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  • wildcatrussell

Eating less beef

Updated: Feb 21

There is nothing more controversial among climate activists than the sources of protein in your diet. I am wholeheartedly in support of those who choose to be vegan. I've tried several times to become vegetarian and it hasn't worked well for me, because my body doesn't tolerate either beans or wheat, which are both primary protein sources in most vegetarian diets. Ota's body doesn't tolerate either beans or dairy, so she also has trouble being vegetarian. We certainly do eat a "plant-rich" diet, including plenty of fresh, local fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, and gluten-free grains like oatmeal, quinoa, and corn, but we also eat meat, including beef, lamb, poultry, and fish.

Beyond our personal health needs, there is also something to be said for using livestock management as a tool to sequester carbon in the soil. Managed grazing is one of the climate solutions touted by Project Drawdown -- their research indicates that it can sequester up to 3 metric tons per acre per year, and be more profitable than the intensive livestock management practices used in North America today.

I believe that it is important for all of us to take the steps we can take to reduce our climate impact. In our situation, it is easier for us to reduce our use of fuel-based electric power to zero than it is to adopt a purely vegan diet for the sake of the climate. But that doesn't get us off the hook, as omnivores, to reduce the climate impact of our diet.

Our first climate step in this area was to move toward reducing the amount of meat that we eat, and source it from local farmers who use holistic land management tools that sequester carbon in the soil and respect the animals, including rotational grazing, grass finishing, and limiting the number of cattle to those that can live a healthy life on the land, as opposed to the shocking conditions feedlot-finished cattle are subjected to.

Update 2/2024: Upon digesting this article and several journalistic opinion pieces by George Monbiot based upon this and similar research, as well as some new health information that indicated we would be better off not eating beef at all, we've decided to phase out beef almost entirely. Why? The problem is that there is a limit to how much carbon can be sequestered by grazing cattle, and in many situations, no way for raising beef to overcome the methane emissions of the cattle AND the opportunity cost of the natural ecosystem that the cattle ranch replaced. Since grass-finishing beef takes more land than grain-finishing beef, in some cases it is even worse for the climate because it displaces more natural ecosystem.

And eating beef increases risk of colon cancer, while eating fish (and maybe chicken as well) is protective, and both have lower climate footprints than beef. Beef is also associated with other health conditions, such as gout.

Turns out, reducing the amount of land spent on animal agriculture and rewilding it is the best way to sequester carbon. And eating more plants and less red meat is the best way to be a healthy flexitarian. With our allergies to legumes, dairy, and wheat, we may never be vegetarian, but we can contribute to reducing the climate impact of our diet by eating no red meat or dairy, and small amounts of fish and chicken, in addition to more vegetables and fruit.

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