The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Community News Network

March 12, 2014

Which foods are the worst for the environment?

The argument that a vegetarian diet is more planet-friendly than a carnivorous one is straightforward: If we feed plants to animals, and then eat the animals, we use more resources and produce more greenhouse gases than if we simply eat the plants. As with most arguments about our food supply, though, it's not that simple. Although beef is always climatically costly, pork or chicken can be a better choice than broccoli, calorie for calorie.

Much of the focus on the climate impact of meat has been on cattle, and with good reason. Any way you slice it, beef has the highest environmental cost of just about any food going, and the cow's digestive system is to blame. Ruminants - cows, sheep, goats and also yaks and giraffes - have a four-chambered stomach that digests plants by fermentation. A byproduct of that fermentation is methane, a greenhouse gas with some 20 times the heat-trapping ability of carbon. One cow's annual output of methane - about 100 kilograms - is equivalent to the emissions generated by a car burning 235 gallons of gasoline.

Methane isn't the only strike against ruminants. There's also fertility. Cows can have one calf per year, which means the carbon cost of every cow destined for beef includes the cost of maintaining an adult for a year. Pigs, by contrast, can have two litters a year, with 10 or more pigs per litter.

Then there's feed conversion. It takes six pounds of feed to make one pound of beef, but only 3.5 pounds for pork and two pounds for chicken. Considering the methane, the babies and the feed, it's clear that the ruminants do more damage than their one-stomached barnyard compatriots (monogastrics, they're called).

Comparing cows with pigs, and meat with plants, is often done using data from the Environmental Working Group, which produced a report in 2011 that detailed the environmental cost of meat. The report includes a chart that ranks various foods according to the amount of emissions generated in the course of production. Ruminants are the worst offenders, with lamb generating 39 kilograms of carbon dioxide (or its equivalent) for each kilogram of meat, and beef generating 27. Then come pork (12), turkey (11) and chicken (7). Plants are all lower, ranging from potatoes (3) to lentils (1).

Text Only
Community News Network
  • Wal-Mart to cut prices more aggressively in back-to-school push

    Wal-Mart Stores plans to cut prices more aggressively during this year's back-to-school season and will add inventory to its online store as the chain battles retailers for student spending.

    July 21, 2014

  • 20110929_bowling.jpg Why fewer people go bowling

    Like other industries facing tough economic times, America's bowling centers are trying to reinvent themselves.

    July 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • President Barack Obama mug Best president? Worst president? Don't read too much into those polls

    The questions about who are the best and worst post-WWII presidents are useless. What they mainly show is that Republicans are far more unified around a single story than are Democrats.

    July 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • lawgrad.jpg Things looking up for law school grads

    This might sound weird, but here goes: Now might be a pretty good time to think about law school. For the sixth year running, the employment rate fell, as schools produced a record number of graduates for an industry without the room for them. There was, however, a nugget of good news buried in the data.

    June 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140625-AMX-HEALTH-EXERCISE252.jpg Fitness program caters to people with developmental disabilities

    Spirit - which stands for "Social Physical Interactive Respectful Inclusive Teamwork" - offers classes that help clients with developmental disabilities build muscle, increase flexibility and improve their diets. As a population, they have limited opportunities when it comes to health, Smith says. "And a lot need more social interaction," he adds.

    June 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • twitter.jpg Mobile web siphoning revenue from U.S. cities as landlines fade

    Tweeting, Facebooking, Skyping smartphone users are costing U.S. states and cities revenue as taxes rooted in old-fashioned telephone service fail to keep up with the Internet era.

    June 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 10.42.53 AM.png VIDEO: Police say thief forgets to log off Facebook while robbing home

    A Minnesota man was jailed after he logged on to Facebook from a home he broke into, then forgot to log out.

    June 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • breaking-up.jpg Thinking about breaking up? Flip a coin

    In their latest book, 'Think Like a Freak," Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner suggest that, contrary to what many people have told you in life, you should quit. That is, when things get tough, you shouldn't always tough them out and stick with it. Instead, you should quit and do so sooner rather than later.

    June 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Starbucks tests Greek yogurt smoothies in California, Missouri

    Starbucks Corp., which started selling handmade sodas in the southern United States Tuesday, is now testing three flavors of Greek-yogurt smoothies as it continues trying to broaden its appeal beyond coffee.

    June 24, 2014

  • Bq6uCTrCQAAlzeo.jpg Tornado touches down near Indianapolis

    A band of storms containing heavy rains, lightning and gusting winds spawned at least one tornado near Indianapolis Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.

    June 24, 2014 1 Photo 1 Slideshow

Graduation Salutes
Seasonal Content