Eating Green Without Going Veg
It can be tough being both an environmentalist and a meat-eater. We know that industrial animal feedlots can produce as much waste as cities and a lot ends up fouling our waters. We know that raising animals to eat requires much more fuel and energy than raising veggies. Recently there's also been uproar about the health dangers lurking in that seemingly innocuous mound of pink, squiggly hamburger meat at the grocery store.
Many people find it easy to go meatless, but what about those of us who care about the planet but can’t shake our deep, abiding love for cheeseburgers and carne asada burritos? Can a house divided against itself stand? Some are saying we can have our steak dinner and eat it too, if we replace conventional beef with local, grass-fed beef.
Grass-fed cattle require about the same amount of land as conventionally raised cattle, about half an acre per steer. However, permanent pasture requires less fertilizer, fuel, and water than crops. Another surprising benefit is that permanent pasture can sequester carbon dioxide more than land devoted to annual feed crops like corn and soy. (It's due to the deeper root systems of perennial pasture grasses, and the fact that tilling cropland releases carbon dioxide.) Converting crops to pastures also can reduce soil erosion.
This won’t be the final word on the environmental impact of our diets (nope, we’re not that lucky!) but for now it seems like a good idea to replace conventional beef with local, grass-fed beef. It might be more expensive, but it evens out if you eat less and savor those burgers more. Eat Wild maintains a directory of grass-fed meat products from around the country if you can't find any at your local market.
-- Année Tousseau