Since posting last week about the water footprint of beef, I have not been able to get it off my mind. I took this week’s post as an opportunity to go a bit more in depth about the consumption of beef in the United States. An article I found discusses the shift of Americans from beef toward chicken consumption.
The graph shown below displays the peak of beef consumption in America during the 1970s, through the current decline of beef consumption per capita. During this 17 percent decline of beef consumption, greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 10%. As we can see, pork and poultry consumption have relatively stayed the same throughout this period of time. Though this means more chickens are being eaten, reducing the amount of beef consumed proves crucial to reducing our carbon and water footprint.
The article goes on to explain that the production of beef emits seven times the amount of greenhouse gases than chicken. Further, the carbon and water footprint of beef is roughly 20 times that of plant-based foods like beans.
The next graph shows that the production of chicken has increased by 5 times, while beef production has stayed consistent. This is partly due to the high demand for cheaper meats like ready to cook chicken. Beef takes longer to cook, making chicken an easier everyday option for most Americans.
Lastly, we should touch on America’s dietary footprint. Though we have decreased our consumption, beef still accounts for almost half of our dietary footprint. The final graph shows that American consumption of beef is not only one of the highest in the world, but actually four times the world average.
These trends all point to one thing: reducing our production and intake of beef will substantially decrease our carbon footprint within a single generation.
It is so interesting to me that the bulk of American feel as if their meal is not complete without some form of dead animal on their plate. Not only that, but on trying to have one meat free day at Upper a week the student body and their parents pushed back so fiercely against something that could really benefit the environment and barely impact our daily lives. How do you think we can approach a problem like this? Americans clearly don’t like being told what they can eat or not eat, even if you’re just asking for moderation.
There’s a contradiction that has to be dealt with when trying to tackle the problem of food consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. On the one hand, Americans en masse don’t like to be told to do anything they don’t want to do, yet alone be told what they can and cannot eat. On the other hand, beef consumption automatically causes high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Trying to reconcile these two differences is a challenge which will not easily be fixed. How would you propose to solve it?
The information provided by these figures points to a dire need for farming animals, especially cows, in a way that reduces the dietary footprint. The previous two responses point to the issue of Americans not wanting to be told what to eat. This is indeed an issue but I don’t think the solution is encouraging vegetarianism. It is a reality that humans eat meat and, yes, Americans eat more than necessary. For now, I think it is important to stress the importance of purchasing and consuming sustainable beef and working towards making that the norm.
I think all of these graphs did an effective job at laying all the information on the table regarding meat consumption and production. I found it a bit interesting on the final graph that Argentina and Uruguay have beef more readily available than in the United States. In response to Angie’s comment as well, I think it’s fair to say that most Americans eat meat at least once or twice a day. Sometimes I find myself eating meat at 3 or 4 times a day. This is not only unhealthy, but also bad for the environment.