Conventional meat production is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, producing approximately 15% of our greenhouse gasses. There are ways to raise livestock that is less carbon intensive, in fact, those methods may even sequester some carbon, but they take much more space than conventional meat production does. We can’t even produce enough meat for everyone on the planet to eat as much as Americans do using our current methods, we certainly are not going to be able to produce enough meat for everyone using the carbon sequestering methods. If we want to fight climate change, a reduction in the amount of meat Americans typically eat is probably going to be necessary.
This does not mean completely giving up meat. It just means maybe eating a little less. It also is going to mean adding a little more variety to the kinds of meat we eat. Right now, Americans typically eat only a few kinds of meat, basically cow, chicken, turkey, pig, and fish/seafood. Of all of those, cow is probably the worst for the environment and climate, and also needs the most space and resources to bring to market. Our goal is to both reduce the over all amounts of meat consumed, and of the meat we do consume, focus more on the kind that takes the least space and resources to raise in a sustainable and humane manner. I have a bit of an idea how to do it.
First, let’s assume the average American eats 100 pounds of meat a year. I don’t know how much the average American actually eats, but we’re going to use 100 pounds to make the math for this demonstration easier. So, let’s assume that 40% of that meat is beef, 30% is chicken and turkey, 20% is pork, and 10% is seafood and everything else. That means 40 pounds of beef, 30 pounds of chicken, 20 pounds of pork, and 10 pounds of seafood.
So, let’s first assume that we cut that in half, we’d eat 50 total pounds of meat per year, 20 pounds of beef, 15 pounds of chicken, 10 pounds of pork, and 5 pounds of seafood. That’s a big improvement, but we’ve still got a lot of beef production going to accommodate that.
Now let’s imagine we started adding some other types of meat in there. Say we started replacing some beef with goat, lamb*, and rabbit, all three of which give you a red meat and require much less space and resources to raise to harvest. In fact, many of us (if we have the guts for it) could raise enough rabbit to provide for a good chunk of their family’s meat needs and have extra to sell right in our homes (note, I’m not sure I have the guts for it myself, but hats off to those who do). Rabbit can be raised humanely in very little space, even in urban environments. We could dramatically reduce the amount of beef we eat by replacing it with other animals.
We could do the same with chicken and pork by increasing the amount of quail, duck, goose, etc., that we eat. And we could even add more variety to our other animal products, chickens aren’t the only animals that can lay eggs, cows aren’t the only animals that make milk.
In fact, we could conceivably reduce our beef consumption without reducing our overall meat consumption if we did more of these other meats. If you continued to eat a hundred pounds of meat a year and 10% came from goat, 10% from lamb, 10% from rabbit, 10% from chicken, 10% from pork, 10% from quail, 10% from duck and/or goose, 10% from turkey, 10% from seafood, and 10% from beef, you would still be eating less beef, chicken, and pork than in the model where you just cut your consumption of everything in half. In really, a little reduction and variety would probably be our best bet.
Of course, choosing to just go vegetarian is also an option, and I’m not saying people shouldn’t make that choice if that works better for them. Realistically, I just don’t see everyone making that choice though, and I personally don’t believe there’s anything more morally wrong with me eating meat than there is for my cat to eat meat, or any other wild or domesticated carnivore/omnivore. I do think the way animals are currently raised is not okay, and that we should try to transition all the animals we raise for agriculture to the more humane and sustainable methods of production though. This is how I see a path forward to allow those who won’t consider giving up meat to still consume it in a sustainable manner.
What are your thoughts about this sustainable meat eating plan? Would you be willing to expand the types of meat that you eat? Why or why not? Tell us about it in the comments!
*I’ve recently read that lamb may be more carbon intensive than beef, making it a not very great alternative as far as conventional production goes, but I don’t know what it’s pastured production looks like, I would assume it would be as good for sequestering carbon as beef, and take less space than beef, but I don’t know. If anyone does, please tell us about it in the comments!
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