If everyone in America stopped eating beef tomorrow and started eating chicken, it’d be like taking 26 million cars off the road

Greenhouse Gases and Food Production

Check out the chart above, via here. It compares the greenhouse gas emissions linked with the production of beef and chicken. As you can see, chicken is a lot less — in fact, it’s about four times less. If you were to rank the main things that humans tend to consume, in fact, the order of greenhouse gas emissions linked to each goes something like this: lamb (which we apparently should never eat, because it’s just crushing the environment), beef, cheese, pork, farmed salmon, turkey, and then … all the way at No. 7: chicken.

Get this, from the crazy stat department:

Diane Rehm hosted a patriotically apropos discussion on her radio show this week, in which experts called for the U.S. to be global leaders in assuaging climate change—with our meat choices. Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group (which conducted the studies that created these charts), said, “If every American stopped eating beef tomorrow—which I don’t expect—and started eating chicken instead, that would be the equivalent of taking 26 million cars off the road.”

Now add this: the 16 largest ships in the world account for the same amount of environmental duress as all the cars in the world. So Elon Musk’s grand plans be damned, a real key to somewhat ebbing the environmental issues out there is down-shifting America from beef to chicken (in terms of beef consumption, the global average is about 93 pounds per year; the American average is, predictably, over 210 pounds per year).

I eat beef and chicken, although I do find it morally interesting how we decide what animals are OK to eat — for example, most Americans would never eat a dog (although other cultures do) and are freaked out by eating horses, but would love the chance to eat whale, which is basically an apex predator. I have no real idea how we make these decisions and value judgements, honestly; it seems like maybe it was something handed down to us and we just ran with it. I know there’s a culture around beef being “true American” or something, but in reality, beef is a fairly boring product — and so is chicken. You can do a few marvelous things with each one, of course, but there’s not a massive difference in eating predominantly beef or predominantly chicken, from a taste/experience perspective — at least at the home cook level. I’d argue chicken might be a little healthier (albeit easier to eff up in terms of cook time). Point is, more people should be eating chicken (and lentils!) and down-shifting from beef. It’s expensive anyway. You can save money and save the world a little bit? That’s a win-win.


Ted Bauer