The planet is what we eat…
According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, we spend only 1 hour and 8 minutes of every weekday on average consuming food but the way how we consume is fuelling global warming. Food production and waste are major contributors to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Growing, harvesting, transporting, storing, cooking, serving and disposing are all energy- and labor-intensive. Can we do something about it? Other than quit eating, which is obviously not a viable option for a foodie like me, what are the alternatives?
Today, let’s focus on the prime suspect — beef.
I grew up in Canada and beef was often included as part of my meals. I used to consume beef 3–5 times a week and I’m shocked to learn that the amount of GHG I have contributed was as much as taking 5 return flights from London to Malaga and the amount of land used is as large as 17 tennis courts. This is only stats on my consumption — imagine having this impact multiplied by billions of people on earth.
When I moved back to Asia, I have cut down a lot on beef consumption but I still grab a ShackBurger from time to time. There is now a wave of plant-based beef that are served as alternatives at restaurants like Pizza Hut, Tacco Bell and Burger King. How do they differ from the real beef and would I fall for it?
First, I’ve tried my first plant-based burger last week and it tastes much better than I expected. It tastes like real beef — with the texture and juiciness. It didn’t taste beanie nor crunchy like vegetables. And I feel the good vibes from saving a few cows already!
Secondly, let’s look at it from a nutritional perspective. Plant-based beef is made of soy, potatoes, wheat, peas, mung beans, coconut and sunflower oils, food starch, artificial colouring, etc. Looking at the nutrients of a major plant-based beef provider vs a normal piece of beef patty, they are both similar in the amount of calories, protein and fat. And unsurprisingly, plant-based beef also comes with fibre that normal beef do not. However, there is substantial difference in the level of sodium — 380mg from plant-based vs 75mg from the beef patty; 5 times more! Too much sodium in the diet can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease.
But was that a fair comparison? When you prepare the piece of beef patty you bought from the supermarket, chances are, you would marinate the patty in preparation of your burger. Let’s compare the plant-based Whopper with a regular Whopper. Sodium level is a whopping 25% higher from a plant-based burger. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it is recommended to consumer less than 2300mg of sodium per day as part of a healthy eating diet. The consumption of one plant-based burger has already consumed half of the recommended quota! From a nutritional point of view, the plant-based burger looks reasonable except the amount of sodium it contains. If that can be reduced, it would be perfect.
From an environmental perspective, animal agriculture is responsible for about 15% of global GHG emissions, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation, with 65% of those emissions coming from beef and dairy cattle. The methane produced by cows when they burp or fart get trapped on the planet… imagine this…
Joke aside, to produce 1 pound of beef, 2500 gallons of water are needed. A research conducted by the University of Michigan indicates that water consumption is reduced by 99%, land use reduced by 93%, GHG emissions reduced by 90% and fossil-fuel energy is saved by 46%!
Overall, through the assessment from the taste, nutritional value and environmental perspectives, it makes total sense for burger lovers to start switching part of his/her consumption to plant-based burgers. To someone who does not eat burger often like me, instead of switching to plant-based burger, I would prefer looking into other food choices to help reduce the impact on climate change. On my next blog, I’ll share how I evaluate the different options and change my diet.
Remember — the planet is what we eat! See you next time!