Cows have a profound impact on our planet. In fact, if you want to reduce the environmental impact of your diet, the single-most important thing you can do is eat less beef—or none at all.
According to a 2013 report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), raising beef and dairy cattle contributes 9 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide (14.5 percent for all types of livestock).
However, researchers from the World Bank and International Finance Corporation say that figure underestimates the impact of livestock on the climate crisis. Add in the rainforest lands that are razed to make way for livestock grazing (primarily cattle), and you end up with a figure closer to 51 percent, they say in a 2012 report for Worldwatch.
And that’s just the climate crisis. Consider the tons of genetically modified soil and corn grown to feed cows. The pesticides applied to those fields that runs into the ocean, causing “dead zones” where no life can survive. The stunning amount of water cows need: It takes 840 gallons to produce one pound of conventional beef, according to Denis Hayes, co-author of Cowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture, and Environment. The unspeakable cruelty practiced in conventional slaughterhouses.
In our upcoming Fall issue of the Green American, we talk with Hayes—president and CEO of the Bullitt Foundation and founder of the first-ever Earth Day—about the considerable environmental and health impacts of raising and eating cows, and what to do about it.
As a first step, Hayes recommends zeroing in on your beef consumption and making what beef you may choose to eat local, grass-fed, and organic. (There’s evidence, Hayes says, that the best-managed grass-fed cattle farms can actually be a carbon sink.) But even more importantly is the fact that everyone needs to cut their beef consumption in half, at least—grass-fed beef requires more land than conventional beef, so converting the world to grass-fed beef but maintaining current consumption levels would be an environmental nightmare.
Of course, the best option would be for people to go vegetarian or vegan. Our upcoming issue features two sisters—and co-owners of Anything Vegan—who are vegan chefs, caterers, and nutritionists, offering their best advice for going vegan simply and joyfully.
But, as Hayes notes, “according to a poll done for Vegetarian Times, just 3.2 percent of American adults are vegetarian.”
Those of us at Green America wish that number were much larger, but, as Denis says, “wishing won’t make it so.”
That’s where our “Don’t Have a Cow” blog series comes in. Every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the month of September, Green America staff and select outside experts will be blogging about our favorite ways to eat less meat and go vegetarian or vegan. Use the magazine to spread the word to the 97 percent who eat meat in your community about why everyone should eat less meat. And use the tips, recipes, and resources we’ll include in this blog series to challenge yourself and everyone you know to further in shrinking your dietary impact.
If you’re already vegetarian or vegan, we invite you to share your expertise with others in the comments sections.
In that spirit, here’s my favorite, simple recipe for (vegan) hummous, from the family recipes of a Lebanese friend.
Hummous bi tahini
19 oz. chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans)
¼ cup sesame tahini
1 clove garlic
½ tsp. salt
¼ cup lemon juice
Drain liquid from the chickpeas and set liquid aside. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a food processor or blender, adding only enough liquid to achieve desired consistency. (More liquid = thinner dip.) If you like your hummous lemony, you can add lemon juice in addition or instead. Blend 2-3 minutes into a smooth paste. Place in a small platter. Sprinkle with olive oil and garnish with fresh parsley.
Please share your favorite vegan recipe in the comments section below!