Eat Meat as a Garnish

Reduce the climate impacts of meat production

Enjoy the flavor of meat without harming the planet

Americans eat a lot of meat. In 2018, the US Department of Agriculture estimated the total US consumption of beef, pork, and poultry equaled 220 pounds per person. This equates to an average of 276 grams (about 10 ounces) of meat per person per day.

It turns out that meat production, especially the industrial version as opposed to the grass-fed approach, harms the environment. Problems include turning Amazonian rain forests into pastures, manufacture of nitrogen-based fertilizers to grow crops to feed to animals, fertilizer nutrient enrichment of the Gulf of Mexico, and methane (a potent greenhouse gas) emitted by ruminant animals (cattle, sheep, goats). Global livestock production accounts for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, reducing meat consumption in developed countries would help stem the effects of climate change.

Over a decade ago, a trio of British researchers proposed a radical course of action to reduce the effects of climate change. Reduce meat consumption across globe to an average of 90 grams (3.2 ounces) per person per day. For red meat, the proposed limit is 50 grams (1.8 ounces) per person per day. The authors acknowledged the radical nature of their proposal, but contended the projected impacts of climate change are so severe as to warrant drastic measures. Furthermore, high meat consumption is currently highly skewed toward developed countries. In order to accommodate increased per capita meat consumption in developing countries (currently about 47 grams per day), those of us in developed countries need to reduce our per capita meat consumption by 60 percent, from 224 (8.0 ounces) to 90 grams per day.

While the proposal to greatly reduce meat consumption in developed countries may seem over the top, I believe it’s a reasonable approach to helping keep our planet habitable. Actually, my wife and I have reduced our meat consumption over the past few years for this very reason. We still get plenty of protein. Admittedly, our contribution to greenhouse gas reduction in the grand scheme of things is insignificant. Our choice, however, conforms to our belief that climate change is a big deal. We want to act accordingly.

My wife and I do not feel deprived as a result of reducing our consumption of meat to no more than two ounces per person per day. Both of us enjoy the flavor that meat imparts to the meals we prepare. Meat provides a large boost of protein that we appreciate. We have shifted our view of meat from being the main dish to being a garnish of the main dish.

This past fall, my wife and bought a one-tenth share of a grass-fed steer that lived on a ranch in eastern Colorado. The animal spent its entire life in pastures on the ranch except for his last day when he was trucked to a nearby slaughter house. The steer did not eat any grain. In my opinion, the steer received humane treatment and his life expressed that of a steer. We thank the steer for the meat he provided.

Here’s an example of a tasty, healthful, quick, low-meat dinner that my wife and I enjoy. Sauté onion, garlic, and four ounces of ground beef in olive oil. When the onion is translucent, add chopped kale, balsamic vinegar, dried basil, a touch of Worcestershire sauce, and a bit of water. Cover the pan for a few minutes to soften the kale. Serve the concoction on a bed of spinach. Yum! Why not give it a try?

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