Dinner Table Conversation: Should You Eat Beans or Beef?

October 19, 2017

You’ve probably figured it out by now that small actions can make a big impact. For example, by bringing a reusable bag to the store instead of asking for a plastic bag, you can greatly reduce the amount of trash you generate. Or if each member of your family decides to take shorter showers, you can save a bit on your water bill every month. Well, a group of scientists took the idea further—they wanted to know what would happen to greenhouse gas emissions if every American ate beans instead of beef.

Strange? Well, not quite. You see, greenhouse gases absorb and emit radiation, thus warming up planet Earth. Cows have an interesting relationship with greenhouse gases—they emit (or fart, if you will) methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Cows also need a lot of food to fatten up. In Brazil, cows are fed soybeans. Farmers cut down the rainforest in order to plant the beans to feed the cows. The cows are then consumed by people. But the amount of feed consumed by cows, the land that is destroyed for the feed, and the gas that’s emitted by the cows along the way, is a lot of destruction of planet Earth. So what if people decided to simply change one habit and ate beans instead of beef? We wouldn’t need as many cattle ranges, thereby reducing the land dedicated to cows as well as the amount of methane gas emitted from those cows.

Helen Harwatt, an environmental nutrition scientist leading a team with this experiment, discovered that this simple change could make a world of difference. In fact, we could be well on our way to reaching the 2020 gas emission goals in the United States with this one simple act. Well, okay—scientists agree that it isn’t quite possible, but they want to point out that this one tiny step doesn’t require much effort. In fact, it is something we can start doing today.

What are other small things that you can do to help planet Earth?