My Beef with Red Meat

by Claire Kredens

I will start with a disclaimer that I am not a vegetarian, but I am a semi-vegetarian (no red meat, no fish).  My path toward eating more sustainably progresses with the more I learn, and I am adopting more sustainable and environmentally friendly eating practices with each passing day.  I gave up solely red meat at the start of 2017 and became a lot more conscious of how much chicken, pork, and turkey I was buying and consuming.

I am constantly badgered with the questions “Do you really think you’re making an impact?”, “What are you ACTUALLY doing to help?”, and “Don’t you miss steak and meatballs?” and I reply to these naysayers with the same few responses:

Yes I think I’m making an impact.  My individual choices about red meat are part of a bigger movement of people like myself who are collectively changing beef consumption patterns.  The National Resources Defense Council reported that Americans cut beef consumption by a staggering 19% from 2005 to 2014 (chicken and pork also fell, but not that much).  The New York Times reported that this reduction saved pollution emissions that would equate to that of 39 million cars.  Still think I’m not making an impact?   

What am I doing to help?  It might not seem like a lot, but I’m doing something.  What are you doing?

Of course I miss eating steak and meatballs, but the positives are outweighing that feeling.  I’m finding other ways to eat, experimenting with recipes that use less harmful meats, maybe no meat at all, and red meat is not even healthy in the first place.  If you don’t want to cut out red meat for the environment, do it for your own health.  A Harvard study reported that not only is red meat associated with certain types of cancers and cardiovascular disease, it is also concluded that each additional serving of red meat per day increases risk of death by 13%.

My beef with red meat started when I found out how much water it took to make a single 1/3lb burger: about 660 gallons of water, or about 3 and a half weeks of showering, but that’s your choice.  It takes about 2,000 gallons to produce a single pound of beef.  Why should we be using so much water to produce a burger when some people don’t even have access to water in the first place?

Not to mention the carbon dioxide and methane impact, I mean these are massive animals that literally have methane (a greenhouse gas about 23 times more negative than carbon dioxide) coming out of them.  Animal/dairy farming is single-handedly one of the culprits of climate change due to our consumption patterns.  If we cut out even a fraction the large amount of cows used just for dairy and meat, we would cut environment-altering methane emissions.  Chicken, lamb, turkey, pics, etc. do not have the methane factor, which is why beef reduction is so important. 

While I think going vegan and vegetarian are very helpful and noble pursuits, I just wasn’t ready to give up all forms of meat at once, as humans evolved to consume meat and practices to do so, it’s understandable to take some time to get used to cutting out meat.  I will say buying certain brands of meat are important, but that’s a topic for another time.  I personally think us as environmentalists of the present and future cannot ask the average citizen to give up meat.  People eat what they want because they work for their money and spend it as they will.  Meat reductionism is a better, more achievable goal.  But, this movement isn’t as big as the vegetarian or vegan movement, so people aren’t fully aware that this is an option after they automatically take veganism or vegetarianism out of consideration.

As I progress into my career in the environmental realm, I strive to make meat reductionism a movement, especially reductionism of beef, in order to get people, at the very least, thinking about the environmental impact of what they eat.

David WintersComment