If you’ve ever researched how to reduce your environmental footprint, you know eating less meat is always one of the first things listed. If you’ve ever wondered why, or how to go about making a change yourself, we’ve got you covered.
What is sustainable meat?
First things first: When people talk about sustainable meat, they’re almost certainly talking about red meat in particular. It’s the worst offender when it comes to environmental impact. Cows contribute to greenhouse gas emissions through their methane production, which they expel when they burp.
It might sound comical, but methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide, and cattle are the number one source of methane emissions in the US (and the number one contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the world).
Cows also have a negative environmental impact through their manure and everything required to care for and provide for them — like clearing forests for their grazing land, soil erosion, etc.
While there are thoughtful, conscientious farmers who are doing as much as possible to minimize their livestock’s impact, almost every aspect of meat consumption comes with an environmental cost.
So how do you make a change?
The golden rule to eating meat more sustainably is eating less of it. You don’t need to eliminate it completely to significantly lessen your impact on the environment. Start with smaller, attainable changes. Here’s how you can play your part.
How to eat meat more sustainably
First, eat more whole and plant-based foods
Think about what you can add to your diet versus what you take away. It’s no surprise that eliminating a key source of protein and not replacing it will leave you feeling hungry, cranky, and generally disillusioned by the whole idea.
By adding more plant-based foods, you can naturally make meat an occasional guest versus the main act.
- Consider a vegetarian cookbook for ideas and the opportunity to try new foods, like savory lentils or crispy chickpeas.
- Make vegetables, legumes, and grains the base of your meal and build your eating experience around them.
- Use seasoning, sauces, dips, and new flavors to experience your vegetables in new and delicious ways.
- Get smart on plant-based protein — your body will need it. Chickpeas, edamame, protein powder, and Greek yogurt are quick and easy ways to add more protein to your diet.
And when you do eat meat?
- When you buy meat, look for the most sustainable meat you can find. Look for a label that reads “grass-fed” or “sustainable beef.” Meat that isn’t labeled grass-fed is most likely from a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operations), and its environmental impact is far greater than that of grass-fed beef.
- Reduce your portion size. Supplement it with grains, veggies, and legumes. For example, if your typical taco night would be built around chicken strips, start with a hearty serving of black beans and add a lesser amount of chicken.
- Consciously reduce your intake. Perhaps you might only eat meat on the weekends or make a commitment to plant-based lunches and enjoy meat occasionally at dinner.
- Make a portion of meat that can be used over several meals instead of one. It requires more intentionality but can significantly lessen your meat consumption while not eliminating it completely. For example, slow-cook chicken breasts that can be shredded for tacos, added to a soup, or put in a salad.
The bottom line: The decision to eat meat sustainably is immediate, impactful, and, unlike so many other actions to aid climate change — it’s entirely in your control. With intention, care, and creativity, it can be an enjoyable and beneficial change. Let us know how it goes!