This little change can make a surprisingly big impact on climate change
For many, meat is not just a centerpiece at meals, but also integrated in cultural practices and dishes. As much as we love meat, we also know that it can have a huge impact on the environment and climate change.If you're looking to help the environment out, and are not quite ready to give up meat entirely, try making the switch from beef to any other meat! While beef, chicken, and pork are all meats, their environmental impacts are surprisingly different. Check it out as we break down how the meats stack up when it comes to helping fight climate change.
What's climate change got to do with meat?
If you're wondering about why scientists are bringing meat into the conversation about climate change, we've got you covered. Climate change is, well, exactly what it sounds like- the climate on Earth is changing. Climate is the long-term weather trend that we see on Earth (7). For instance, scientists can take a look at the five or 10 year temperature trend of a location and can see if the temperature is slowly rising or falling over time (7). For most places on earth, these long-term trends show that the temperature on Earth is rising slowly, which is not good (7)! .
Many things contribute to climate change, but the main contributor is what we call the greenhouse effect from different greenhouse gases (7). If you've ever stood in a greenhouse or a glass building when the sun was shining and noticed that it was way hotter inside the greenhouse than outside, you already understand how greenhouse gases work! Greenhouse gases act just like the glass in a greenhouse and trap heat on Earth, when normally it would go back into space (7). Of all the greenhouse gases produced from food, 56% is from our meat-producing systems because of the energy lost transforming plant energy (think animal feed) to animal energy (the actual chicken, pig or cattle) (2, 5). Some of the greenhouse gases produced from livestock like pig, chicken and cattle include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide (5).
Let's cut to the chase, why focus on beef?
Maybe you're wondering just how much of an environmental impact beef has compared to other meats. In a recent study, researchers found that for dairy, chicken, pork and eggs the environmental costs are pretty similar, but much lower than the environmental impacts of beef (3). Cattle systems actually produce many different greenhouse gases, including a lot of the strongest greenhouse gas, methane, which they belch out (5). Cattle produce a large amount of methane when they digest their food because they have four stomachs (4,5). On the other hand, pigs and chickens with just a simple digestive system produce very little methane (8). Scientists found that from beginning to end, making beef takes 28 times the amount of land, 11 times the amount of water, 5 times the amount of greenhouse gases, and 6 times the amount of nitrogen than any other meat because of how much energy they must consume to grow to a decent size (3). And even though beef is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and the least efficient type of meat to produce, it's the most popular meat in America (3, 6). Over the last 50 years, with the rise of the popularity of beef, we've seen greenhouse gas emissions from cattle rise by 59% (6).
What's the difference if I make the switch from beef to other meat?
The answer is - actually a big difference! If we compare the numbers, cattle make up 54% of total livestock greenhouse gas emissions, while pork only makes up 5% and chickens only make up 1% of greenhouse gas emissions (6). Just eating a little over 2 pounds of beef (or the equivalent of about 3 steaks), is the same as using a car to drive 100 miles (1). And if you swap out beef for pork in a meal, your carbon footprint is cut by a third (1). And if you swap out beef for chicken, your carbon footprint for that meal is 7 times smaller!
So, if you're looking to make a big impact on the environment with a smaller change than going entirely vegetarian or vegan, give eating a little less beef a go. You can add in more vegetables if you're making a stir-fry, or make pork, chicken, or sustainable fish the star of the show instead of beef. The culinary possibilities are endless! In fact, we've put together a starter list to help you get a jump start on eating less beef below.
Try out these tasty ways to eat less beef!
- Think outside the box for burgers: Next time your hamburger hankering strikes, why not try out a tasty alternative like a chicken teriyaki or Hawaiian pork burger? Check out our article on beef burger alternatives that aren't plant based!
- Keep beef for a special treat: Try not to cook beef at home or order it from your normal take-out spots. Instead, treat yourself to beef on special occasions like a birthday or when you go to a fancy restaurant.
- Mix and match the meats: Instead of making spaghetti bolognese or meatloaf with just beef, substitute half for turkey or pork. You still get the flavor of beef, but it's better for the environment. Chopped vegetables or lentils also make for an awesome substitution for recipes that call for ground beef.
- Make beef a side dish: Look to other meats or even vegetables to be the centerpiece of your meal. Our personal favorite is loading up on the vegetables, which make for surprisingly delicious centerpieces when grilled.
- Don't forget the marinade: Worried that your meat might get dry? Marinating chicken and pork is the key to juicy, tender meat. So, amp up that flavor and your creative juices with some marinades. Plus, marinating is a top tip for a non-toxic BBQ!