Meat is a polarizing issue. It’s synonymous with big strong men, with barbecue and cookouts near the top of the list of skills required to get your man card. We have been socialized over thousands of years to associate meat with meals and sustenance but the truth is, our ancestors didn’t each much meat. It was hard to come by. They were hunters and gatherers and were able to get by on mostly gathering with the occasional kill being far and few between.
Modern farming and agriculture have changed our relationship with meat to the point where meat is no longer a luxury. We consume meat by the droves, with the average American expected to consume a record 222 pounds | 101 kilograms of meat this year. I was raised eating meat. My appetite for eating made eating challenges a fun past time as I ate a record 30 tacos at a friendly local contest, ate a 40-ounce steak and even ate an oversized burger that made it hard to drive home. I’ve eaten my share of meat…and probably a bit of yours as well.
Which brings me to dropping meat. We didn’t have a bad breakup. It was actually a rather gentle let down that all started with a trip to India in 2012. I went to India to see the sights, to explore the culture and to immerse myself in the country over 2.5 weeks with just a small backpack to keep me company. The food was delicious there, and as a frugal traveler, I found myself walking from bus stop to bus stop and around the vast stretches of amazing sights in Mumbai, New Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Goa and beyond.
About halfway into the trip, I realized that I hadn’t eaten meat at all on the trip and maybe more surprisingly, I didn’t miss it. It was easy. That trend continued for the remainder of the trip and when I returned home, I started to wonder if I had felt so great while I was in India because I was on vacation or because I wasn’t eating meat. I decided to try the vegetarian lifestyle for 2 weeks, just to see if it did indeed give me more energy and to see if it would even be possible.
After two weeks, I found that it was actually surprisingly easy to ditch meat and more importantly to me, that I had so much more energy when I wasn’t eating meat. That was what sealed the deal for me – I love having energy to live life…to play, to dance, to read, to jump around with my kids…so I dropped meat.
The move played out as expected in many ways and I continue to have a higher energy level as a result. I’ve since narrowed that down to higher fat, higher complexity foods that slow me down and make my body work harder to digest things. Your mileage may vary but for me, it’s still the main reason I don’t eat meat.
As a big guy, people look at me strangely when I tell them that I don’t eat meat. They expect that when they bring the veggie burrito to the table, it’s for my wife and not me. On that note, she is still a carnivore and both our boys continue to eat meat even though in general, they eat less than they would have if I were still a meat eater.
The Climate Impact
Since cutting meat from my diet, my eyes have been opened to the numerous other reasons people get rid of meat from their diets. Here on CleanTechnica, we should talk more about the climate impact of eating meat, because it’s huge and yes, cow farts are a part of the equation.
The 1.3 billion cows on the planet (yes, you read that correctly – BILLION) generate 120 kilograms | 250 pounds of methane emission per year. And you thought your Uncle Jim had gas… This fact alone has prompted many former meat eaters to reduce or eliminate meat from their diets. Meat on Mondays have been replaced with Meatless Mondays, and many people are going full vegan – which does away with eating meat and any animal products altogether. After all, cows that produce milk and cheese have emissions as well.
Climate Nexus adds some data to support the impact of livestock on the planet:
“The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates the livestock sector as a whole contributes 14.5% of total man-made greenhouse gas emissions – beef and milk production make up the majority of this. Most of those emissions (42%) come from enteric fermentation, with an additional 23% from manure application and management (from both methane and nitrous oxide).”
We often get pulled into the details about how big of an impact livestock are on climate change, but the data is clear – it is massive. It is important and until someone slaps a carbon tax on your steak, it’s up to each of us to make a difference. This is more impactful than that sexy electric car you have set as your background.
This is more impactful than those beautiful solar panels that comes with the app you can pull up at work to show off to your friends and this is definitely more impactful than your new LED lights, no matter how connected and helpful they are. Compiling US EPA data on the matter shows that livestock emissions, aka enteric fermentation, is the largest single source of of CO2 equivalent emissions.
Cattle have not only their direct emissions, but also require an entire industry dedicated to growing food for them, butchering them, processing the meat, packaging, shipping and selling it. The damage they cause to the planet by roaming around pulling plants up, roots and all, crushing indigenous plants with their hooves and the like are all harmful to the planet. The full impact of these actions are only starting to be realized.
I Like To Eat
This part might read like a bit of a confession but if you didn’t gather this fact from the photo above or the eating challenges it was a part of, I like to eat. I’m not overweight because I have enough self-control to force myself away from the computer and out the door onto an ebike, an electric skateboard, a hiking trail, or the beach, but that is more a function of self-control than of my potential.
Pizza is like my kryptonite. Red licorice is perhaps a close second, with a number of unhealthy options landing very close to the top of the list as well. I wish the list included celery (maybe with peanut butter on it?), green beans (can I smother them in garlic butter?) and carrots, but it doesn’t. I have found a nice home for some nice taco replacements that instead use tempeh which is actually pretty tasty when fried up with garlic and ginger – thanks Andrea for that recipe! This is actually the only vegetarian recipe my wife will actually ask for, which makes the entire experience that much nicer, and I love to eat them.
Having said all that, what I’ve found to be great about eating vegetarian food is that for the most part, it’s much lower calories per bite. Meat is a combination of energy dense fat and protein that is a really efficient means of getting lots of calories into our bodies in a short period of time. Fruits and veggies aren’t as energy dense as they contain a ton of water. That means I get to eat a lot more food, from a volume standpoint, to get the same amount of easier to process, healthier calories in my body.
Ditching meat does mean you have to be careful about not just eating more chips, crackers, and other carb loaded snacks, but that’s true for anybody, on any diet.
As the planet warms, we are seeing stronger storms, more intense droughts, more frequent flooding, and polar vortexes that reach up and down from the poles to remind us how unstable the global weather system is becoming. Here in Southern California, drought is the new normal in the Central Valley, where many of the cows that feed the expansive Los Angeles metro area area are raised.
These cows require a ton of water to drink, for their feed, and everything else that goes into running a farm. Producing a pound of beef takes 1,847 gallons of water, according to the Washington Post. Other meats are more efficient to produce, from a water consumption standpoint but all told, the Post tells a shocking story about the relationship between meat and water: “In the United States, meat consumption alone accounts for a whopping 30% of our water footprint.”
If you’re still standing, congratulations. That stat is a tough one to swallow in a state where meat is produced in one of the warmest areas in the state and meat is consumed like it is going out of style. I won’t beleaguer the point but suffice it to say that if you want to do something to save water, cutting your meat consumption is probably the biggest single thing you can do. What’s really exciting about this to me, because I’ve been down this road already, is that not eating meat really isn’t that difficult. As I type this, I’m chomping on a very filling, very savory, very ‘meaty’ chili, made from a dry meal packet from Patagonia Provisions which I supplemented with some tasty soy sausage…or as we call it at my house, soysage.
Ok, fine. Let’s talk about your health. I’m not a doctor, so please seek advice from a medical professional before making any major changes to your diet but let’s be real. Meat is not good for you. I won’t lecture you, but I will toss out a few quick points that are worth considering beyond my insubstantial anecdote of ‘I have more energy when I don’t eat meat.’
The Mayo Clinic advocates eating less meat as a way of saving money and improving health:
“Even reducing meat intake has a protective effect. Research shows that people who eat red meat are at an increased risk of death from heart disease, stroke or diabetes. Processed meats also increase the risk of death from these diseases. And what you don’t eat can also harm your health. Diets low in nuts, seeds, seafood, fruits and vegetables also increase the risk of death.”
Don’t read this as me saying that not eating meat means you have to eat like a squirrel. My average daily food intake looks shockingly similar to that of my meat-loving wife and as I said, I’m chomping on a very tasty chili right now that probably tastes better than most of the beef or turkey chilis I made in the slow cooker back in the day.
As mentioned by the Mayo Clinic above, processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, sausages and the like result in an increased risk of death from heart disease, stroke, or diabetes. I’m not the healthiest person around, but I do want to continue enjoying as much time with my family as I can squeeze out.
I’ll quickly touch on the sacred cow of the meat world – bacon. Along with all other processed meats, it is carcinogenic, meaning it has been statistically linked to cancer. The formal statement from the International Agency for the Research of Cancer (a subsidiary of the World Heath Organization) is as follows: “Processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.” That’s pretty straight-forward. Cancer is scary and terrible stuff. I’ve had it twice in my life and I don’t recommend it because then you get to deal with stuff like chemotherapy which is REALLY nasty stuff.
Phew. Take a deep breath. It’s not as bad as it seems because there are a lot of great, tasty options out there…and more on the way.
CleanTechnica author Jesper Berggreen took to the local market and found Naturli Hakket — a ground beef substitute — and in trying it, found that he enjoyed it more than the very ground beef it sought to emulate.
Beyond Meat has developed a burger that seeks to emulate a ground beef burger without the beef. The Impossible Burger is creating advocates all around the world and has made significant headway in major restaurant chains around the United States. Even Kimbal Musk is getting in on the action with his 50/50 burger that cuts the meat used in a burger in half by blending in mushrooms. It might seem odd but mushrooms have been a staple topping for burgers for years and keep the patty nice and juicy.
Leilani Münter is an outspoken advocate for the planet, for electric cars, and for vegan eating. Some time back, she told a tale of how she brought some Gardein vegan ‘boneless chicken wings’ from the Yardhouse to her pit crew and how they just gobbled them up. I’m up for new things so I went out and tried them and they are delicious. A bit of research showed that these are available at my local supermarket and are really dang tasty. The last time I went out, I accidentally had one of my wife’s chicken nuggets and was really confused because of how dry and flavorless it was. I asked our server only to find out what I was eating. It made me laugh.
The reality is that there are tons of tasty options and alternatives out there to replace the taste and experience of meat – or at least to give us options on the days of the week when we don’t eat meat. For me, for my part, for my family, for my energy…I’ll pass on meat, thanks.
Don't want to miss a cleantech story? Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.