Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Carbon Footprint Game: Local Foods vs Beef and Dairy

Although Al Gore surprisingly “forgot” to mention the incredibly detrimental environmental effects of raising animals for meat and dairy products in his epic film, Inconvenient Truth, the word is starting to get out anyway. 

It seems to me that more and more people are truly becoming environmentally conscious – not just because it’s trendy to be green, but because people are just really starting to care

One topic that has gained a lot of momentum in the green circles is the idea of eating local food.  Most of our food travels an average of 1,500 miles before it reaches our plate, creating a significant amount to our carbon footprint.  Eating locally grown food (usually defined around ~150 miles or less) decreases the amount of gas and emissions used to get your food to your plate, and is a relatively easy way of lessening your carbon footprint on our planet.

However, what many people don’t realize is that transportation only accounts for 11% of our food’s carbon footprint – 83% comes from the food production process itself. Cows have an extremely high carbon footprint, not only because they emit a lot more methane but also because caring for them uses more emission-producing processes than other meats, like chicken.  Therefore, beef and dairy products are the worst things you can eat if you care about the environment.

A recent study published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology1, which discusses this topic in detail, concludes: Shifting less than one day per week's worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more greenhouse gas reduction than buying all locally sourced food."

Imagine switching not just one day a week away from beef and dairy products, but 3 days, 5 days, or 7 days!  Imagine if you also switched away from chicken, fish and eggs (which, while better for the environment than beef or dairy, are still much worse than an all-veggie diet.)  Imagine if you convinced many friends and family members to do the same.  We could really have a significant impact on global warming.

If you truly care about the environment but haven’t switched to a vegan diet yet – even if only part time – then you are contributing a lot more than you probably realize to our environment’s demise.  But once you know better, you’ll do better, so read more in John Robbin’s book, The Food Revolution.  For a serious dissertation (and huge eye-opener!) on the topic, read Livestock’s Long Shadow, a 400 page report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 

1 Environ. Sci. Technol., 2008, 42 (10), pp 3508–3513

1 comment:

  1. This is one of my biggest gripes. I will become a wildly crazed demoness if one more person gives me a condescending look about being vegan while eating their petroleum, fart & poop filled burgers!! Poopy Pants Pollan made me wretch on the Oprah show, I know he has done some good stuff, but REALLY, I think he misses the mark also. And the book to accompany the movie, or a book he has on his sit (Al Gore) mentions that the most important thing you can do for climate change is to stop eating meat & dairy. BUT he is still too connected to actually suggest that to real people. AND he's getting kind of fat. But thank you for writing this as this "locavore" I want to raise a cow in my back yard Berkeley has gone TOO far!!