Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change

Beef I knew about. There are the huge quantities of corn required to fatten up the animals. There are the methane emissions from their digestive tracts. And so much more.

But cheese?! Wonderful cheese?! Brie?! Blue?! Any number of gooey, smelly, buttery, nutlike and otherwise yummy stuff to spread on homemade bread.


It makes sense, of course. Cheese -- a lot of it, anyway -- comes from cows.

All of which makes the Environmental Working Group's new report, the Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change and Health, sort of depressing, albeit enlightening.

Worse, now that I've taken great pains to curtail my beef intake significantly, the report tells me that lamb has an even bigger impact -- 86.4 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents compared to 59.6 pounds per kilogram eaten. Baaad news indeed.

Released today, the scientists who wrote the report factored in all stages of food production, processing, consumption and waste disposal.  (This statistic blew my mind: 20 percent of beef's emissions are related to the amount that we waste and send to landfills.)

The upshot: "if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, over a year, the effect on emissions would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road," the group says.

So I suppose it lends more credence to the whole Meatless Monday movement. Although, other than a nice instance of alliteration, I never understood what the deal was with Mondays.

The guide goes further still, including the health effects of eating more meat and, sigh, cheese. For one, the report contends, it's contributing to the nation's obesity epidemic. Red meats and processed meats are linked to chronic disease.

The food with the least impact on the environment, emissions-wise, is lentil beans. Also low are tomatoes, two percent milk,  dry beans, tofu brocoli, yogurt and nuts. 

If you must eat meat, the report advises opting for grass-fed meat, lean cuts, meat without antibiotics or homones, organic meat and certified humane meat. And, of course, don't waste it.

One food item the report does not look at is goats.

And there's some awfully nice goat cheese being produced these days.