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Feeding your mind, saving the planet >>

Just About Everyone Has Something to Say About Meat

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On July 18, EWG released a report on how the food we eat affects our bodies and the planet. We called it a Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health. In it, we shared our findings about 20 popular foods and how their cradle-to-grave climate impacts compare. To go along with our sorta geeky lifecycle analysis, we put together some tips and tools for all the eaters out there who just want to pick the right stuff – that’s good for their health and good for the environment.

While we knew that food choices – meat eating, in particular – and climate change are both hot topics that can really rile people up, the extensive media coverage and interest in our report across the country (and beyond) has hammered that point home. People want to eat and support healthy, sustainable, and they’re glad to learn how.  Here’s a sampling of the terrific reporting we’ve seen on the Meat Eater’s Guide –informed voices, many of them food and climate experts – looking at the issue through a wide variety of lenses.

Mark Bittman of The New York Times (More Weight on Less Meat) sees eating less meat and dairy as an easy first step, but he recognizes that it’ll take more than that to roll back climate change. “Eating less meat and dairy doesn’t require any additional time or effort. Calling your congressman does. I’d say start with the first: With the energy you gain from eating a plant-based diet, you might be ready to lobby ‘til the cows come home.”

The FOOD Network (Food News: EWG’s Release of the 2011 Meat Eater’s Guide) highlights the cost trade-off of eating greener, healthier animal products.

“The extensive guide is also full of tips and resources to help consumers make eating meat “greener” by choosing more humanely produced sources. While choosing organic and   grass-fed options is more expensive, cutting back on overall consumption can help offset the costs.”

Sandy Bauers in The Philadelphia Inquirer (Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change) was struck by how much we waste. “The scientists who wrote the report factored in all stages of food production, processing, consumption and waste disposal. (This statistic blew my mind: 20 percent of beef's emissions are related to the amount that we waste and send to landfills.)

“The upshot: ‘If everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, over a year, the effect on emissions would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road,’ the group says.”

And from un-summery Seattle, where the folks at Grist tossed in a whole new benefit to pasture-raised beef (High steaks: Meat eaters’ climate impact). “Ergo: More consumers eating pasture-raised meat for climate and health reasons means more pasture, which in turn means more bees and less money spent by farmers to pollinate their crops. It's all proof that when we dedicate ourselves to ethical eating, the rewards to ourselves – and the bees! – keep coming.”

And from the “big shot bloggers” over at Ecocentric (we’re partial to this assessment for obvious reasons) EWG Releases Its Meat Eater’s Guide.

“I’m starting to wonder if anyone at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) ever sleeps. This year, the organization released its Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, updated its Farm Subsidy Database, created the 2011 Sunscreen Guide and today launched the Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health.

“As a big shot blogger, I was offered a sneak preview of the guide last week. Naturally. (Reality: the sneak preview invitation was extended to a colleague who passed it along to me. But I’m sure this was just an oversight. Right?) I entered the super-secret sneak preview website with skepticism – because how much good stuff can one organization produce in six months without cutting corners? Apparently, a whole lot – the site is beautiful, the guide is solid and the underlying analysis is sound.”

The Center for a Livable Future (Carnivores and Climate Change) highlights the fact that becoming a vegan isn’t necessary to make a difference with your food choices.

“We’re not all going to become vegans— and it is not necessary that we do. Eating less meat (and investing some of the $ savings in shifting to sustainably produced meats), making informed decisions when we do eat meat, and cutting back on ‘avoidable waste’ can go a long way to reducing our carbon footprints. And we can cut back the driving too. Check out the EWG tool to help inform your food choices.”

And this short Chicago Tribune summary wins (hands down) for best headline: Is your cheeseburger making the earth cry? (Why didn’t we think of that?). In it, Monica Eng reminds vegetarians that they’re not “off the hook.”

“While past carbon calculations took into account things like transportation, feed and energy usage, the EWG report lassos in a wider range of production and distribution- related inputs and outputs (including food waste) to come up with its numbers that suggest, for instance, that eating 4 ounces of beef equals driving more than 6 miles in a car.

“If you couldn’t guess already, red meat lovers are in for some disappointing news (lamb, beef and pork are three of the worst environmental offenders), while lentil, bean and broccoli lovers will rejoice.

“Still, EWG doesn’t urge all consumers to go vegetarian. Instead, it suggests switching to sensible portions and choosing meats produced in more environmentally sound fashions (pastured, grass fed, non-processed). And vegetarians who eat cheese don't get off the hook either – pork comes out as more environmentally sound than cheese, believe it or not.”

Assuming you took to heart our recommendation to eat less meat (we did), Dan Shapley over at The Daily Green has offered up (not 10, but) 11 lentil recipes to make sure you know how to eat that top-ranking, low-carbon, uber-healthy legume. They sing the lentil’s praises.

“When the Environmental Working Group this week released its Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change and Health, much was made of the heavy-emissions end of the spectrum, where beef and cheese land, owing to the greenhouse emissions from cows (starting with the pesticides and fertilizers used to grow their feed and ending with their gassy stomachs). But on the lighter side of the spectrum, you'll find the humble lentil.

“Sure, chicken may be the best meat, but no protein-rich food is as light on the environment as lentils, according to the Environmental Work Group's analysis of greenhouse gas emissions from food production and distribution.

“Lentils are superfood, not only high in protein but also fiber and a variety of other nutrients; it's one of the top 10 sources of iron. And they're virtually fat-free.”

So we can still say Bon Appetit, even if the days of guilt free eating – so well described in this article, How to eat well and save the planet, too, are long gone. As the author (so aptly) laments, “Eating used to be so simple. If you liked it and could afford it, down the hatch it went. Yum-yum, end of story.”