Why Cutting Back on Beef Is Good for You and the Planet

Cutting Back on Beef Is Good for You and the Planet
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By Sarah Smith, Prevention

Like it or not, beef is a cornerstone of the American diet. From tacos to cheeseburgers to chili, we eat more of the stuff than almost anyone else in the world—about 58 pounds per person, per year. (The world average is just over 14 pounds.)

Despite some people's affinity for it, mounting evidence suggests that cutting back is smart for us and the planet. So, as of September 2020, Prevention's test kitchen will no longer create any new recipes containing beef. To do our part in helping our readers choose beef more mindfully, we will put our focus on other types of protein. Here’s why:


Beef poses a problem for the planet

Raising animals is an inefficient business—according to a landmark 2018 study in the journal Nature, livestock production takes up 83% of the world’s farmland, but only produces 18% of total calories and 37% of total protein. And not all of that farmland is sustainable, either: According to a 2006 study, industrialized beef production is responsible for up to 80% of deforestation in the Amazon. It’s generally harder on the planet than other animal protein sources, including pork, dairy, and poultry, though there are smaller operations that use sustainable practices such as managed grazing. (The protein sources with the least environmental toll include nuts, grains, tofu, and eggs.)


Environmental and health benefits go hand-in-hand

Red meat—which, in the United States, usually means beef—has been definitively linked to higher risks of health hazards like heart disease and cancer. And one 2019 study by researchers at the University of Minnesota connects the health of our bodies to the health of our environment.

“Foods associated with the largest negative environmental impacts—unprocessed and processed red meat—are consistently associated with the largest increases in disease risk,” the study concludes. “Thus, dietary transitions toward greater consumption of healthier foods would generally improve environmental sustainability.”


Personal change makes a difference

Sujatha Bergen, director of health campaigns at the National Resources Defense Council, says that when consumers make informed choices about beef, they can affect change on a huge scale. “If every American, on average, cut the equivalent of a burger out of their diet per week, it would be the equivalent of taking 10 million cars off the road each year,” Bergen explains. “Changing your diet is a great way to fight global warming with your fork.”

Brian Kateman, president and co-founder of the Reducetarian Foundation, places an emphasis on at least reducing the amount of meat we eat. “Buying a Tesla is not something everyone can do," he says. But "there’s plenty of opportunity for people to move meat away from the center of their plates, and make vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes the stars of their meals.”

"Meat consumption isn’t an all-or-nothing premise," Kateman explains. "[You] might feel intimidated by veganism or vegetarianism, but if we can get a large majority of people to cut back by a small amount, that’s going to make an even greater difference than a small number of highly committed people going vegetarian or vegan.” And if you have the opportunity to buy from a local farmer committed to sustainable practices, that’s a strong show of support for the planet.

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