Do you love the planet but also love meat? Then check out the Environmental Working Group's 2011 Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change and Health. With the help of environmental analysis firm CleanMetrics, the EWG assessed the "cradle-to-grave" carbon footprint of 20 popular types of meat, fish, dairy, and vegetable sources of protein. The study includes the greenhouse gas emissions of conventionally produced (non-organic) meat at every stage of production, from the growing of animal feed to the disposal of unused food.
The EWG found that lamb, beef, cheese, and pork generate the most greenhouse gases (mostly methane and nitrous oxide). Yes, cheese. So "vegetarians who eat dairy aren't off the hook." Instead of these high-impact foods, opt to get your protein from lentils, tofu, beans or peanut butter; these foods have the least greenhouse gas emissions. An appealing infographic demonstrates the carbon footprint of all the foods analyzed, in terms of car miles driven per 4 oz. consumed.
The Meat Eater's Guide includes a "Tips for Meat Eaters" section, which lays out some rules to live by if you must eat meat. First of all, eat less meat and dairy. When you do eat meat, eat "greener" meat that is grass-fed or pasture-raised, antibiotic- and hormone- and nitrate-free, certified organic, certified humane, and/or low sodium.
But even if all meat-eaters follow these guidelines, it still won't be enough to reverse the damage the meat industry is doing to the environment. So the EWG suggests getting in touch with political representatives to encourage them to change the policies that allow (and encourage) the industry to be so environmentally damaging. For instance, taxpayer subsidies for animal feed should be cut and programs that support pasture-raised livestock should be supported; regulation of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) should be more strongly regulated; conservation requirements on farms that collect subsidies should be increased; etc.
Susan Carpenter of the LA Times' summarizes the EWG's findings here. She quotes TV chef Mario Batali, who endorses The Meat Eater's Guide, as saying: "Asking everyone to go vegetarian or vegan is not a realistic or attainable goal, but we can focus on a more plant-based diet and support the farmers who raise their animals humanely and sustainably."
I agree with Batali - I think it's unrealistic to expect most Americans to cut meat out of their diets completely. But if you're willing to commit to eating less meat and making sure the meat you do it is as environmentally sound as possible, sign the EWG's "pledge to eat less and greener meat." They hope to get 100,000 supporters to agree to give up meat one day per week (why not celebrate Meatless Monday?) and to eat more fruits and veggies. Sign the pledge here.