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🍏 "It’s not the 'How,' it’s the Cow"


Photo by Ryan Song / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Hosts: Tamar Haspel & Mike Grunwald
Category: 🍏 Sustainable Food | Beef & Climate

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Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[9:57] MG: “The big problem is the land use. […] Nearly 50% of all agricultural land is used to run cattle that provide about 3% of global calories. And it's not just a little bit worse than chicken, it's 4 to 12 times worse, depending on how you do the math. It's not just worse than your beloved lentils, it's like 20 to 60 times worse. It is by far the leading source of deforestation around the world. And […] deforestation is already 10% of our carbon emissions and it's growing more. So again, when people talk about food as a problem, a remarkably disproportionate percentage of it is beef.”

[11:57] TH: “The reason I get frustrated when we talk about how meat is the problem. […] It's really beef. […] Chicken, but also pork are way better than beef from a greenhouse gas perspective. Because pigs aren't ruminants. They're what's called monogastrics, which means they only have one stomach, and they don't produce methane when they digest.”

[12:38] MG: “If you're vegan, that's awesome, you're doing something really great for the climate. If you're vegetarian, that's really good, too. But if you just don't eat beef, that's in most cases just as good as being a vegetarian. Because most vegetarians end up replacing that pork and chicken with dairy products that are just as bad for the climate.”

[13:53] MG: “Americans and in fact much of the rich world now eat about 1/3 less beef per capita than we did in the 1970s. Now, unfortunately, the developing world is eating more beef. […] And as billions of people exit poverty around the world, which is terrific, they're going to eat even more. So we're going to have to deal with beef as a problem. But the other good news, as perverse as it sounds, is that beef is such a disproportionate part of the climate problem and it uses such an extraordinary amount of land, that if you can figure out ways to make it a little more efficient, make it a little bit less of a climate problem, you can have an extraordinary impact.”

[14:50] MG: “I think a lot of people when they go to the grocery store, they assume that their way to help the planet is by getting grass fed beef […] or maybe organic grass fed beef. […] But I think from a climate perspective, cornfed really has some advantages. And the advantage is efficiency. To the extent that this is a land use problem, you want to increase the amount of beef that you can produce per acre of land. And providing more food more quickly reduces the amount of grazing land that you need to raise all these cattle. And at the same time, the faster you can get them into the feedlot, […] it shortens their lifespan, which shortens the amount of time that they're burping out methane. […] The United States has the most efficient beef in the world. We have 8% of the world's cattle and produce 18% of the world's beef. And that just shows that we're doing it better from a climate perspective.”

[18:56] TH: “We always want to put a label on something and say this kind is good and this kind is bad. But the reality is, there's good and bad in just about every way you can raise food. […] It's not the label. It's the practice. And we don't usually know the practice.”

[28:09] MG: “When I think about the future of beef, there are going to have to be changes on the demand side and the supply side. On the demand side, […] people in the developed world are going to have to eat less of it. Some of that might come from people eating more pork or meatless Mondays, or just deciding that they care about the climate a lot more than they have in the past. I think that a lot more of it is going to have to come from some of these plant-based or eventually cell-based alternatives. They're going to have to get better, and they're going to have to get cheaper, because otherwise people aren't going to eat it.”

[29:08] MG: “That said, there's still going to be some real beef. And I think there are some promising examples of ways that you could make it better. You're starting to see additives that can be put into the feed so that the cattle burp less or certainly burp less methane. […] The real key is going to be […] efficiency and increasing yields. And that's going to be better breeding, better nutrition, better breeding of the grass, because remember a lot of ranchers are essentially grass farmers. And if you can make grass that grows better and is more nutritious, and creates beef faster, you're going to provide more meat with less acreage and that's really going to be the key to avoiding deforestation and carbon emissions.”

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🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google
🕰️ 37 min | 🗓️ 06/28/2022
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