Summer Cookouts on the Way Out?

Ah, summer.  It always brings up the same sensory memories: the sounds of waves crashing, the taste of cold lemonade (or, let’s be honest, a cold Bell’s Oberon) and the smells of a backyard cookout.

What would summer be without the smell of charcoal and meat and lighter fluid floating through the air? Well, a new report by the Environmental Working Group shows that it would be a summer that takes a much lighter toll on the planet.

The report didn’t reveal much that I (we?) didn’t already know, but it does present the information in an easy-to-understand format (charts!) and compares each food to something that the American public has already accepted as being bad for the planet – driving your car.

According to the report, eating 4 oz. of beef is the equivalent of driving 7 miles in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, while eating 4 oz. of nuts, yogurt, beans, broccoli or tofu would set you back less than half a mile. Eating lentils and tomatoes would put you only about a block away from where you started.

What was surprising is that cheese generates the third-highest emissions (many times more than milk or yogurt) and lamb generates about 50 percent more emissions than beef. “While beef and lamb generate comparable amounts of methane and require similar quantities of feed, lamb generates more emissions per kilo in part because it produces less edible meat relative to the sheep’s live weight,” the report explains.

My favorite statistic is that if everyone in the United States gave up meat and dairy just one day a week, it would be like taking 7.6 million cars off the road for the year. (Although when you consider that there are more than 250 million cars in the U.S., it’s really just a reminder of how far we really have to go.)

To me, this chart is quite compelling. But perhaps it’s because everything I eat falls on the lower end of the emissions spectrum and I can use it to make myself feel good about my choices.

But what about for the average person? Or at least, for the average “conservation-minded” individual who might be reading this? Are seeing these numbers in such a clear and compelling manner enough to make you trade in a flame-grilled cheeseburger for some grilled asparagus (try it marinated in a little olive oil with steak seasoning – it’s delicious!)?

For those of you that eat beef, lamb or cheese regularly, is this information enough to make you reconsider eating it so often? Let me know why or why not in the comments section below.

(Image: Soy hotdogs and “chicken” nuggets on a grill. Image Credit: Pennington via Flickr Creative Commons)  

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  1. bite me

  2. I feel the information concerning the amount of energy used to process / distribute meats is relevant information; however, making people feel “guilty” about what they grill is not the position you need to taking if you seriously want people to get the underlying message. Good information, poor choice in the way you presented it.

  3. Well, we’re omnivores, but now we are considering taking you up on that “one day a week”. We might even make it vegan once a month, and we will always make it locally grown. Deal?


    A seriously obnoxious post. Have fun with your nuts and berries, I’m going to throw on some extra burgers now.

  5. Oh c’mon now! This is why I generally stay away from joining environmental organizations. Let’s not take barbecuing away from people just yet-for some, it’s the only connection to nature that they get. Can you leave the carbon footprint babble for the large corporations and leave the little guys out of it!

  6. Margaret, wow, this is startling! I can’t possibly give up meat — I’m a Kansas-bred carnivore. But thanks for putting this in perspective. Making sure I go at least one day a week is something my whole family can easily do. Great stuff.

  7. Interesting but I think you would get more attention and, perhaps, converts if you also stressed the contribution to saving their hearts and preventing strokes. The recent program on CNN about heart disease was quite dramatic with good discussion of the role plaque buildup played in heart attacks and strokes and how a vegetarian diet significantly reduced the plaque. I also think that most people don’t realize how much medicine we get from information involving the chemistry of plants and how the loss of just one species might be the loss of a disease cure.

  8. I really want to know why the person in your photo is grilling frozen hot dogs, on a layer of foil, and using plastic utensils to turn them. Do people really cook out this way?

  9. I would give up beef and lamb, actually I don’t eat them that often, but cheese… :S I could never live without cheese!

  10. Due to Global warming, Cooking will no longer be permitted. Please eat your chicken raw so that you will get salmonella poisoning. Then there will be 1 less person and that will be good for the earth.

  11. It seems you struck a nerve. Interesting how articles like this always bring out a number of comments that are some variation on, “You’ll take my steak when you pry it from my cold dead hands.”

    I applaud the fact that you’ve started this conversation but maybe that’s because I’m already vegan. In fact I’ve been vegan for over 10 years and I’m happy, healthy and always enjoy a wide variety of awesome food (like the decadent chocolate cupcake I just had as a snack).

  12. You may all protest, however, the facts are very clear regarding eating meat and your carbon footprint. We are not designed to consume meat, and it is morally wrong on so many levels.

  13. Interesting. I wonder how much energy was spent on generating this “gee-whiz” study? Lets face it, do we really need this kind of info. Would we be better served with something like…

    how much less landfill would there be if happy meals (and their like) didn’t exist? I mean do kids need a meaningless plastic toy made in China with every fastfood meal?

    I’m just saying 😉

  14. Actually, we ARE designed to consume meat. Hence the ol’ canine chompers. What I want to know is why eating tomatoes has any impact on my carbon footprint, and I’m not sure about anyone else, but I think if my diet consisted of beans and broccoli, the methane output in the atmosphere would greatly increase.

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