Ending my beef ban

Some time ago (maybe 2004-2006), I decided to stop eating beef and pork. There were several reasons; the treatment of animals, the effect of red meat on my health, and the effect of meat production on the environment. For beef, I was also concerned about mad cow disease. And for pork, I was concerned about intelligent pigs.

I’ve made some exceptions over the years (mostly at nice restaurants), but for the most part I have stuck with my ban. In fact, I’ve ended up being a little more strict than I’d originally intended – mostly because it is easier to have a hard-and-fast rule than to always have to make a decision.

I’m still not going to eat pork, but, in my opinion, the health effects of eating beef have become less clear. Mad cow disease hasn’t been a problem in the US, and the negative effects of saturated fat may have been overstated.

Even with that new information, my other reasons for excluding beef are still enough for me to avoid eating beef at home (a hamburger creates the same amount of greenhouse gas as a chicken sandwich plus burning a quarter gallon of gas).

Beef production releases 27 lb CO2 equivalent per lb of meat (includes CO2 from fertilizer and transport of grain to feed the cow plus the methane the cow produces). Chicken produces 7 lb CO2 equivalent per lb of meat. So a quarter-pounder generates 5 lb more CO2 than a 4 oz chicken sandwich. Burning a gallon of gas produces 20 lb of CO2.
Along with the greenhouse gas difference, a pound of beef requires an extra 1500 gallons of water and 28 times as much land as chicken.
Switching to a vegi-burger probably doesn’t save much. Beans and grains are only 2-3 lb of CO2 per pound of food, but the extra effort to make and package the vegi-burger reduces that savings.

But while I wont be eating much beef, I no longer feel like it is worth avoiding altogether. I will order beef at restaurants where there aren’t other good options. And I will eat beef at friend’s houses. I never wanted my beef/pork ban to be an inconvenience for friends, and hopefully this change will make it a bit easier.

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