Image credit Hannah Ritchie.

Eat less beef to help the planet, says Spotlight columnist

Chicken is the meat most friendly to the environment

By Neal Dangerfield

Recently, some of our neighbours to the south got into a bit of a tizz when fake news was spread about President Biden’s environmental plan including dramatically limiting people’s intake of red meat.

While this was obviously not true, the fact is red meat, and especially beef, is the worst food we can consume for the environment. The land use for the amount of people cows can feed is very high. Plus great swaths of rainforests are cut down to make way for grazing land, removing all those trees that keep the carbon dioxide locked away and out of the atmosphere. Cows also burp a lot, and unfortunately cows burp methane which is about 30 times worse for the environment than carbon dioxide. Along with a bit more for processing, transport and packaging, it makes beef very hard to swallow for the environment.

Chicken comes out best of all meat consumed and is 10 times better with its emissions than beef. However, this isn’t even a patch on most plant-based products which are as much as 10-50 times lower than most meat-based products. Dairy and cheese aren’t too hot though, coming it at around the same as some meats but still three times less than beef.

So it seems obvious then, that to do the most good for the environment we should all change over to a vegan diet. Job done. End of column. Well okay not quite. Although moving over to a full vegan diet could save more than a tonne of carbon dioxide off your annual carbon footprint, it is quite hard to be a full vegan and I tip my hat to anyone who does this. In my own home we are definitely moving towards a more plant-based diet. We started by not buying any more meat products for the freezer and started using what we had and planning plant-based meals in between. At the same time, we’ve swapped out some dairy products such as butter for vegan spread, and some milk for oat milk. One of the biggest wrenches was not buying our quarter-of-a cow that we’d had for the last few years. Although locally raised and organically fed, it was just something we knew we had to give up.

Here’s a few other things to consider or try if you don’t think you can move to a plant-based diet, because eating even just a few kilograms less of meat products can be highly impactful.

You don’t need meat with every meal of the day. Cut out the bacon for breakfast or replace the sandwich meat with cheese, or better still tuna. Have a meat free Monday. One day a week won’t hurt too much. If you absolutely have to have meat everyday, try eating more chicken or even local fish.

And for everyone, whether meat eater, vegan or something in between, remember to buy local, in season foods as much as possible. Grow as many vegetables you can yourself and stay away from processed foods as much as possible. Remember to just do your best. You’re not a failure if you can’t become that full blown vegan. If you’re trying to reduce your carbon footprint through what you eat you’re still part of the solution.