As a vegetarian, I do not usually write about meat. But this week two articles prompted me to break my rule. One of my Facebook friends posted an environmental analysis of proteins by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). With partner CleanMetrics, they did a lifecycle assessment of twenty different items: lamb, pork, beef but also cheese, milk and even lentils to determine the carbon footprint for each. Bottom line, less is more when it comes to meat. On their web site, you’ll find a great chart showing the best and the worst of the list. The best, meaning lowest greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), is lentils and the worst is pork, fifty percent higher than beef even. They’ve also produced a handy pocket booklet, called the MeatEaters Guide to Climate Change and Health.
Then a colleague forwarded the Harvard Business School Newsletter, which would be an odd thing to send to me, except the subject line read: Interesting food analysis. So I scanned the email and found the article she was referring to (Local Food or Less Meat? Data Tells The Real Story), about a study published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology. The scientists come to pretty much the same conclusion as the EWG, that reducing your meat consumption is the most effective way to lower your carbon footprint. But, they add, that eating less meat is actually more effective than eating local.
In their words, “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 GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food.” Not that we should give up eating local, and, if you do eat meat, buying local, sustainably grown is your best option all around.
Just one day. Turns out there’s a global movement encouraging us to abstain from meat one day a week. The Meatless Monday campaign is spearheaded by a non-profit by the same name, with ties to the Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Of course Frances Moore Lappé brought the heavy environmental price of meat to our attention forty years ago in her book Diet for a Small Planet. But as my colleague pointed out, crunching the numbers makes the case for business. Harvard Business no less.