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Thursday, December 11, 2014

BEYOND MEAT

Food chemists are hard at work concocting plant-protein-based foods with more protein than beef, more omegas than salmon, calcium, antioxidants and B-vitamins, which also deliver juicy flavor and the texture of the real thing. Exciting news.

Of course faux flesh is a highly processed food derived from pea and other proteins and refined in extruders to the point of unrecognizability. But it contains no saturated fat and cholesterol and its carbon footprint is practically nonexistent compared with the energy costs associated with the production of animal foods. And what are these energy costs?

Only three percent of the plant matter that goes into cow feed winds up as muscle (meat). The rest, as author Rowan Jacobsen writing for Outside magazine tells us, gets "burned for energy, ejected as methane, blown off as excess heat, shot out the back of the beast, or repurposed into non-meat-like things such as blood, bone and brains." The process "buries river systems in manure and requires an absurd amount of land. Roughly three-fifths of all farmland is used to produce cattle, although beef accounts for just 5 percent of our protein."

Despite the environmental costs, global protein consumption is expected to double by 2050.

The world's 22 billion livestock animals - cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, horses, pigs and poultry - account for over half (51 percent) of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions (GHGs), according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute and entitled "Livestock and Climate Change."

And these animals, which function as living plant-protein processors by converting the energy in grass and grain to muscle for meat, are very inefficient at what they do. They are much better at producing methane, a potent greenhouse gas which they belch into the air at the rate of 103 million tons per year. One molecule of methane traps 25 times as much heat as a molecule of CO2.

It takes 9,000 calories of edible feed to produce 1,000 calories of edible chicken. Cows are far more inefficient at making muscle. 36,000 calories goes in a steer's system to produce 1,000 calories of edible meat. And while doing so, each cow produces the annual GHGs of a car driven about 9,000 miles. And grass-fed beef, the rage in many communities, is actually worse on the environment, generating more methane than grain-fed cows and having nearly twice the carbon footprint.

The conclusion is simple. To save the environment, we must eat less meat.

But substituting the burger for the processed-plant variety, while a step in the right direction, is not in the best service of your health. Fake meat is after all highly processed. The best you can do, both for your environment and your personal health, is to choose plants in their whole and unprocessed state. Go Paradigm.

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