Climate-savvy burger lovers know their food comes with an environmental price tag. And it’s hard to enjoy your all-beef patty when you understand what it’s doing to the climate. Plant-based alternatives like the Impossible Burger are tasty, but sometimes you just want the real thing. Not to worry. Before you fire up your BBQ for the Fourth of July, check out these five tips for how to be a better carnivore.
1. Replace some of the beef with vegetables.
Make nutritious, flavor-packed burgers by replacing some of the beef with lentils, beans, grains or mushrooms. Get creative with ingredients. Mix in brown rice and kimchi, for example. If every American replaced 30 percent of the beef in their burgers with mushrooms, it would have the same impact as taking 2.3 million cars off the road. Blended burgers are also good for your wallet. Good quality beef doesn’t come cheap, and this trick can make a little bit go a long way.
2. Serve up pork or chicken instead of beef.
Some animals generate more pollution than others. Cows and sheep generate the most pollution, largely from farting nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. Pigs and chicken generate less pollution. Beans, lentils and other plants generate the least of all. In the final tally, beef is responsible for about 20 times as much heat-trapping pollution as beans per gram of protein. More climate-friendly foods also tend to be more affordable and better for your health, so try diversifying your grilling menu with some chicken breasts, pork burgers or black bean patties.
3. Find a local farmer.
The environmental impact of beef can vary a lot depending on how it’s produced. If you’re craving a burger this July Fourth, seek out farmers who raise cattle in well-managed, pasture-based systems. Silvopasture, for example, integrates trees into grazing fields, which helps to store carbon in the soil while also improving cows’ quality of life. Similarly, with rotational grazing, cows are moved from field to field in a way that protects plants and builds up carbon in the soil. You can ask about ranching practices at your local farmers’ market. If purchasing from a grocery, see Eatwild’s online directory to find farms and ranches producing grass-fed beef in your state.
4. Look for third-party certifications.
Sometimes, it’s impossible to know where precisely your beef comes from and, sadly, we can’t trust the label “natural” to mean that food was produced in an ethical and environmentally responsible way. But there are a few third-party certifications that ensure the beef comes from independent farmers raising happy cows using practices that keep carbon in the soil. Look for the following labels from Pennsylvania Certified Organic and A Greener World.
5. Rethink food waste.
We all know the freezer is a great tool to make sure leftovers don’t go to waste. Another way to fight food waste, a significant contributor to climate change, is to buy less popular cuts of meat — beef brisket, pork sirloin or short ribs, for example — that might otherwise end up in the trash. There’s a market for these cuts internationally, but small farmers and local butchers often don’t have access to export markets. Ask your local butcher about the less popular cuts of meat. These parts tend to be more affordable and often pack a lot of flavor.
When it comes climate change, the less beef the better, but if you need to have that burger, there are better ways to do it. Enjoy a low-carbon patty this Fourth of July.
Lauren Wolahan writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture. You can follow her at @_foodprints.