This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Michael Pollan: Because we needn't look at this as an all or nothing proposition, and
going to an all vegetarian diet, besides being unrealistic, is unnecessary: there are times
and places where meat is the most sensible way to get food from nature. Also, as I
mentioned on air, truly sustainable farms need animals to recycle nutrients. So there is a
place for meat in our diet and agriculture, it's just a lot smaller than the place it now
Scott Faber: Environmental Working Group’s Meat Eater’s Guide informs consumers
that the optimal thing to do for the climate would be significantly reduce meat and dairy
or cut it out entirely. But understanding that not every American will become vegan
over night, the Meat Eater’s Guide also provides a resource for understanding the
different impacts of various animal products. If consumers choose to eat meat, EWG
advises they stay away from lamb and beef, which have the highest carbon footprint per
pound of meat.
2. If not beef or lamb, what animal protein should we be eating to reduce our impact?
MP: Chicken is a more efficient converter of feed into food, but pork, properly raised
(and fed wild or waste products in the main) can be sustainable as well.
SF: Chicken and pork have smaller carbon footprints than beef or lamb. Smaller fish like
anchovies, tilapia, herring, and sardines also have smaller carbon footprints and have
been found to contain less mercury than larger species of fish. A good rule of thumb to
reduce the environmental footprint of diets is eating meat from smaller animals.
Animals with multiple stomachs (called ruminants) include cattle, sheep, and goats.
Ruminants emit methane, a powerful greenhouse gas; therefore the consumption of
beef, lamb, and goat (mutton) should be avoided.
3. What should my priorities be when buying meat? Are there specific things I should
look for when buying certain kinds of meat (beef, pork, seafood, poultry)?
SF: Reducing meat consumption or eating smaller animals can significantly reduce the
environmental footprint of our diets. A recent study found semi-vegetarians and
vegetarians can reduce their diet-related carbon emissions by 22 and 29 percent
respectively. Avoiding beef and lamb can significantly reduce emissions as well.
MP: I look for "pastured" meat-- animals raised outdoors, on grass.
4. What’s the best “environmental bang” for your buck?
SF: Plant sources of protein such as beans, chickpeas, broccoli, nuts, and asparagus have
much less environmental impact than animal products.
Chicken and pork have a smaller environmental footprint than beef, and are currently
cheaper than beef. Eating smaller species of fish like herring, tilapia, and sardines are
typically cheaper than larger fish and have less environmental impact.
5. If I eat meat but buy organic at local farmers market, how much of a difference am I
MP: ? You're making a tremendous difference, but not necessarily in your carbon
footprint. However there are other issues to take into account, such as pesticides, which
are causes problems for farmworkers and wildlife (bees, monarch butterflies).
SF: Buying local has the potential to cut transportation related carbon emissions, but
transportation typically makes up a small fraction of the total environmental impact of
animal products. Eating less meat will have a bigger impact than eating local but there
are many other benefits than knowing where our food is coming from! Meat and dairy
products that are certified organic typically use less pesticides and fertilizers to grow
animal feed than conventional products. Organic food may also have better nutritional
profiles than conventional food.
6. Goat is widely eaten in the rest of the world and but not in the US. Are goats as
problematic, environmentally, as cattle? Is it realistic for the US to start eating more
SF: Goat meat is as problematic for the climate as cattle, but there isn’t much demand
for goat meat in the U.S. However, in developing countries grazing goats are a reliable
source of milk and meat.
7. How about buffalo? Considering the millions of bison that roamed the range 150 years
ago, couldn't rebuilding that provide us with a great source of quality meat in an eco-
MP: Buffalo raised on range is a sustainable choice. They require much less water, no
pharmaceuticals, and the meat has an excellent lipid profile as compared to feedlot
SF: As of 2009, 59 billion animals were slaughtered to produce poultry, pork, and beef.
As Michael Pollan stated on the show, the number of animals we slaughter for meat
production today prevents us from raising them in purely grazed systems.
Bison aren’t produced in mass quantities (yet) like other species of livestock. Bison are
ruminants, like beef cattle, and have the ability to convert inedible grasses into meat.
But bison also emit methane, which is a greenhouse gas 30 times as potent to the
climate as carbon dioxide. There could be some benefit to the soils by grazing bison and
beef cattle but their climate impact is still much bigger than chicken or pork. In fact
studies find animals that are completely grass-fed have higher greenhouse gas
emissions than grain-finished livestock.
8. What about dairies and egg production? How do these factor into the discussion on
SF: Egg-laying chickens and dairy cows produce a lot of protein over their lifespan,
therefore the emissions per egg or glass of milk are much less than the same amount of
protein from meat. Dairy cows like beef cattle still emit methane, so cheese and milk
have higher emissions than eggs.
MP: Pastured poultry is best, but hard to find and often expensive.
9. How much of the per capita rise in meat consumption can really be a reflection of
waste of meat by the restaurant industry, specifically fast food?
SF: Food waste represents about 30 to 40 percent of food production in the U.S.
Restaurants can play a major role in reducing food wastes and potentially reduce the
need to increase food production for a growing global population.
10. What about meat in pet food? I’ve heard that it takes so much more animal product to
produce what we feed pets.
SF: Pet food typically uses parts of animals people prefer not to eat so in this respect
some argue pet food isn’t a significant burden on the environment. But other studies
claim that we should account for the less desirable part of the animal with the same
environmental footprint as the parts people want to eat, because it’s all part of the
11. I recently visited India. There are so many vegetarians there for religious reasons, most
all food is marked with a green dot for pure vegetarian (no meat, no eggs) or a red dot
for non-veg. Is that feasible for the US?
SF: One of Environmental Working Group’s many concerns is consumers’ right to know
what’s in their food. Consumers have the right to know if their food contains wheat,
animal products, or genetically modified ingredients. Some nutrition labels are labeled
‘Contains Milk, Soy’ etc. but not all animal products are labeled making it difficult for
vegans to recognize animal products in their food.
12. Are there any good models for how to incentivize small farmers to follow good
environmental practices instead of agribusiness?
MP: Yes. We should reward them for sequestering carbon and diversifying their farms.