animal agriculture to translate into fewer animals on farms emitting greenhouse gases. But whereas some people have no choice but to drive to work each day, most people control what they eat -- meaning less meat is a feasible option.
If you buy your own groceries, buy less meat next time you go to the store. You can still get protein from yogurt, milk, eggs and other sources of non-meat protein. And if you live in the dorms, trade meat dishes for salads and non-meat proteins. If you have receptive dining hall management, you can even request some vegetarian dishes as well that contain protein.
For meat-lovers like me, yes, it will be painful. Far less steak, chicken, pork and other yummy meats. But it's worth a try -- and who knows, tofu might just grow on me more than I'd like to think.