October 4, 2022

If you claim to care about climate change, we need to talk about food. Specifically, about the imaginative, unsustainable way in which we consume food in the United States, there are a number of issues here, but the bigger problem is our relationship to meat, and the efficiency of converting food – and therefore carbon – into calories.

In the United States in particular, the food supply is woefully inefficient, and this shows in a number of ways. For example, according to the United Nations Environment Program, 30% of the food produced for humans in the United States ends up not being consumed by humans. US Department of Agriculture puts the same number by 30% to 40%. That’s a shame for the food being wasted – unreasonable, in a country where people are hungry, and double the atrocity given the global state of things – but from an environmental point of view, most of that food doesn’t spoil at the farm level. It passes through the entire supply chain – harvesting, refining, preparation, transportation, packaging and display in supermarkets or other food outlets – before it needs to be disposed of. Each step carries an additional environmental cost, such as electricity for processing; plastic for transport packaging, which comes with its own carbon footprint; and so on.

Clearly reducing waste is important, but most of us don’t consider the other side of the food production chain. It turns out that animals are not particularly efficient when it comes to delivering calories. Farmed animals need a lot of food to grow, and during this process they consume fodder that has to come from somewhere – often specifically grown to feed animals on land that would otherwise have grown food for humans.

Food scientists who look at this kind of thing use the feed conversion ratio, which is understandable It’s been around since at least the 80’s. In other words, how many calories from feed does an animal need to get calories from edible meat? there Collection of different formulas and calculators available online on how to determine it.

Take a cow for example. For every calorie of edible meat, you should eat 25 calories from feed. I understood that a hamburger is more exciting than a piece of bread, and there are differences in the type of nutrition, but in a world with 10 billion people all moving upwards in terms of the foods they consume and inefficiently eating it seems to me a pretty poor choice.

Dairy cows and beef have a second problem, too. They are able to eat grass and other foods that humans cannot eat through a process Intestinal fermentation. Essentially, ruminants like cows have bacteria in their stomachs that help break down plants and improved solid grains of cellulose. In the process, the bacteria release a huge amount of methane (CH4), then the cows expel it as a gas. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Methane is 25 times more harmful than greenhouse gases from CO2and cattle can produce Between 250 and 500 liters of methane per day. Multiply that by 25 to get the CO2 effect2And it soon becomes clear why cows are a problem before you put them in the shredder to turn them into delicious morsels of food. Of course, there are also wild ruminants – antelope, giraffe, deer, bison, etc. – but humans have been raising sheep and cows for thousands of years, increasing populations and making a huge impact. In fact, it represents meat production 60% of greenhouse gas emissions from food production.

I talk and write about climate to some extent, and even people who claim to be passionately interested in climate change and environmental questions often fail to research what they eat. This incomprehensible limit to me: what you eat is something that many of us control, and not using that control to make a positive impact on the environment seems odd.

In addition, the method of treating animals before turning them into food is very painful. If that statement doesn’t make you nod in agreement, Take 90 minutes to watch Earthlings – Free and narrated by Joaquin Phoenix. If earthlings don’t convince you, you can always. Suffer through Dominion, which presses the key point over the course of two hours. Yes, it’s free too, narrated by Phoenix as well and almost sure to get you past chicken and beef for at least two weeks.

If animal care doesn’t make you think twice, perhaps the environmental impact is possible. I’m not necessarily saying you should go vegan – though Al Gore did, after facing the inconvenient truth That consumption of animal products was inconsistent with being an environmental poster boy – but reducing animal products has a disproportionate environmental impact. Eat meat if necessary, but eat better meat, rarely. Eat a steak from your local butcher once a week instead of eating a fast food hamburger twice a day. Do your research into the dairy industry, and maybe cut back on that too; I’ve had the misfortune of visiting an extensive dairy farm sometime in the past few years, and it hasn’t been fun.

At the very least, make sure you educate yourself enough to make informed choices, and be prepared for pesky journalists like me to enjoy it all if you brag about how convenient your solar-charged electric car is while you eat. The meat is irresponsibly raised. As climate-aware environmental experts, we need to take a holistic approach. This should include the food you eat.


The photo at the top of this story is of Honey. In the pictures, she is relaxed in One neighborhood sanctuaryA sanctuary for all living things run by a friend of mine in Martinez, California. Honey was saved from becoming dinner and she lives her days in the sanctuary.

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