Have your meat and eat it too

The following tips will help you enjoy meat on a regular basis but still allow you to reduce your ecological footprint.

People in affluent countries eat too much meat. Too much meat is not good for your health or for the health of the planet. Meat has a high ecological footprint, calorie for calorie, relative to other forms of food. Also, not all meat is equal, some meat has a higher ecological footprint than other meat, see the table below. Red meat, (e.g. beef, lamb and mutton) comes from ruminant animals which produce large amounts of methane from their digestive process. White meat (e.g. pork, chicken and turkey) come from non-ruminants that do not produce enteric methane. Ruminants also produce more manure, weight-for-weight, than non-ruminants. Manure also releases methane and also nitrous oxide.

Carbon footprint of different protein foods

Food footprint of different proteins

Figures from the Environmental Working Group’s Meat Eater’s Guide

In addition to the high carbon footprint of red meat they also have a very high water footprint (see Virtual Water).

In affluent countries food makes up between a quarter and a third of an individual’s ecological footprint. Meat can easily account for half of that total.

In addition to environmental harm, too much meat consumption can also harm our health. Dietary health guidelines (see Sustainable Food Pyramid) suggest we eat only a moderate amount of meat.

Meat is expensive too.

So for the benefit of our health, our wallets and the planet people generally need to consume less meat. But how?

The following four tips will help reduce your meat consumption but still allow you to enjoy meat on a regular basis.

1     Make meat go further

Another way of saying this is to reduce meat’s share-of-the-plate. You could increase the amount of accompaniments on your plate. You can have less meat in casseroles, stews and bakes and bulk them up with dried pulses like beans, peas, lentils which are a source of protein and have fibre, vitamins and minerals.

2     Avoid food waste

A study in Britain has shown that over 30% of all food purchased is wasted and about 60% of that could have been avoided. This means that 20% of all food that is purchased, including meat, is unnecessarily wasted. One of the main reasons for wastage is that the food isn’t used before it goes off. Better planning will help you avoid food waste. Many meat meals taste even better as leftovers. Read more tips about avoiding food waste»

3     Eat lower on the foodprint ladder

This basically means eat less red meat. Free range chicken, rabbit, duck, turkey and even pork have a smaller ecological footprint than beef and lamb. Lower trophic levels are better too, for example herring (including sardines) and sprat are better than groper and tuna which in turn are better than shark. Shellfish like farmed mussels and oysters and wild cockles are a sustainable choice too. Read more about the best fish to eat»

4     Have meat-free days

Have at least one, or better still two or three, meat-free days a week.

Full disclosure: I love to eat meat!