If you eat meat yet you are wondering how you can become a bit more sustainable in your meat consumption, in this guide we dig deeper into the different options for your diet.
Do you ever wonder about the impact of your food choices on the planet? While some argue a vegan diet is best, others say meat consumption can be sustainable, at least if humans collectively change how they raise livestock to avoid issues like deforestation, runoff and fossil fuel use.
However, you live in the here and now, not some future utopia. In the meantime, making informed dining choices can significantly impact your carbon footprint. What kind of meat is the most sustainable to eat and how should you alter your dietary habits to tread more lightly on the planet?
The Impact of Meat on the Environment
Currently, meat production contributes 14.5% to climate change, thanks to the above problems. Decreasing your overall consumption is one method of eating more sustainably. However, a lot of factors enter into the general equation.
For example, properly rendered meat bones, discarded products and fats keeps organic waste out of landfills. It could even contribute to decreased climate change by providing the raw material for biodiesel fuel, which burns cleaner than gasoline, producing fewer emissions.
The Hot List: The Most Sustainable to Least Sustainable Meats
Few consumers know the practices that took place before the butcher unless they shop at specialized farm-to-consumer establishments, which aren’t available in all areas. Fortunately, you don’t have to travel out of your way to practice ethical eating. Those emissions aren’t kind to the environment — you’re better off embracing a low-emission diet by frequenting your farmers market for produce that isn’t shipped in from overseas.
What should your typical grocery shopper know about the most sustainable meats to eat? Here’s a short list, starting with the worst offenders and ending with the cleanest.
Cattle require the most land and resources from farm to plate of any commonly consumed meat animal. You’re best off skipping fast food and reserving steak and roasts for special occasions.
If you avoid lamb because of the “baby animal” aspect, you should probably know cows and chickens are also quite young when slaughtered. The number of offspring an animal produces and how often play into the environmental cost of meat. It’s one reason dairy is equally damaging ecologically — it takes four full years to produce milk, during which time the animal devours arable land and crops.
Lambs produce only one offspring per year. Slaughtering them young minimizes the environmental impact, making them more sustainable than cows.
Sows take a while to raise — three to five years. However, they produce between 20 and 30 piglets annually, somewhat decreasing the environmental impact.
Seafood is quite sustainable when producers use proper practices. However, fish farming uses tons of chemicals in the process. Wild-caught is also problematic, as the United Nations estimate fishers overfish 85% of wild food fish — a phenomenon that hurts other species.
5. Chicken and Turkey
Poultry is your most sustainable choice of mass-produced meats. While factory farming isn’t great for the environment — no matter how it’s done — these animals reproduce and grow quickly.
6. The Roadkill Cafe
If you’re a hunter who takes only what they need to feed their family, you’re practicing the most sustainable meat production. Point this out the next time someone tries to guilt-trip you while eating a hamburger.
You might joke about the roadkill cafe, but wild animals hit by cars must go somewhere. In many states, you can sign up to collect them. If you know how to render meat, guess what? You just lined your freezer with fresh grub for the winter and performed valuable community service, all for free. If you’re struggling and hungry, pay attention and start fileting.
Yes, it’s true — roadkill wins the battle for the most sustainable meat you can eat.
What Kind of Meat Is Most Sustainable?
You might have heard you should switch to a plant-based diet to protect the planet. However, you can’t picture a life without the occasional hamburger. That’s okay — you don’t have to go vegan to green your dietary carbon footprint.
However, you can improve your impact by choosing one of the most sustainable kinds of meat when you sit down for dinner. Save the big hitters like steak for special occasions, opt for chicken and turkey more often and reduce your overall consumption to do your part to protect the planet.