Q&A: Eco-Benefits of Being a Vegetarian?

  • September 26, 2012 9:20 am

Question:

Hi Alexandra,

I just had a question regarding meat. Everyone always stresses how sustainable becoming a vegetarian is. I obviously understand the animal rights aspect to becoming a vegetarian, I was just wondering if you could explain more of the environmental benefits of not eating meat to me? Thanks.

-Terry

Answer:

Terry,

Thanks for your question. Yes, there are many environmental benefits to giving up or at least limiting meat consumption. It decreases water use, methane production, the impact of growing animal feed, and much more. It’s not an easy thing to answer quickly, but I’ll try to outline the basics below. I urge you to do some reading on your own, too. The production of animals into meat is an amazing system to learn about, with many shocking twists, turns, and revelations.

If you’re into stats and numbers, this site compares water usage for various items. It says that it takes approximately 15415 litre/kg of water to produce beef and only 257 litre/kg of water for potatoes. I don’t know anyone who only eats potatoes, but there is also quite a difference between chicken and beef.

Then there’s methane, a potent greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming. Cattle emit 80 million tons of methane annually, according to the EPA. And I haven’t even gotten to feed. Most animals are fed a grim mix of genetically modified soy and corn (neither are great for the environment as they require tremendous amounts of chemical sprays to grow), antibiotics (which create drug-resistant superbugs), and hormones.

All of this said, I am not personally a vegetarian for many, many reasons. Though I eat very little meat compared to most meat eaters I know. I have devoted a tremendous amount of research and thought to this decision and I only ever eat local, pastured, well-raised meat. I go into great detail on how and why to source this kind of meat in two of my books. I wrote  The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat with my butcher. I had interviewed him and his wife previously for  The Conscious Kitchen, which has a chapter concisely detailing meat labels, how shop, and other educational resources.

Keep in mind that becoming a vegetarian doesn’t immediately mean your environmental impact is nil. Many vegetarians continue to eat conventionally raised dairy and eggs–the eco-impact of these is far greater than their local, pastured counterparts. And if all of the soy you switch to eating is conventionally raised and coming from, say, China, that has its own not insignificant footprint. There have also been interesting studies done on the safety of soy-based diets. So all of this is worth considering as you weigh the pros and cons of giving up or eating less meat.

Hope this helps.

Best,

Alexandra

Emeril’s Table

  • November 6, 2011 8:22 am

Tune in 11/7 at 11 a.m. on the Hallmark Channel for pyrotechnics, local food, and more. Had a great time on the show. Trying to figure out how how to record it (I’m not the most tech-savvy person, nor am I particularly gifted at cropping photos. Oh well, don’t tell anyone).

Recipe: Roasted Chicken Times Three

  • October 16, 2011 9:59 am

Hi there!  Glenny here with another post from my kitchen.

As I mentioned before, I plan on visiting Fleisher’s new shop in Park Slope as often as possible.  I certainly do not eat too much meat, but am very happy to indulge in the very good, well-raised stuff when I can.  This past week I stopped by for a whole chicken.  Roasting a chicken is extremely easy, and a great way to make a few meals in one evening.  You’re saving energy by only using your oven once, and you’re exercising some creativity in the kitchen – what to do with the leftovers?  Here is what I did, complete with a basic recipe for your autumnal roast chicken:

Roasted Chicken with Apples and Sage

3-4 lb whole chicken

4 apples, quartered and deseeded (I used Golden Delicious, but almost all will do)

1 apple, chopped into 1 inch cubes

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons chopped sage

2 tablespoons thyme

1 cup white wine (I used a full bodied chardonnay, but a pick your favorite – you’ll be drinking the rest!)

salt and pepper

Prep your chicken.  Season with salt and pepper and put in a roasting pan.  Spread quartered apples around the outside and sprinkle them with half of your herbs.  Mix the chopped apples with a little butter, salt and pepper and stuff in the cavity of the chicken.  Mix the remaining herbs and butter together and spread it both under and on top of the chicken skin.  Pour the wine around the bird, over your apples.

In a 425F oven, cook for 30 minutes, and then reduce temperature to 375F.  Continue cooking for about 40 minutes more or until a thermometer reads 160F and the juices run clear (opposed to red).  Let it sit for about 15 minutes before carving.  Serve with the roasted apples and their juices.

Delicious!  After enjoying this one evening, I still had a lot of chicken left and wasn’t too interested in having the same meal two nights in a row.  So, for lunch the next day it was roasted chicken sandwiches with feta, olives, and market tomatoes.  Followed by a wonderful soup for dinner.  I simply sauteed garlic, onions, carrots and butternut squash in a deep sauce pan.  Added chicken stock, tomatoes, kale, a few cups of farro and the leftover chicken.  Drizzled with homemade pesto, it celebrates lots of flavors; perfect for an October evening.  And the best news?  I’ll be eating that soup for days – this chicken has provided for many many meals.  Easy.

Farro soup, day two.

What You Don’t Know: Kitchen Cleaners And Your Food

  • June 28, 2011 1:21 pm

Many people will spend the extra dollar or two on buying organic, especially when it comes to poultry.  Unfortunately, many are still using an army of questionable chemicals to clean their kitchen counters, cutting boards, and knives.  Here is an excerpt from Planet Home about kitchen systems and keeping your free range, organic, local, delicious chicken as chemical-free as you intended.

One of the many hot-button topics when it comes to chicken – conventional vs. local/pastured vs. free range organic (local or not) – is how the birds are disinfected post-slaughter.  Conventional chickens in the United States tend to be disinfected in chlorine baths, a procedure that has long been banned by the European Union.  It’s also banned by USDA organic rules.  There are other ways of decontaminating poultry: ozone baths, eco-water baths, or air chilling.  If you’ve sought out and spent good money on a chlorine-free chicken, be careful where you put it.  Cutting it on a counter or board that has been cleaned with chlorine or any other disinfectants and retains its residue undermines your choice.  Think it through.  If you clean with conventional cleaners in a kitchen, you’re applying them to your meals, adding toxic chemicals you were trying to avoid by buying organic or low-sprayed local food.  Shift your mind-set to consider your kitchen in a holistic, systemic fashion.  Don’t compartmentalize the food from counter cleaners or even pots and pans.  If you don’t want your chicken to be contaminated with chlorine, don’t contaminate your kitchen-or any room in your home-with it, either.

So what is the takeaway here?  Think big picture. It’s never a good idea to chlorinate your unchlorinated chicken. So do buy local pastured organic poultry. And do be mindful of how you’re cleaning those much used surfaces in your kitchen.  Whatever you clean with will get into your food and your body.  Buy natural plant-based cleaners or make your own. You can just use vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. If you want something a little fancier for surfaces other than cutting boards, here’s a DIY all purpose cleaner, also from Planet Home:

Combine 2 tsp washing soda, 2 tsp borax, 1/2 tsp plant-based liquid soap, and 1 cup water in a spray bottle and shake well.  Lemon juice or essential oils can also be added for fragrance.  (Washing soda may leave harmless white reside on a surface if not wiped well.)