Every Picture Tells A Story - Dietary Emissions

By Chuck Dinerstein, MD, MBA — Jun 06, 2022
No, we are not talking about the dietary emissions that your intestines create; we are talking about those emissions that are associated with making the foods we eat. We are talking about Big Meat’s crushing footprint on our atmosphere.
Image courtesy of Eliza28diamonds on Pixabay

This infographic is from Anthropocene; reader supported journalism “Creating a sustainable human age we actually want to live in.” It shows the good news that our consumption of beef, a villain in creating greenhouse gases, has declined significantly since 2003 – a 35% reduction in just the past 15 years, at least for US eaters.

Their reporting is based upon a study in the Journal of Cleaner Production. Of course, the optimistic news must be tempered (balanced?) by Anthropocene acknowledging, “The country’s emissions still far exceed the suggested national limit to keep global temperatures in line with the Paris Agreement.” The study’s authors note “that the emissions of the current average US diet still exceeds, by two-fold, the limits imposed by the EAT-Lancet Planetary Diet.” [1]

The Anthropocene does fairly capture and communicate the findings of the scientific study, noting that

  • Beef consumption decreased across all demographic groups
  • That caloric loss from diminished beef consumption was matched by “consumption of fats and oils, legumes, corn products, and other less GHG intensive commodities….”
  • There is a “growing appetite for plant-based foods.”

“Yet with its 15-year snapshot of US diets and declining emissions, the study suggests the groundwork has been laid to push even further diet-related change in the US—starting with reducing beef consumption even more, and embracing the growing appetite for plant-based foods.”

One might ask, what is the groundwork for these changes? The short answer, no one knows. The researchers take a shot at an answer here,

“Beef consumption patterns in the U.S. have been linked to psychosocial-behavioral factors including food purchasing behaviors, perceived benefit of diet quality, food label-related practices, and food habits … because beef consumption is a deeply rooted social practice, there is a strong case for social marketing and the influence it can have. Studies have also found that values, such as environmental ethics or animal welfare, can have a large influence on meat consumption.” [Emphasis added]


To paraphrase a former President, that depends on what large influence means. In the researchers' citations discussing those influences, I found that a minority of consumers were aware of the impact of food production on the environment, as were those willing to change their diet based upon those findings or become vegetarians. (Minority was their word choice). As it turns out, concerns about meat consumption are mostly about animal welfare and are to be found among vegetarians and vegans.


[1] As a snarky aside, who appointed the Lancet an arbiter of our scientific thought on diet?


Source: A 15-year snapshot of US diets reveals a gradual shift away from beef Anthropocene Magazine

Chuck Dinerstein, MD, MBA

Director of Medicine

Dr. Charles Dinerstein, M.D., MBA, FACS is Director of Medicine at the American Council on Science and Health. He has over 25 years of experience as a vascular surgeon.

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