The Unexpected Energy Cost of Your Meals
We’ve covered several common sense tips for saving energy and costs around your home while reducing your carbon footprint. But have you considered the energy costs associated with what’s on your dinner plate?
Focusing on protein, here are some eye-opening statistics about (and recommendations for) consumption of beef, pork, chicken and seafood. Just small changes in diet choices and sources can contribute to land, water and energy conservation.
Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner…or Is It?:
Raising livestock for beef products requires 28 times more land than poultry. It takes more water too. Producing one pound of beef requires between 1,800-4,000 gallons of water. In fact, beef farming is one of the biggest drivers of world deforestation.
Raising beef and their feed crops consumes 83% of the world’s farmland, yet only 13% of human calorie consumption is related to beef products. Simply put, it takes a lot to make a little. And in the process of raising beef, these cattle raised for beef products produce large amounts of methane – a gas that is more potent that carbon dioxide! (Other byproducts of cattle, including dairy products and leather, also having harmful effects on global warming could be reduced with less beef consumption per capita.)
Sometimes we have no idea the impact of that great steak habit, but all that being said, there is a BIG-IMPACT difference we can make, even with small changes. Here are a few suggestions.
- Reduce your family’s consumption of beef by at least one meal per week. If consumption were reduced globally by 50% by using beef substitutes, scientists estimate it could reduce deforestation and carbon emissions by 80%.
- Buy locally sourced beef and other meat products. Not only is the meat fresher, but far less energy is consumed (travel, mass production, etc.). Plus, you can feel good about supporting local agriculture.
- Buy grass-fed beef, which is healthier for you, but also consumes less fossil fuels in production.
Pork, Smart Tips for the Other White Meat…:
- Raising one pound of pork requires 600-700 gallons of water, far less than beef, but still significant.
- The majority of energy used in raising pigs is in heating and cooling the swine shelters. Although there is a long learning curve ahead, efforts are in the works to improve efficiency.
- Raising a pig takes more than four times the energy of raising poultry.
Buy local pork products, especially grass-fed pork. Reduce consumption by paying attention to uses in the diet.
For When You’re Pickin’ Chicken:
Poultry has the smallest land use of all of the commercial meat protein sources. One pound of poultry production requires 500 gallons – significantly less than beef or pork. So, chicken farms have a significantly lower carbon footprint and require less energy to get to market. In addition, locally, poultry farms actually help to prevent residential overdevelopment due to the land requirements to farm chicken feed. (Plus, and this is a bonus for our ever-tightening budgets: chicken is a less expensive and leaner source of protein than beef or pork.)
- Discover the versatility of all parts of the bird.
- Buy locally produced poultry (chances are, most of the local supermarkets sell chicken from our region).
- Free range chickens are treated humanely, and some people swear by the superior taste of free range, cage-free eggs.
Pointers for Eating Fish-i-lishcious:
Seafood can be an excellent, healthy source of protein. However, overfishing in certain areas of the world has caused shortages and even extinction.
Due to pollution in waterways, including estuaries and rivers that empty into the ocean, there is a potential for toxins to contaminate fish. Too much consumption of fish from certain polluted areas can affect humans adversely (i.e., mercury and other toxins have been detected in many fish and shellfish). In addition, some foreign markets have farmed fish using illegal antibiotics that can be harmful to humans.
So look for smart ways to indulge your penchant for perch or hake habit.
Research what fish you purchase is sustainable. For example, if the fish is caught by “lift nets,” then it is considered sustainable, and other sea life are safe from unintentional catching or harm.
- The pinker the salmon, usually the better, such as Northern Atlantic, Atlantic and Norwegian Salmon. Avoid Coho salmon, which is farmed and less nutritious.
- For tuna, choose Albacore or equivalent. Consider avoiding yellow fin tuna from Canada (overfished) and Southern Australian Bluefin tuna (fished in non-sustainable methods).
- For Tilapia, Nile tilapia is recommended, while any tilapia from China is discouraged because of illegal antibiotics. It is an invasive species in other regions of the world.
- Shellfish are very susceptible to contamination from polluted waters. Pay attention to where your shellfish are harvested from.
- For more specific information about wise choices for sustainable fishing, check out Seafood Watch, a great resource for learning more, and even entering the seafood you are considering purchasing.
There’s more to what we eat than just taste. There are wise decisions we all can make that have an impact on the health of our planet. It’s not just about energy use, but also about supporting our local agriculture and making healthy decisions. Bon Appetit!
Bridget Fitzpatrick, our resident journalist, took a splash into this topic as she learned through an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) course about our state’s natural resources. Joe Sebastiani of Delaware Nature Society lead group discussions and presentations weekly through the course, focusing on both local and global issues, impact and involvement.
Read more: OLLI Courses Enlighten our Lives in DE