Your Meat Is Green

Tips for responsible carnivores

By Roxanne Webber

Love it, cook it well, eat it responsibly.

Get to Know Bison
Your questions answered.

Meat at Your Door
Bypass the supermarket and buy it direct.

How to Buy, Freeze,
and Prepare Meat

Smart tips from a butcher.

Your Meat Is Green
Ten ways to be a responsible carnivore.

Innard Workings
Chris Cosentino wants you to eat the nasty bits.

Beyond the Porterhouse
Ten underappreciated cuts of meat.

There is no getting around it: Meat production has a huge impact on the earth. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that the livestock sector is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, and that it affects water quality and biodiversity. Here are some ways to help you make decisions about meat that take into account both the welfare of the animals and the health of the environment.

1. Learn to Cook. You’ll be able to efficiently use the meat you do buy, and avoid processed food and takeout. You can get a good start with The Silver Palate Cookbook, Cook with Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook, and The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.

2. Buy Humanely Raised Meat. The recent investigation by the Humane Society of the United States showed the brutal conditions still in place at some factory slaughterhouses. A report published by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that raising animals on a pasture instead of a feedlot decreased soil erosion and water pollution, reduced the use of antibiotics, and improved animal health and welfare.

3. Purchase Meat with Less Packaging. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that for most of the developed world, “packaging constitutes as much as one-third” of nonindustrial solid waste. Meat packaging contributes Styrofoam trays, plastic wrap, and paper products. Choose to purchase from places—like a farmers’ market or a butcher—that wrap meat just in paper.

4. Use Your Leftovers. Save bones to make flavorful stock, keep necks and giblets for gravy, and set aside decent pieces of trim in the freezer to grind later. Use pork belly to make pancetta or fatback to render your own lard.

5. Buy Meat Direct. Farmers’ markets, CSAs, meat buying clubs, and whole animal sharing are responsible, humane alternatives to factory-farmed meat. By connecting local farmers directly to consumers, these forms of distribution lighten meat’s carbon footprint, eliminating extra transportation between farm and store and store and consumer.

6. Eat Less Meat. Scale back portion size and fill your plate with nonmeat options. Thomas Jefferson even embraced this approach, claiming he ate meat as a condiment for vegetables. And if a restaurant doesn’t make the source of its meat clear, go meatless.

7. Spend More. Pasture-raised, organic, and local meat will empty your wallet faster, but cheap meat costs a lot when you factor in its long-term effect on the environment and human health.

8. Support Your Local Butcher. Skilled butchers know their product. They can steer you toward what’s from your area, give you tips on cooking grass-fed beef, and perhaps even help butcher an animal if you get a whole-animal share going with some friends. You can’t ask a 10-pound family pack of ground beef anything at Wal-Mart.

9. If You’re Going to Grab Fast Food, Choose Wisely. Some chains are more responsible than others when it comes to sourcing their meat. Chipotle Mexican Grill only uses pork raised without hormones or antibiotics, and O’Naturals offers grass-fed roast beef and bison.

10. Buy Meat from Animals Raised on Organic Feed. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that the synthetic fertilizer used to grow conventional feed for livestock produces more than 3 million tons of nitrogen emissions annually.

CHOW’s The Ten column appears every Tuesday.

Roxanne Webber is an associate editor at CHOW.

See more articles