I have a friend in San Francisco (what it do, Max?) who wrote his master's project on mitigating litter from discarded cigarette filters, manages an incredible reuse facility in Berkeley, and even once reduced his single-waste use to fit into a small jar during a month-long exercise.
If I am a sustainability nut, then Max is even nuttier than I am. I'd be smooth organic peanut butter, and he's chunky.
My former partner once remarked that Max might be the only person she has met who is more conscious than me of the deleterious environmental effects that an individual's actions have.
There is one lifestyle change that Max, however, is unwilling to make: reducing his carnivorous habits. He knows exactly how bad for the environment his meat consumption is, and yet, he’ll still scarf down a royale with cheese.
Max isn’t alone. I’d say from my own personal experience, getting sustainably-minded individuals to reduce their meat intake is far more difficult than getting them to hop on bikes or start composting.
(Before we move on from Max, he said that I was fine to use his first name as long as—and this is his words—”you mention how sexy I am.” Well alright then, Max. You’re sexy! Let’s move on now.)
This brings me to tomorrow. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving!
It’s my second favorite holiday right after Bay To Breakers, which really is not even a holiday, but a foot race in San Francisco that I treat like a holiday. (If you stick with me long enough, I'm sure I will regale you with some of my Bay To Breakers stories.)
At some point when I was a kid, my dad commented, “Thanksgiving is the only American holiday where Americans don’t buy things for each other.” Even though we had Thanksgiving dinner as a family a grand total of two times, that remark stuck with me.
When I went off to college and started joining other families for Thanksgiving, I came to really enjoy the holiday. There was no pressure to spend money on mediocre chocolates; it was just about spending time with each other, a lot of eating, catching up, and maybe tossing around a football.
Now during Thanksgiving dinner, there’s an 88% chance you’re eating turkey. There’s also a 98% chance that outside of the next few days when the fridge is stuffed with leftovers, or when you occasionally order sandwiches with sliced turkey deli meat, this is the only time you’ll be eating turkey (the second number is arbitrary).
That’s a shame, because from the way I see it, upping your turkey consumption in lieu of eating beef would be beneficial for all of us.
No matter how you look at it, the way we currently raise cows for consumption on a mass-market scale is terrible for the environment on many levels. Here’s a quick rundown in comparison to turkey :
- Water Usage: You’re looking at 1,800 gallons of water per pound of beef vs. 288 gallons of water per pound of turkey. A lot of the water usage comes from all the corn that cows are fed to fatten up.
- Land Usage: Cows utilize 28 times more land than the general poultry category, which also includes chickens. I still have trouble fully comprehending that the Amazon rainforest is being burned so we can consume more beef.
- Emissions Created: From the various studies I was able to find, at the very least on a per pound basis, beef generates 2.5x the greenhouse gases that turkey does. Maybe a lot more depending on what source you rock with.
- Your Health: At this point, we should all be able to agree that red meat is bad for your health without me having to pull up a stat on Google.
While yes, turkeys have their own issues, they’re still far better than beef. For the sake of providing a differing view, here’s an article from Newsweek that lays out how a straight switch from turkey to beef would have issues. That being said, the writer of the piece also neglects to take in the full scope of the environmental damage of beef.
The way the meat consumption/environment issue is presented to folks is often in an all-or-nothing fashion. That’s in part because the issue is co-mingled with an animal welfare viewpoint. If you believe that every animal alive has a right to live in the same way a human does, well logically you’re going to be on the side of no animals should be killed for food.
From what I’ve encountered, the all-or-nothing proposition usually falls on deaf ears. Lately for the sake of the environment, I’ve switched to a new tactic: “Hey, keep eating meat, just drop the beef, please.”
Instead of beef, eat chicken or, yes, turkey. I’m not exactly certain why we stay away from turkey outside of Thanksgiving and barely tolerable sandwiches from Subway, but whatever the reason, I encourage you on a personal level to get over that mental hurdle. Enjoy your meat, just do it in a more eco-friendly way.
Let’s also not forget if you live close enough to a major American city on the coast (which all 32 of my subscribers do), there are also great alt-beef options from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. These options are much healthier and tastier than the other veggie patties out there which are really just corn or wheat ground up and mashed together.
I’ve had an Impossible Burger at many a restaurant, and I’d go as far as to say that in many cases it’s more enjoyable than a beef burger. While I've given up beef for at least six years now, every now and then I'll have a bite of it, and the fat content of it is just stomach-churning for me.
So to wrap things up, let’s bring it back to my buddy in San Francisco.
What do you think, Max? Think you can drop the beef and instead pick up some ground turkey next time you make a Safeway run?
On my end, I'll promise to properly discard the four to five cigarettes I have on an annual basis.
Know someone who won't put down the beef? Forward this article to them so your great great grandkids won't have to escape to Mars.
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This essay was edited by Matt Goodgal. Blame all grammar errors on him.