The Environment Working Group released the Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health over the weekend. If this report–as one of the most comprehensive tools for consumers to understand how their food choices, specifically in regards to protein, affects their environment and climate–doesn’t get us to seriously look at our plates, then we are never going to change until Mother Nature mandates it.

Documenting every stage of food production, processing, consumption, and waste disposal, this informative approach of presenting boring numbers that illuminate, in revolutionary detail, how consumers who eat less meat and cheese can significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and health risks linked to their dietary choices is unbelievable helpful and much needed in America. Previous studies have focused mostly on emissions from the food production phase only.

For example, the guide offers practical solutions to pollution with refreshing anecdotes: if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, over a year, the effect on emissions would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road.

In The LA Times they quote TV chef Mario Batali, who is a supporter of the new guide:

“Most people in the U.S. eat way more meat than is good for them or the planet,” said Batali, “but even knowing this, the chances are little that we are all going to become vegetarians, much less vegans. Asking everyone to go vegetarian or vegan is not a realistic or attainable goal, but we can focus on a more plant-based diet and support the farmers who raise their animals humanely and sustainably.”

According to the press release on the EWG website, they teamed up with CleanMetrics, an environmental analysis and consulting firm, to calculate complete lifecycle assessments of the “cradle-to-grave” carbon footprint of 20 types of conventionally raised (not organic or grass-fed) meat, fish, dairy and vegetable proteins, counting emissions generated both before and after the food leaves the farm. These assessments included every step of the food cycle, from the pesticides and fertilizers used to grow animal feed through to the grazing, processing, transportation, cooking and finally, disposal of unused food.

Other key findings of the report:

  • Beef generates more than twice the emissions of pork, nearly four times that of chicken, and more than 13 times that of vegetable proteins such as beans, lentils, and tofu.
  • Cheese has the third-highest emissions. Less dense cheese (such as cottage) results in fewer greenhouse gases since it takes less milk to produce it.
  • 90 percent of beef’s emissions, 69 percent of pork’s, 72 percent of salmon’s and 68 percent of tuna’s are generated in the production phase. Just half of chicken’s emissions are generated during production.
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