ONE of the world’s largest recipe websites has cooked up a plan to save the planet, but in culling beef from its list of ingredients all it is serving to its readers is a bum steer.
A dash more scientific curiosity might have made the Epicurious team’s decision to jump on the “cancel culture” bandwagon, with its announcement it will no longer publish or feature new recipes containing beef on its website, a little more digestible.
Epicurious – a combination of Epicure, ‘someone who enjoys high quality food and drink’, and ‘curious’ – believes a dramatic stand is needed against one of the “world’s worst climate offenders”.
Unfortunately to justify that claim the Epicurious team points to the same misleading rhetoric that has been pushed forward about beef by environmental lobbyists and celebrity vegans for years now: 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally come from livestock; it takes 20 times the amount of land and 20 times the amount of greenhouse gases to produce a single calorie of beef as it does to produce a single calorie of beans, and beef is much more water intensive to produce compared to plants, even compared to other types of meat.
Also quoted is a National Resource Defence Council spokesperson stating that beef production involves massive quantities of corn and soybeans grown to feed cattle, and those crops “are grown using pesticides and fertilizer, which are actually produced using fossil fuels”.
This must place corn and soy in danger of being among the next ingredients targeted in Epicurious’s list of ‘planet-ending foods’ in need of cancellation.
However, the advertising revenue Epicure generates from plant-based protein products suggests corn and soy are safe for now.
Had the Epicurious team exercised a little more curiosity they would have found that beef is not only highly nutritious, its environmental impacts have been dramatically overblown while the plant-based foods that dominate Epicurious’ picture-perfect online recipes have an environmental footprint of their own.
A great start to learn more is the above video which coincidentally was released the same day last week that Epicurious announced its beef ban.
Using well-cited science the video explains why many of the claims Epicurious makes about beef are not only misleading, but just plain wrong. Some examples for those who don’t have time to watch the full 25 minute video include:
– If 100 percent of people in the United States suddenly turned vegan the effect on overall methane emissions would amount to a reduction of just 2.6 percent.
– The vast majority of water attributed to beef to support claims it is extremely water intensive is greenwater, meaning that every drop of rain that falls on all lands grazed by cattle – which would fall on that land whether it was grazed by cattle or not – are counted to the total of water use attributed to beef production.
– Nor does the water that cattle do actually consume miraculously vanish. It stays in the animal about as long as the tea you drank this morning stays in your body, and is returned to the environment.
– By contrast, about 70 percent of the world’s freshwater reserves (ie blue water – water sourced from surface or groundwater resources) goes to irrigating crops that produce plant-based food and fibre.
– 84pc of all of the food livestock eat across the globe is not edible by humans.
– Taking into account that humans can’t eat most of what cows eat, claims that it takes 25kg of grain to make one kilogram of beef are in reality closer closer to 2.8kg of human edible food to make one kilogram of beef, which is in fact lower than the 3.2kg of human edible food required to produce one kilogram of pork or chicken meat.
– Cattle also have the amazing ability, along with sheep and goats, to upcycle non human edible food such as grass into highly digestible and highly nutritious human food beef and dairy. Without ruminants, two-thirds of the world’s food producing land would go to waste.
– Cattle also provide natural fertiliser – in fact, half of all fertiliser that goes onto the world’s crops to produce plant based foods is animal manure. The other half are chemical fertilisers.
– All fertiliser used to grow organic crops comes from animal manure.
– Globally, livestock do make up about 15 percent of emissions, but this number is “misleading and mostly irrelevant”, as Dr Frank Mitlohener explains in the video, because it suggests ‘all beef is created equal’. Emissions from cattle produced in developed countries are far lower – ie 1pc in Japan, 4pc in the US – but the global average is tilted heavily by the fact that 80 percent of all livestock emissions in the world occur in developing countries.
– Before stating that people should replace animal food with plant food, it should be considered that crop agriculture accounts for more emissions than livestock – according to the Environmental Protection Agency that figure in the US is 4.7pc from cropping versus 3.9pc from livestock – (and for cows the number is closer to 2pc).
– Methane does warm the earth much more than Carbon Dioxide but is much shorter lived in the atmosphere – 10 or so years for methane versus hundreds for CO2 – but most critically methane from cows and animals is released and captured in a continuous, natural cycle, whereas CO2 coming out of cars and airplanes comes from fossil fuels laid down in the ground millions of years ago which adds new CO2 in atmospheric carbon, which then stays there.
– The transportation sector, power sector and cement industry produce 80 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock produce 4-5pc. Not nothing, and something that still needs to be reduced, but to suggest that not eating a burger this week will make a huge difference to the climate only contributes to the smokescreen deflecting attention away from fossil fuel use, Dr Mitlohener said.
Rather than contributing to that deflection, Epicurious could perhaps consider the significant emissions associated with the millions of visits to its recipe and cooking video website each month.
An average website produces 4.61 grams of CO2 for every page view.
This includes the energy required to transfer data over the wire when a web page is loaded, and the energy used at data centres, telecoms networks and the end user’s computer or mobile device.
Epicurious reports 8.4 million individual users to its website per month.
Even if each of those users visits only once each per month, that alone would account for 387 tonnes of CO2 emissions generated by Epicurious per month or 4,644 tonnes emissions per year (and nor does this figure take into account its 8.5 million social media followers or 57.8 million video views per month).
In the US 40 percent of food does not get eaten, and non-animal foods make up the majority of this (82pc).
All of this food and all of the resources that went into making them effectively goes to waste.
Animals could be a big part of the solution if more of this wasted food was fed to livestock.
By finding new recipes and strategies that emphasise reducing food waste Epicurious perhaps could help to make a meaningful difference, but rather than dishing out spoonfed platitudes, the first ingredient would be genuine curiosity.
Diana Rodgers, Sacred Cow: My beef with Epicurious
James Hohmann, The Washington Post: Epicurious should reconsider its ban on beef
Amanda Radke, Beef Magazine: Where’s the beef, Epicurious?