Hold the Lamb, Eat More Lentils: New Guide Ranks Proteins by Carbon Footprint

Navigating meat choices is a bit easier with this new guide.

Lamb chop lovers, look out! When it comes to environmental impact, not all meat is created equal. It turns out that lamb is the worst, according to a new report released by the Environmental Working Group called the "Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change and Health." Full of infographics, this highly visual aid guide to understanding the relationship between food and the environment (sort of like a "Seafood Watch" for protein) is well worth checking out.

Beef, cheese, and pork follow lamb at the top of the list for proteins that guzzle the most greenhouse gases. Lentils and milk represent the least-polluting proteins. While that news surely comes as no surprise for environmentally aware eaters, the guide provides meat eaters an incentive to cut back by showing the potential climate-saving gains of even minor changes in consumption. For example, eating just one less burger per week for a year is equivalent to taking your car off the road for 320 miles. And the guide highlights some unexpected discoveries as well. Who knew that cheese is actually worse for the environment than poultry, and that dense cheeses are worse than lighter ones like cottage cheese?

The calculations in the guide consider the carbon footprints of each protein over its entire lifecycle. This includes the fertilizers that went into growing animal feed, the energy used processing and packing the meat, and the gas burned hauling it across the country. The study focused on conventional meat only—the kind that's grown on feed lots and sold at every supermarket. So if you're eating the kind grown in pastures and sold at farmers' markets, you have less to worry about—a silver lining for meat eaters that can't tear themselves away from the butcher counter.

Photo (cc) by Flickr user rogdavies; Chart via the Environmental Working Group

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