Study: 90% Reduction in Global Meat Eating Required to Avoid Climate Impacts

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A new study recommends reducing our meat consumption by 90% so as to avoid the worst climate change impacts. But why give up meat when we can embrace plant based alternatives like this Beyond Burger and still save the planet? Photo credit: Beyond Meat

Just days after the IPCC released its latest report on global climate change, another group of scientists published the most comprehensive analysis of our global food system to date. Published in Nature, the study urges humanity to curb its meat consumption by up to 90%.

Scientists analyzed the global food system, taking into account all countries, projected population increase, technological changes, and planetary boundaries.

Because the global food system is a major driver of climate change, land-use, biodiversity loss, and depletion of freshwater resources (just to name a few), the study recommends a transition to plant based eating as part of a “synergistic combination of measures” that will be absolutely essential to avert global environmental depletion.

That means we need to eat 75% less beef and 90% less pork while increasing our consumption of pulses and beans by five times.

“Changes in meat consumption dominate the impacts on greenhouse gas emissions,” says the study.

By eating lower on the food chain—as in, plant based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes—we can dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

But what does cutting back on meat by 90% actually look like?

The scientists offer a couple options for us to consider.

The first is a more conservative transition to plant based eating including limiting red meat to less than 10 ounces per week and increasing daily fruit and veg consumption to about 14 ounces.

A more “ambitious dietary change” put forth by the study recommends just over a pound of fruits and vegetables consumed daily, at least 3.5 ounces of plant based protein such as beans, legumes, and nuts, and “modest” amounts of animal products equating to less than 5% of total calories.

In the more ambitious dietary change model, why limit oneself to a paltry amount of meat each day when one can safely consume plant based burgers in abundance? 

In response to the study,  co-founder of @VGNNews_ Christopher Sebastian breaks down some of the math for us in a snappy thread on Twitter.

If Americans eat about 222 pounds of meat per year, we’d need to cut back to roughly one ounce of meat per day to curb our intake by 90%, he explains.

“Do you know what that looks like? I’m glad you asked,” Sebastian says.

“Four ounces of steak is roughly equivalent to a pack of cards,” he explains. “So cut into quarters, 1 ounce is the size of…A Single. Pat. Of. Butter. Do you see what I’m getting at?”

He continues, “You have to effectively ELIMINATE your meat consumption. Not switch to chicken. Not switch to pork. BASICALLY. […] STOP. PERIOD.”

In response to Sebastian’s thread, some detractors erroneously cite human “overpopulation”  as the key problem to solve to avoid climate change impacts.

However, what’s important to remember in the case of greenhouse gas emissions is that the domesticated animals we kill and eat for food outnumber humans by about 62 billion.

Every year humans kill and eat about 70,000,000,000 (70 billion) animals. And every single one of those animals eats, drinks, farts, and defecates in proportions that are exponentially higher than humans.

In terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, humans are not the problem. Humans raising, killing and eating animals is the problem. It is far more efficient for humans to eat plants than for humans to feed animals and then eat the animals.

By eliminating meat and dairy from our diets we would slowly but effectively arrest the systematic and intensive breeding of these domesticated animals, essentially reducing their population down to nothing in about five years—well within the suggested 12 years we would need to enact drastic measures to avoid global climate catastrophe.

In other words, it’s far simpler to choose plant based foods instead of animal products. Every time we decide to choose plant based foods instead of animal products we can help do our part to enable this vital transition to a more climate-friendly lifestyle.

Here are some of our favorite plant based alternatives from burgers to cheeses to milks to dressings:

Beyond Meat – plant based burger patties that look, cook, and taste like real beef. You can find these in the frozen aisle next to animal products.

Gardein – Delicious plant based alternatives such as chicken, meatballs, pork and fish. Found in the frozen meat section of the grocery store.

Miyoko’s Creamery – artisanal style plant based cheeses, butters, and spreads; great for parties, special occasions, or everyday snacks to fulfill your cheese and dairy product cravings. Usually found in the cheese or produce section of grocery stores.

Daiya Foods – plant based cheese shreds, slices and sauces; usually found in the produce section of mainstream grocery stores. Our favorites are the Daiya cheddar shreds–great for burritos, mac n cheese, and salad toppers.

Follow Your Heart – a longtime purveyor of plant based sauces and spreads, egg alternatives, dressings and mayonnaise. Our favorite items are the provolone slices, vegenaise, and omega 3 ranch dressing, which is, incidentally, GREAT with plant based pizza.

Plant milks – while there are what feels like hundreds of plant based milk alternatives out there now in all mainstream grocery stores, our favorites are the vanilla unsweetened almond milk by Almond Breeze and the unsweetened light soymilk by Silk. There are even combinations of plant milks whose taste profiles,  once tapped into, will likely not be exhausted for decades to come and will provide endless alternatives to cow’s milk—which is not safe or healthy for human consumption in the first place.

Impossible Foods – a revolutionary newcomer to the plant based “beef” industry, Impossible Foods is a start-up in Silicon Valley determined to remove animal products from our food system by 2035. But nevermind all that—their plant based burgers “bleed” when cooked like cow flesh and are chemically the closest thing to cow flesh in plant form. Truly incredible, these patties are not widely sold at retail outlets but are available in more than 3000 restaurants across the US. We tried them back in late 2016 when these burgers were only available in a few select (and swanky!) restaurants in San Francisco and New York. Nearly two years later and we can drive three minutes up the road to our local burger joint and eat one. They’re coming, along with the rest of the plant based revolution.

To fight climate change and ensure a livable future for humanity (and all the ecosystems we depend on), we don’t have to grit our teeth and get shoved off the precipice.

We can instead choose to slap on the parachute, walk towards this challenge, and safely jump off the cliff while enjoying the adventure together. 



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