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June 2021 | Does meat-eating cause climate change?

This changeletter brought to you by: The Mitty by Take My Face Off

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Happy happy Pride Month to all our LGBTQ+ friends! Send me anything you want me to share/amplify on socials - after all, this is your Soapbox. πŸ³οΈβ€πŸŒˆ
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Now, a confession. (I feel like I keep confessing stuff on here; maybe I should start sending on Sundays.)
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I've been too scared to cover one of the most important individual-related environmental topics: meat.
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But I need to give it to you straight. Meat eating as we know it IS straight up bad for the environment. Buuuut, and this is a BIG BUTT πŸ‘, this month's Changeletter is about navigating our way to more earth-friendly diets and unpacking WHY meat eating contributes to climate change. It's not about shame or judgment β€” as always, we're here because we're all doing our best.
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Good news: our ACT module will include delicious recipes to support you taking baby (or big) steps towards sustainable eating. Let's get prepped for BBQ szn! πŸ˜‹

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"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter."Β - Meghan Mehta, Google

Read |Β All meats are not created equal


This week's READ module might be the best article I've ever found for this type of thing (mostly because it's interactive and I like playing around with pretty screens). It's Carbon Brief's overview of the climate impact of eating meat and dairy.


Some takeaways are below, and I want to start with this graph. You can click the image to see the full thing; this is a snippet of the top that charts food and its emissions.

  • Beef is SOOOO much worse than the other stuff. I see this as good news if you love eating meat but you're okay giving up just one type. Beef leads to deforestation, takes up a ton of land, releases methane which is 28-34x more powerful than CO2 β€” basically a major yikes for emissions and climate change.
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  • The way things are farmed matters (#seaspiracy, probably). The chart shows that farmed prawns have a larger climate impact than other types of seafood, for example. This is because industrial-scale aquaculture creates waste and greenhouse gas emissions. I haven't watched Seaspiracy, but someone reply and tell me if the documentary is about a similar thing.
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  • Food production takes up half of the planet’s habitable surface. Ok friends, seriously, we all have our favorite foods, but imagine making more space for humans instead of beef cows. We could frolick forever. (I'm also so sad to see how terrible coffee is, but as much as I love my morning cup, I would still choose land for humans.)
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  • Good news: even small shifts make huge differences. A global shift to a flexitarian diet (replacing 3/4ths of meat and dairy with plant-based alternatives) could save over 5 billion tons of CO2 emissions! This means that we can all find paths to sustainable eating that work for us, our financial situations, where we live in the world, etc.
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  • Local meat eating doesn't do a whole lot. I DO want you to support your local butcher if you're grabbing some meat, but we vastly overestimate how "good" eating local is for the environment, compared to not eating meat/high-emissions foods. It helps, certainly, but emissions are WAY more influenced by food type vs. food travel.

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ListenΒ | But why is beef so bad?

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This video explains beef's impact really well and answered a bunch of questions I had after writing last week's READ module.

As always, I've included some key takeaways below but this video is only 4 min, so please please watch it, especially if you're trying to cut out meat but don't know where/how to start without giving up your fave foods.


It's also a great conversation starter, in my opinion!

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Why beef is the worst food for the climate

  • Beef is bad because of enteric fermentation. This is the digestion process specific to cows and sheep, and the output is methane farts (5%) and burps (95%). Enteric fermentation outputs more methane emissions than what we see from burning fossil fuels! I'm feeling real betrayed by these cow burps.

  • Beef is also bad because of land use emissions. The land developed for humanity's purposes has skyrocketed since the 1700s but an ABSURDLY small amount of it is actually for our cities, housing, and other living infrastructure. MOST of our land is for agriculture. Within ag, a majority is for... grazing. So are cows eating our civilization? πŸ€·πŸΎβ€β™€οΈ

  • Cropland = deforestation. We're getting rid of forests and trees to make way for cows to graze. 80% of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is to make way for cattle ranching.


At the end of the video, you see that just cutting out beef makes a huge environmental impact, and we'll get into this more in next week's ACT model with some tasty recipes.


In the meantime, you can πŸ„ ruminate πŸ„ on this vid, act smart by throwing around "enteric fermentation" in casual conversation, and tell us if you have any fave plant-based recipes or food blogs.

ACT |Β Delicious, easy, and beefless decisions

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Basically, all you have to do this month is: CUT OUT BEEF!

The goal is to shift to low-emissions food that makes us feel good. Of course, there is SO much nuance when we talk about food and we have to find what works for us + create structural change. I hope this is a good starting point:

  1. Go plant-based.

    Cutting out beef (and dairy) is a great place to start, but if you think it's something you can work on, try going fully plant-based! I'm not there yet β€” I'm still working on my cheese and ice cream consumption β€” but I've compiled a list of recipes I like + a few reader recs. All the recipes are vegetarian; beware, some of them are my own inventions.

    One of our Soapbox members also has a vegetarian cooking Instagram @noopandbread that I regularly use for dinners.

    Here's 3 meals for this week: stuffed bell peppers, burritos, and cauliflower wings.

  2. Donate $20 to end factory farming. Can we collectively raise $1,200 this month for CIWF?

    CIWF, or Compassion in World Farming, has a track record of getting policy and institutional change passed to increase animal welfare and decrease CO2 emissions. If everyone who reads these Changeletters chips in a dollar, we're already 3x our goal.

    If you're up for the $20 challenge, either donate directly and let me know OR Venmo me ("@nivi-") / Paypal us paypal.me/soapboxproject. If you donate through me, I'll get you a 2x match and send you receipts.

  3. Make your pets do the work. Sooo if you've ever wanted to be that freeloader kid during group projects, here's your chance. Get your pets to go beef/meat-free if you need some more time. For dogs, check out our partner A Pup Above (we interviewed their founder on our blog!). The Pup Above team was kind enough to hook us up with an affiliate link β€” if you order through it, you can select the chicken option and get 15% off with SOAPBOX15.

    Jiminy's also has healthy cricket protein-based food for pets and a bunch of cool facts on how sustainable cricket protein is

Reflect |Β Meat is murder for real

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I have to admit that it was HARD to choose just one article to share in this REFLECT module.


Honorable mentions:


The winner is from PBS: In Nicaragua, supplying beef comes at a high human cost.


This 8-min video and its accompanying transcript were WILD, y'all. I shouldn't be surprised anymore after learning about how extractive capitalism is, but yet again, I'm shocked.

  • The problem: The Nicaraguan beef supply chain is DIRTY 🀧 .
    "People are dying from violent land invasions, their lands taken away for cattle ranching, cattle, which then turns into beef, which comes into United States. Yes, people are being killed."
  • Why it matters: Nicaragua is going ham on its beef exports.
    "Nicaragua has become the third largest supplier of frozen beef to the United States. Its imports have reached an all-time high during the pandemic, doubling in just four years."
  • How bad is it: Whole Indigenous villages are being decimated ⚫ .
    According to an Indigenous leader, "In this year, we have more than 10 people in less than seven months murdered already. The settlers, them shot with a gun one girl of 14 years...to create fear."
  • What's America doing: lol nothing.
    According to Republican senator Mike Rounds, "American consumers don't have any inkling as to where their beef comes from today." Basically, regulations are pretty wack because of how powerful the cattle industry is, and executives are turning a blind eye to literal murders in their supply chain. Sooooo, the usual, I guess.


For the past three weeks, we've focused on the environmental impact of meat and how beef is THE WORST in terms of emissions. If you're not convinced, maybe this will do it. I wouldn't want to eat Blood Diamond-style beef. Also, it's pretty gross and shady to me that we just have no idea where our beef comes from, and how it's not really regulated.


Anyway, If you want to dive deeper, here's a thorough article from Mongabay News on the beef-related human rights and deforestation situation in Nicaragua.

And if you're feeling bogged down by today's reflection, cook yourself a nice plant-based treat from the Minimalist Baker (thanks Eduarda for the rec).

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

πŸ’Œ Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 4,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
Take action
Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter."Β - Meghan Mehta, Google