Wednesday, February 4, 2009

It's an environment thing...

When folks at dinner parties or new acquaintances notice there is no meat on my plate, they often ask me if I am a member of PETA, a vegetarian, and how I get my protein. The latter is quite possibly the most annoying question ever - but not the focus of this post. I typically respond with something like, "It is more of an environmental decision than anything else. Not to mention, the perfectly cut, seasoned, and cooked piece of meat the waiter just dropped off to you is a fine example of how disconnected we Americans are from the origin of our food..." Before I can finish sharing my pro-Pollan agenda someone almost always says, "How is my eating this steak bad for the environment?" My answer: It's complicated.

Which brings me to... you guessed it... a great article about How Meat Contributes to Global Warming. It focuses on beef in particular. Please read it. Otherwise I will be forced to carry a cheat sheet (right next to my EPA Seafood Selector) with, at the very least, the following factoids from the article:

Depending on the production method, cows emit between 2.5 and 4.7 ounces of methane for each pound of beef they produce. Because methane has roughly 23 times the global-warming potential of CO2, those emissions are the equivalent of releasing between 3.6 and 6.8 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere for each pound of beef produced.

Producing a pound of beef protein for the table requires more than 10 pounds of plant protein with all the emissions of greenhouse gases that grain farming entails.

Current production levels of meat contribute between 14 and 22 percent of the 36 billion tons of "CO2-equivalent" greenhouse gases the world produces every year. It turns out that producing half a pound of hamburger for some one's lunch a patty of meat the size of two decks of cards releases as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as driving a 3,000-pound car nearly 10 miles.

Pound for pound, beef production generates greenhouse gases that contribute more than 13 times as much to global warming as do the gases emitted from producing chicken. For potatoes, the multiplier is 57.

Producing a pound of beef in a feedlot, or concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) system, generates the equivalent of 14.8 pounds of CO2 pound for pound, more than 36 times the CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emitted by producing asparagus.

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