CO2 Smackdown, Step 6: Trimming Out Beef and Pork

As our ten-ton diet gets to the halfway point, we come to an uphill portion of the trek—altering your diet. The difficulty here isn’t cost—in fact, a climate-sensitive diet will save you money. The issue here is one of changing habits and because we’re talking about food, these are habits wrapped in a host of other concerns relating to our sense of well being, concerns about weight, restrictions due to allergies, uncertainty about preparation, worries about finicky family members and more.

So to make it easier, not to mention healthy, we suggest making one simple switch—replacing the beef and pork in your diet with poultry.

What is the CO2 Smackdown? Read the overview.


Replacing the protein you get from beef with poultry can save you .75 tons (or 1,555 pounds) of CO2 emissions annually. For comparison's sake, if you were to go entirely vegetarian, you would save 1.5 tons of CO2 emissions annually.


Step One
List how often you eat red meat and in what dishes. If you are a hamburger eater, a switch to ground turkey can be a straightforward shift. For steaks, stuffed Portobello mushrooms are an option and fish can be another, but because the carbon footprint of fish is much higher than that of poultry (owing to energy-intensive flash-freezing and long-distance transportation, often including air transport) you’ll get a bigger CO2 reduction if you don’t make fish your main source of protein. And this isn’t even to mention the sustainability concerns around many marine populations—see “Fish Picks: Choosing Seafood for Safety and Sustainability.”

Step Two
Investigate cookbooks and experiment with recipes at home. Mark Bittman, Deborah Madison, Mollie Katzen and the Moosewood Collective have all written classic cookbooks with meatless dishes, but also turn to Jacques Pepin, Julia Child, the Joy of Cooking and others for suggestions on cooking poultry to help break away from the shake-and-bake routine. See our Eat Local section for recipes using seasonal produce in your area and lists of nearby farmers’ markets.

In this summer season, it may be hardest for you to forgo grilled steak and beef burgers. Wendy Gordon considers alternatives in “Local Bar-B-Q” and in The New York Times Mark Bittman provides literally  “101 Fast Recipes for Grilling” with many vegetable and fruit(!) options as well as kebabs and some turkey and chicken burger ideas. Also check out the plethora of recipes in and see “Which Meals Are Fast, Cheap, Green and Nutritious” for more ways to avoid eating out.

Draw up your list and go shopping. As with all cooking, if one experiment falls flat for you or your family, try another.

Step Three
When you eat out, experiment in your choices and make selections with an eye towards seeing what you might try at home. To be sure, shy away from steakhouses—there’s no point tempting fate—and take whatever opportunities you can to try new cuisines and broaden your palate.


Happily, poultry products are cheaper than beef, including many Certified Humane and USDA organic poultry options. But your biggest savings will come from cooking your own food and reducing takeout and restaurant meals.


There’s no need to rely solely on chicken and turkey for your protein—nuts (almonds, walnuts, etc.) baked beans, lentils, yogurt and quinoa are all good options and there are plenty of others. Protein powders and bars, however, are not a great alternative, as they are often highly caloric and provide limited nutritional benefits.


What about grassfed beef and locally produced pork fed vegetable and local farm scrap/slop? I live in a rural area, very close to friends who graze cows & slop pigs on their diversified naturally-grown farm. Why shouldn't I eat their products instead of spending fossil fuels to truck portobello mushrooms to me? This reminds me of Barbara Kingsolver who said, in an interview about her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I paraphrase, that some people choose to give up meat to save the planet while she chooses to give up bananas. I'm more of Kingsolver's ilk.
Switching to poultry is not really the answer. The most environmentally and healthier option is to eat only local/organic , grass fed, free range, no hormones and no antibiotics added meat and poultry. These animals are much more humanely raised and not subjected to "intense farming" which pollutes our land and water and is a horrible way to treat animals that provide us with food. Eating less meat/poultry and more vegetables is the only responsible way to live.
It is hard for me to read that the NRDC is promoting the eating of meat (as in poultry) as a means of reducing greenhouse gases not to mention the cruelty involved in the warehousing, transporting and slaughtering the animals. The "greenest" way to eat is by consumption of a plant-based diet grown locally or as close to your community as possible. And of course, eating less of everything helps as well. Why am I having to expalin this to the NRDC? Shame on you!

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