The Common Good

Meat: The Other Greenhouse Gas

I had a phase in college when I thought that perhaps I would become a vegetarian. I had no real reason for doing so other than thinking that acting sort of hippie-ish seemed like an identity I wanted to try on for a while. That and a good friend at the time was a vegetarian. Vegan was a little too extreme for my little experiment, so I decided dairy would be okay; yogurt and ice cream were close companions and I dared not part from them.

This little charade lasted about two weeks. I was a college athlete and suddenly found myself completely protein deficient. And while it is of course possible to get enough protein from other sources, I was either completely unaware or happened to strongly dislike those other sources at the time. Forget beans and nuts and legumes. I was eating Wheat Thins and tomatoes with the occasional cucumber thrown in. Of course there was my friend the cup of yogurt, but I was starving for protein. So I added chicken back to the plate.

All kidding aside, there is something to be said about eating your veggies. We Americans have a penchant for meat. Our meals revolve around it. First we decide what the meat dish will be and then we dabble in the sides. In 9 out of 10 meals, veggies are the sides. I have to say, I am increasingly aware of how lopsided this view of the dinner plate actually is. It just seems to me that we would be significantly healthier if we started with the veggies and then worked our way over to the cattle ranch.

My oldest son is about as picky an eater as they come. For about three years the child ate no meat except for chicken nuggets (which hardly count as meat). He is now 6 and has had maybe 5 bits of beef in his entire life.

But give that child a pile of fruit, a stack of carrots or cucumbers and watch him go. He can plow through an entire pint of blackberries without taking a breath. In a panic I once asked my pediatrician if this was okay.

I am an American mom -- I wanted to see him throwing down some meat. So I said this to our doctor: "Is it okay that all he eats are fruits and vegetables, cheeses and yogurts?" He laughed and said "Well, some people actually choose to raise their children this way, they are called vegetarians."

"Oh, right."

But all college trendiness aside, there are good reasons to, at the very least, reduce your meat consumption. According to the well-loved, earth-friendly classic, Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe, it takes about 16 pounds of grain to make one pound of beef.

The average grain-fed animal who is heading to the slaughterhouse will down 2.5 tons of grain and feed per year! If you think about it for a moment, it makes more sense to just consume that 16 pounds of grain rather than stuff it into an animal that will only yield one pound of meat as a result. Lappe tells us that those 16 pounds have 21 times more calories and 8 times the protein of that burger.

Add that to the fact that gassy livestock blow enough methane into the air each year that worldwide it is estimated that they are responsible for 15-20% of the yearly greenhouse gas emissions on our little planet. Seriously. Cow farts are killing us.

The UN estimates that if every American simply skipped meat ONE day per week, that we would save the CO2 equivalent of flying from NY to LA 90 million times! Sounds staggering, eh? Methane is considerably more potent in our atmosphere than CO2; it packs a much greater climate punch.

So give it a thought. Can you skip meat one day per week? I actually only eat meat ONE day per week. I'm a six day a week vegetarian of sorts. I eat yogurt and tons of cheese. Once a month I toss in an egg. I'm not neurotic or crazy about it. Just conscious.

So try on the trend. Just one day at a time. You may find you like it and if so, another green step for you!

portrait-tracey-bianchiTracey Bianchi blogs about finding a saner, greener life from the heart of the Chicago suburbs. She wrote Green Mama: The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet (Zondervan 2009) and blogs at traceybianchi.com.

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