Your Carbon Footprint At the End of Your Fork

This week my son and I visited the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. As part of an exhibit entitled “Degrees of Change”, visitors can select items from a menu and calculate the carbon footprint of their meal. Ian had a great time checking out the footprint of various food items. A carbon-intensive meal is one that puts out over 2,000 grams of CO2 into the atmosphere. An individual might be surprised to find out that their yummy beef filet alone puts out 4000 grams of CO2.


Vegetarianism seems to be on the decline of what is en vogue these days-with true foodies opting for “sustainable” meat options like “grass-fed” or “locally-raised” beef. But are these more earth-friendly meat options really sustainable for a planet already home to 7 billion humans? After all, we careen closer and closer to the tipping point for survival of so many species, biodiversity, and preservation of civilization itself.

We should also consider the hefty water component of our carnivorous cravings. According to Hoekstra and Chapagain ( -2006) it takes 2400 litres (over 600 gallons) of water to produce one hamburger. Modern humans are observing the rapid melt of glaciers and increasing evaporation due to warming temperatures. In a world that has only a 3% supply of fresh water, where ground water aquifers are pumped at a faster rate than Mother Nature can replenish them, and the pollution of existing water supplies due to extreme energy extraction is happening at almost warp speed, intelligent people should question, “is how I eat really sustainable?”.

There is no question that industrial agriculture has an enormous footprint and the existence of CAFOs with their great lakes of residual manure, even with a modern bio-energy converter, are not sustainable for the planet. Small farmers raising their cattle or chickens in a more holistic way, like that exemplified by Joel Salatin of Polyface farms, are far better for the health of the planet. But can the earth really support 7 billion or more humans eating a locally raised organic meat-intensive diet? That answer is probably “no”.

While this post is not advocating you become a vegan or vegetarian, I suggest you check out some cool ways to decrease your meat intake like Meat Free Mondays or opting for only eating meat once a day, like Lance Armstrong. Armstrong says his mostly vegan diet has brought him increased energy where he saw a significant difference after the first month. That, my friend, sounds like it could be a good place to start and might just serve as a gateway drug to a truly more sustainable and more fulfilling life.

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