Beef and Beans

A recent article published in Anthropocene, an excellent sustainability-focused magazine, addresses the environmental benefits of replacing beef with beans. The article discusses a study which conducted a life cycle assessment (LCA) on both beef and beans, revealing that if the entire U.S. population consumed beans instead of beef over the next few years, we’d already have reached up to 75% of the emissions-reduction targets for 2020. That’s crazy!

I’m all for eating beans, and they happen to be one of my favorite foods: pintos, black beans, garbanzos, you name it. But I’m not sure all of America loves beans enough to commit to that kind of sustainability goal. The beef burger is, after all, the definition of fine American cuisine. Perhaps another solution lies in the increasingly popular Impossible Burger, a plant-based burger that quite possibly tastes, looks, and sizzles just like beef.

Now that we have a great-tasting burger alternative, why not everyone just hop on the vegetarian bandwagon and help save the planet? Sure, that’d be great! I hope to see high-quality meat alternatives like the Impossible Burger continue to pop up in restaurants and stores around the country, and I’m excited to learn about the innovation that gives rise to such products.

But for those of us who aren’t replacing beef with beans or other more sizzling alternatives, there’s companies like BovControl to help push sustainable food production forward. BovControl is a Brazilian startup in the business of Ag Tech, using data and technology to increase the efficiency of beef production. Their mission? To empower farmers and decrease world hunger. While their mission is not sustainability-specific, BovControl allows beef production to expand while making use of resources more efficiently and generating fewer emissions, which when scaled up could have a huge impact on climate change.holstein-cattle-2318436_1920

Climate change is a huge, multi-faceted issue, and animal agriculture is equally as complex. While it’s easy to think about the choice between beef burgers and bean tacos when deciding what to eat for dinner, it takes a lot more thought to consider all of the environmental, social, and economic factors at play. Here, I’ve tried to highlight three different approaches to reducing the environmental impact of beef consumption: advocating reduced beef intake, innovating plant-based meat alternatives, and driving more efficient beef production. Each of these approaches is completely valid, which demonstrates that a variety of innovative, sustainable solutions together will help us achieve food sustainability and security in the future.