Of course, greenwashing extends into the grocery aisles. We’re all bombarded with messages about what to eat and how we should eat if we care about the environment.
Yet let’s be honest: These “climate-friendly” diets aren’t about caring about the environment or stopping global warming. It’s another ploy of diet culture, which not-so-subtly shames us into thinking that only thin bodies are desirable and healthy - no matter that science proves our weight isn’t always linked to our health.
A few months ago, I listened to a fascinating podcast discussion about vegan or vegetarian diets, often touted in the media and by celebrities as better for the environment.
Now there isn’t anything wrong with being a vegetarian, if that’s what you prefer.
But what is wrong is the headline-grabbing claim that eating beef contributes to global warming, because cows emit (or rather, burp) methane, a greenhouse gas.
During the podcast Q&A, a listener admitted that she realized her vegetarian/vegan lifestyle wasn’t truly about addressing social issues, like animal care or climate change.
Instead, it was just another chronic diet, and she wanted to stop restricting food choices to the detriment of her health.
The podcast’s guest host, a registered dietitian, encouraged the listener that it’s OK to eat meat to get the nutrition she needs.
You don’t need to cut foods out of your diet as a means toward social change. After all, you can’t help anyone if you aren’t looking after your own health.
And real meat provides vital micronutrients, like zinc, iron, B12 and complete protein, that boost our immunity, provide energy and boost our mood. These micronutrients are difficult to get from vegetarian or vegan diets without taking supplements, nutrition experts say.
Instead, the podcast host recommended that the listener find non-diet ways to live by her values – perhaps by donating to a local animal shelter or cutting back on food waste, a major source of greenhouse gas.
However, if you’re still interested in “climate-friendly” diets, please keep in mind that most of the negative claims about beef and climate change are based on outdated science.
Today’s cattle farmers are reducing their environmental footprint thanks to improvements in technology, genetics and animal care. For example, total emissions of methane per unit of beef declined 10% from 1990 to 2016, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Even extreme dietary changes — such as switching to a vegan, all-plant diet — won’t have much impact on climate change, experts say.
Removing all livestock and poultry from the U.S. food system would only reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 0.36 percent, according to 2018 research by the USDA and Virginia Tech.
If you want to take action against climate change, I encourage you to look at easier (and healthier) ways to reduce your carbon footprint at home.
Check out the EPA’s carbon footprint calculator for simple ideas on how to lighten your impact on the environment. (Hint: You don’t need to buy sustainable underwear.)
And for more information about the nutritional benefits of real meat, and about how Iowa farmers care for their animals with sustainable practices, visit www.realfarmersrealfoodrealmeat.com.