I'm currently reading an excellent new book entitled Go Green, Get Lean: Trim Your Waistline with the Ultimate Low-Carbon Diet by Kate Geagan, RD. I had known that a "flexitarian" diet has a much lower impact on the Earth than the typical American way of eating (of course, a vegetarian one is even more eco-friendly but I'm not ready to give up animal proteins entirely just yet). As a Christian, I feel a responsibility to try to be a good steward of God's creation. I also want to take good care of the gift of the body He gave me and make the most of the financial resources He has been generous enough to put at our family's disposal. There are so many families in our area who are hurting in this recession and demand for our local food pantry is up 50% from last year :-( If reducing our meat consumption frees up money in our budget to help feed the hungry, that's a sacrifice I believe Jesus would have us make.
Anyways, while I had a general sense that eating a plant-based diet with meat "as a condiment" was the way to go, reading Go Green, Get Lean has been a real eye-opener. I had no idea that the average American diet creates more per-person CO2 emissions than the typical amount Americans drive. Or that the food system consumes nearly 20% of all petroleum burned annually in the U.S. Red meat alone accounts for 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions from food in the average American household. Every 1 kilogram of beef consumed (~8 quarter-pound servings) has the same CO2 emissions as driving the typical European car for 155 miles. If Americans were to substitute 1 lb. of bread per month for 1 lb. of beef each year, that would save energy equivalent to 120 million barrels of oil!
Eating a "flexitarian" diet rather than a meat-heavy one also makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight. 1 lb. of porterhouse steak contains 388 calories vs. a mere 94 for 1 lb. of tofu. Not only does obesity raise the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and other health problems but it's also bad for the environment. A study done by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reported on CNN today found that the increase in obesity in the U.K. from the 1970 to today accounts for 270 million metric tons annually of additional greenhouse gas emissions. Yikes!
Regardless of one's views on the "hot button" issue of climate change, I believe we should be erring on the side of caution. I hate to sound like an alarmist, but if we wait to take action until the debate over global warming is resolved it very well might be too late. Reducing our meat consumption, especially red meat, is an easy and inexpensive way to lower our carbon footprint.