Growing up on a farm in southern Ontario, Toronto chef Ikeila Wright says she ate enough beef as a child to last her entire life.
Then his parents farmed and raised cattle. She is now the chef and owner of One Love Vegetarian, a Jamaican vegetarian restaurant in Toronto.
“What I eat, what I put on my plate, is personal. And I think for everyone it should be personal, but also self-conscious, ”Wright said.
“We have to think about sustainability. We have to think about future generations, because history will hold us accountable for the choices we make now.”
Wright chose to become a vegetarian for health and environmental reasons. Its popular restaurant serves hearty Jamaican dishes such as callaloo, barbecue tofu stir-fry, potato and chickpea roasts, and their signature corn soup.
She is among a growing number of people worried about the carbon footprint of meat – and beef in particular, which the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says is responsible for 41% of all emissions from livestock, far more than other meats.
Last week, America’s leading food magazine and its website, Epicurious, took a public stand on the issue by announcing that they are no longer publishing beef recipes, due to the carbon intensity of the protein.
Distinguish the beef
While meat products in general result in greater greenhouse gas emissions than plant-based protein sources, Epicurious chose beef on the grounds that one ingredient makes the difference.
In an article titled “The Planet on the Plate: Why Epicurious Left the Beef Behind,” the magazine’s editors cited statistics from the World Resources Institute that say beef requires 20 times the land and produces 20 times more. greenhouse gases than common vegetable proteins, such as beans. . It is also three times more carbon intensive than poultry and pork.
“It may not seem like much, but removing just one ingredient – beef – can have a disproportionate impact on making a person’s cooking more environmentally friendly,” the editors wrote. chief.
David Tamarkin, one of the co-authors of the article, is the former digital editor of Epicurious. In an interview with UKTN Radio As it happens, he said the magazine made the decision to stop publishing new recipes with beef a year before the public announcement, with the goal of being “the world’s most sustainable home cooking publication.”
“If you think of the value of a food publication like Epicurious, the whole point, its whole point, is to influence the way people eat,” Tamarkin said.
“There are millions and millions of people who go to Epicurious every month. If we could manage to replace one beef meal with one vegetarian meal a month, that’s a huge victory. Because if everyone did that, it would have a huge impact on the sustainability of our food. “
Beef greenhouse gas emissions
The question for Canadians is how much beef do people have to cut to have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions?
Researcher Jim Dyer set out to answer this question in a report last year for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The Cambridge, Ontario-based consultant has worked for the federal government in the past and studies the environmental impact of raising cattle.
The study, which targeted the livestock industry, modeled scenarios in which Canadians changed their meat consumption without reducing their overall protein intake or cutting meat completely.
Modeling revealed that while red meat consumption decreased by 25% – as per medical recommendations – and was a quarter of beef and three quarters of pork, the total greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock sector in Canada fell 10.7%. (The study assumed that any decrease in red meat consumption was replaced by chicken.)
“Given the very high intensity of GHG emissions from beef, it should come as no surprise that this analysis found that diversifying Canadian protein intake outside of beef was such an attractive option to cut the budget.” GHG emissions from the Canadian agricultural sector, ”the report states. .
Other analyzes, including the planetary health plan published in the Lancet in 2019, recommend drastically reducing meat consumption, to just one serving of beef per week.
Dyer’s article did not model the impact of completely removing meat from the Canadian diet and replacing it with plant proteins like legumes. But he says switching to vegan diets would have even bigger impacts on carbon emissions.
“The first message was really very simple, and it’s: eat less beef. You still need your protein, so find your protein in other ways, ”he said.
Grass vs grain
Generally, grass-fed beef – where cattle graze on a pasture – has been analyzed to be more emitting than feeder beef, in part due to land use. But many studies, including Dyer’s, ignore the other environmental benefits of grass-fed beef, such as carbon sequestration in grass and soil.
This may mean that the higher emissions from grass-fed beef are offset by carbon sequestered in pastures, according to a 2018 study, although uncertainty remains as to how much carbon is sequestered.
Dyer’s recommendation is that people should eat less beef – and when they do, they should choose grass-fed beef.
This is important to Cedric MacLeod, a grass-fed beef producer in New Brunswick. MacLeod and his family operate Local Valley Farm, a farm where cattle roam freely and feed on 40 acres of strategically planted grass. The farm uses as little fertilizer as possible by planting specific types of grasses and using manure efficiently, and runs on solar energy. MacLeod, a trained soil specialist, says sustainability principles are at the heart of our concerns.
“We are doing everything we can to minimize our emissions,” MacLeod said.
“For me, running a grassy farm where I employ cattle to help me manage this grass, so that it helps the soil I own, which I hope to pass on to the next generation, in a much better shape than what I found it. “
MacLeod says people should ask where and how their food is produced and be prepared to pay for it.
“Chicken farmers play a role. Potato growers play a role. Corn and soybean producers play a role. The livestock sector plays an important role because we manage the prairies, ”said Mr. MacLeod.
“And when you put all of these functions of the landscape and agriculture as a whole together, we all contribute to the sector’s contribution to tackling climate change.”