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Beef: The True Cost

Eating meat is a part of the human diet since the time of our hunting ancestors. One of the most popular and beloved meats in human civilization is beef. Beef is great for a lot of dishes, with this red meat cooked with different techniques.

But behind the juicy, tasty experiences of beef lie a lot of dangerous implications to human health and the environment.

In this endeavor to find the true cost of our love of beef, I interviewed vegans, vegetarians, environmental expects, agriculture experts, and food industry experts. Learn from their insights and get inspired to eat beef more sustainably.

How popular is Beef?

Steak, Meat, Beef, Eat, Food, Beef Steak

Meat is one of the most consumed foods for humans all the world over. 95% of people living in America eat meat, its consumption of meat has gone up by an average of 20 pounds in the last 40 years, and when we talk about meat, Nivi Achanta of The Soap Project says, beef is included. In addition, according to Holly Berrigan of MYSA, in America, people consume poultry on average but beef consumption is rising on average of 15% for the last 5 years and the desire for beef is growing there.

Which Countries Eat The Most Meat Each Year? [Infographic] beef
Credits to Forbes

In particular, food scientist Dr. Bryan Quoc Le says, in 2019, beef consumption reaches up to 27.3 billion pounds in the United States, hence, 68% living in America are omnivores and only 5% are considered vegetarian.

Beef is very popular for its many benefits:

Flavorful

Beef is the flesh of mature cattle, its fat is smooth and creamy white and it is bright red in color. In young beef, its bones are soft while mature beef has hard bones. Beef tenderness, taste, and flavor depend on its maturity. Beef is under the category of red meat; this term is used for those meats of mammals.

Can be cooked in different ways

Beef is commonly ground or minced. Beef is popular because of different products that use it as the main ingredient, and people love such as corned beef, beef jerky, sausages, and burgers.

Nutritious

Beef is rich in calories, water, protein, and fats. It also has vitamin B12, vitamin B6, Zinc, Selenium, Iron, Niacin, and Phosphorus. It also contains bioactive substances, such as creatine, taurine and cholesterol. So when people consume beef, it can help them maintain and grow muscle mass. And even prevent iron deficiency and anemia.

Overall, beef is popular because of its high-quality protein, vitamins, and minerals. But high consumption of beef can produce different diseases like heart diseases or even cancer. It is good to eat beef but in moderation.

Dangers in eating beef

A lot of people like to eat meat because it is nutritious, and can be cooked in many different tasty recipes. We can see different processed beef in our daily life such as corned beef, patties in hamburgers, beef steaks, and sausages. Beef offers different kinds of vitamins and minerals. But on the other hand, beef may cause different dangers to us, especially to those people who always eat beef meat. According to Dr. Bryan Quoc Le, too much consumption of beef may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

Cardiovascular disease

Firstly, beef causes cardiovascular disease or heart disease because beef meat has saturated fats and enables your cholesterol levels to rise. So health care professionals always advise people to eat less food that has saturated fats and these include beef.

Colon cancer

On the other hand, beef may also cause colorectal cancer or colon cancer. This is because beef has components which are (1) Heme iron, which may be responsible for causing cancer; (2)  Heterocyclic amines also cause cancer that is produced when the meat is overcooked; and (3) Other substances include other products that are added to processed meats.

Type 2 Diabetes

Since there are different styles of cooking beef (rare, medium-rare, medium, and well or overcooked), this may have a high risk of having several types of cancer because of high consumption of overcooked meat. In connection, beef may also cause type 2 diabetes, because of high-heat cooking methods such as broiling, barbeque, or grilling and roasting. This kind of cooking style may also increase the risk of weight gain and obesity.

Environmental impacts of the beef industry

Each one of us, including animals, needs the environment for us to live. It is important for us to take care of our environment. While many love the taste of beef, there are many environmental impacts that we can consider in the production of beef. Our burger can come from a process that destroys the environment and causes pollution.

beef environmental impacts
Credits to The Soap Project

The beef industry affects so many different aspects of our environment. Runoff from cattle operations, Dr. Bryan Quoc Le says, into nearby water supplies impact aquatic life, introduce microbial contamination, negatively affect the native water chemistry, and damage the surrounding ecosystems. Growth-promoting hormones have been shown to travel through the environment and can impact the hormones of local fish populations. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is released from dairy and cattle farms and can have a significant long-term impact on the climate.

According to Holly Berrigan, beef is by far the least environmentally friendly meat because it not only requires far more land (about 30% of arable land in the world), it
also creates 20% more greenhouse gas emissions than other meat sources in
production.

Heather Yan, the founder of My Kitchen Culture, said that beef production damages the land and causes an antibiotics crisis because of the overuse of antibiotics in the beef industry. Beef production is responsible for 14.5% of all human-caused methane production. Then it is also responsible for the estimated 80% of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Additionally, it causes land pollution because of its packaging which is mostly made of plastics and usually, it cannot be reused.

Ways to reduce your beef consumption

The food you choose to eat can have a great impact on your body, be it good or bad. But what matters is eating food that can make you strong, healthy, and live longer. Aside from that, you need food that helps you care for the environment too.

In connection to that, we can significantly reduce our beef consumption to reduce adverse health risks and environmental impacts. To reduce our beef consumption, we can find alternative foods that produce the same benefits that beef offers but also can help save and protect our environment.

Reduce meat dishes by one meal by week

Dr. Bryan Quoc Le encourages, replace at least one meal per week with an alternative protein, such as a soy-based protein like tofu or tempeh. More options are being made available by food startups and companies that mimic the taste and texture of meat, like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, and are helping more and more consumers switch to a low-meat or meat-free diet.

reduce beef in your diet

Eat fish and poultry, or reduce your pet’s meat intake

Aside from that, fish and poultry are more sustainable meats that are still rich in protein and other minerals. Mix it up with vegetables. Nivi Achanta also advises doing things one step at a time until you are able to reduce your beef consumption. Additionally, pet food accounts for more than 25% of meat consumption, so if you are not ready to minimize your meat intake, you can start it with your pets.

Practice meal planning

Holly Berrigan reduces her beef consumption by focusing on meal planning and following a structure of staggering the kinds of meats she eats, as well as building in completely vegetarian days. She also swaps beef for Impossible Burgers and eats beef as steaks every month or so as a nice treat.

Is there a sustainable way to eat meat?

Given that beef is the least eco-friendly meat, is there a sustainable way to eat it? Luckily for beef lovers, there are some ways to get your favorite red meat with less environmental impact.

Sustainable meats are meat produced efficiently, with minimal use of chemicals or pesticides.

Closed-loop farming

According to Dr. Bryan Quoc Le, this type of beef farming is where no waste is produced or waste is minimized. Resources that go into the farming operation, like feed, nutrients, and water, are controlled and recycled back into the farm. While challenging, finding a source of beef from a farm or ranch that uses a closed-loop system may be a sustainable option.

Buy from local co-ops

Holly Berrigan says, “Because I’m eating beef so infrequently, and because I like to focus on my local producers as a student in sustainable agriculture, I always source my meat from local co-ops that reduce the amount of travel the meat would have gone through, reducing carbon emissions, and with transparency for me to know where the meat came from and that it was ethically treated.”

Buy local and grass-fed

Source your beef from local farms, or from butchers that partner with local farms and
ranches. Try to only buy grass-fed beef, since grass-fed cattle produce less pollution. These cattle are also better-cared for, with most of their time spent on eating vegetation and roaming around in the pasture.

On the other hand, animals that are raised in industrial systems are kept in barns and there are chemicals that are injected into their body. These also eat grains, which may contain antibiotics and even come from deforested lands.

Control your beef intake

Lastly, we can eat beef sustainably by reducing the times we eat it. Moderation is the key to everything. Controlling and limiting yourself from food that can have a negative effect on your body and the environment is the best way to live longer and healthier.

Think before you eat!

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