Sunday, February 08, 2009

Eating less meat to save the earth

I heard an interview with Mark Bittman on his new book, Food Matters. I still haven't had the opportunity to check out the book, but I was astonished by some of the facts about meat production's impact on the environment and it has prompted me to be more creative about what I should fix for dinner on a weekly basis. Bittman is obviously a foodie so he's interested in eating well, but he also wants to do right by the earth.

Bittman is being compared to Michael Pollan, but they seem to differ in a very critical way. Pollan stresses the production aspect of food and wants people to buy 100% pastured meat. Bittman said in the NPR interview that he thinks it's more important for people to cut back on the amount of meat they eat than to get really worried about the sources. His claim is that on the scale that Americans eat meat (with the rest of the world following our lead), there is no way farmers can keep up with the demand without resorting to confined feedlots and other "factory farming" practices. For this reason, he says, cutting back on the amount of meat and other animal products we eat is important if we want to see changes in the way those products are produced.

Some facts from the interview and another article for the CBC:
Americans raise and slaughter 10 billion animals each year for consumption. If we all decreased consumption of animal products by 10 percent, he says, it "would have both an environmental impact and an impact on all of our mutual health."

The tipping point came, though, when he read a 2007 United Nations report that said global livestock production was responsible for about one-fifth of all greenhouse gases.

Americans consume more than eight ounces of meat per day, twice the global average. Bittman suggests dropping it to about 3 ounces, or 90 grams.

He states that if each American ate the equivalent of three fewer cheeseburgers a week, they'd cancel out the effects of all the SUVs in the country.

These are some serious reasons to look at the amount of meat and animal products in your diet. There's also a more personal reason to follow Bittman's lead -- it may help you lose weight:

Bittman attributes the book's genesis to a personal epiphany two years ago. At 57 years and 214 pounds, he was struggling with sleep apnea, high blood pressure and bad knees...

Within four months, he lost 35 pounds, his apnea was gone and his blood sugar fell within the normal range. Only his knees didn't respond.

I think the recent high-protein diet fads have probably only increased the amount of meat we eat, so it's interesting to hear that you can lose weight while also cutting back on animal products. I also think that for most people these switches would help lower the cholesterol and saturated fat in their diets.

Bittman's book has recipes to help readers make the switch. Here are some things I've tried, and I'd be interested to see what others are doing to reduce the amount of meat, eggs, and dairy in their diets.

  • I use Soymilk's Silk creamer for my coffee instead of half and half.
  • Most mornings for breakfast, I have wholegrain toast with natural peanut butter.
  • I am experimenting to find new bean and whole grain recipes I like.
  • I buy flavorful cheeses and grate them on top of dishes with a superfine grater so I use less.
  • Stir-fry meals, pasta, casserole, and grain dishes allow you to make a filling dinner with just a little meat or leave it out altogether.
  • When dining out, I try to choose vegetarian if there is an appealing option. I love falafel, and many places also have great roasted vegetable sandwiches.
I like that Bittman offers an alternative to the all-or-nothing approach. There is definitely a benefit in making these kinds of choices more accessible to people who might never consider vegetarianism or veganism as an option.


  1. I loved reading your blog! It is rare to find someone who not only has a realization of their own, but who also shares it with others. Thank you!

  2. Interesting - I haven't heard about Bittman and it was good to read this. I don't eat that much meat at home, mostly eating "one pot" combo meals loaded with more veggies than meat. I rarely eat beef anymore.

  3. I haven't read this book (but I want to!). I have to say, I think both approaches used together is the answer. Eat less, better quality meat. This year I've tried to reduce our animal product consumption while buying more food from our local farmer's market. My grocery bill hasn't gone down, but it hasn't gone up either.

    If it were just meat, I'd eat a largely vegan diet (which I do), but there is no way my husband and son will do so, and it's just easier to make one dinner for all of us.

  4. I have this book on my shelf.

    needed the nudge to crack the binding :) as Im all about little steps to BIGGER IMPACT.



"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07