What’s the Beef?

How could anyone give up that big, tender, juicy steak? Or that hamburger blanketed in cheese and drowned in ketchup? Despite its taste, there are actually two very good reasons to give up beef: health benefits and preserving our natural resources.

So how bad is beef? Let’s start with our water resources:

Eighty percent of water consumed in the United States is used for agricultural production. In addition to this, as a result of manure and chemical runoff, many of our water resources are polluted which destroys natural habitats and can break down ecosystem services like water filtration that naturally occurs in wetlands.

What about energy?

The amount of energy used to raise livestock and get it to your refrigerator really depends on where the meat is ultimately coming from. In general, however, for every calorie of primary energy put into raising/processing livestock, only 0.01-0.05 calories are actually converted into edible meat. This can be compared to cereal grains and legumes, where 2-3 edible calories are produced for every calorie of energy put in to production.

What this means is that producing meat takes a lot of water and is not an efficient use of energy. On top of this, livestock produce waste. Lots of it. A part of this waste is the greenhouse gas methane, which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In addition to this, raising livestock takes up 30 percent of all of the land on earth. This land could be used to grow things like grains and legumes, or even fruits and vegetables, all of which are more efficient at putting calories into the food system.

I’ll be the first to admit, completely giving up any kind of food that has always been a part of your lifestyle is not an easy change. However, these facts can make the transition a little easier: eating meat requires 2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more primary energy, 13 times more fertilizer, and 1.4 times more pesticides than a vegetarian diet.

If nothing else, think about where your meat comes from the next time you go to the grocery store, and if you are really craving that juicy steak or hamburger, choose a locally sourced option if you can.
All information for this article comes from “Diet and the Environment: Does What You Eat Matter?” by H. Marlow et. al. I highly recommend this piece if you wish to learn more about how exactly our current food production system effects the environment.

-MF