Foodprints for the Future

A carbon-neutral future can still be delicious

Sanah Baig is the chief of staff for The Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that promotes alternatives to conventional animal agriculture.

Many media outlets have predicted modern horrors if we enact policies to fight climate change: no flying, no air conditioning, no trucks. But perhaps the most repeated line about progressive policies like the Green New Deal is this: They’re coming for your cows.

Yes, the most frightening, apocalyptic scenario painted by scare-mongers is a world without beef.

Anyone paying attention to the climate crisis understands the basic problem of industrial animal agriculture, particularly that global meat production creates more greenhouse gas emissions than every plane, train and automobile in the world. But the harms of current meat production are much worse than cow farts and burps.

When you think about it, it’s not too surprising. Most calories and protein we feed to food animals are used for survival by the animals rather than converted into edible meat. According to the World Resource Institute, it takes nine calories of wheat, corn and soy to get one calorie of chicken meat. It’s even worse when you look specifically at climate change. The journal Nature found that per calorie of protein, poultry creates 40 times more greenhouse gases than legumes.

Simply put, to take climate change seriously, we can’t keep feeding our crops to animals. It’s just too wasteful and unsustainable.

But eating for the planet isn’t some lettuce-strewn dystopia. For example, Burger King now offers the entirely plant-based Impossible Whopper, which has been shocking meat-eaters since it was rolled out to all 7,000 U.S. locations last year.

Impossible Foods, alongside plant-based meat company Beyond Meat, has changed the plant-based game. These companies aren’t necessarily making burgers for vegetarians and vegans. They are making meat — using the basic building blocks of amino acids, fats, minerals, and carbohydrates — directly from plants. By cutting out the inefficient middlemen — pigs, cows, chickens — today’s plant-based products give everyone the meat they want without sacrificing taste or convenience. 

The benefits of plant-based meat go far beyond lowering our carbon footprint, too. According to the University of Michigan, the Beyond Burger requires 93% less land than a beef burger. With more land, we can grow enough food to feed our growing population and still allow hundreds of millions of acres to return to carbon-storing forests.

Promoting climate-friendly eating is much easier than trying to convince people to give up beef for beans. We only need to find our favorite plant-based meat — these new products are everywhere — and share them with our friends. What better way to slash our carbon footprints and reverse climate change than over a burger? Just make sure it’s plant based.