That’s why Epicurious, a foodie recipe website, announced Monday that it would no longer publish new recipes that include beef, saying that it would “not [give] airtime to one of the world’s worst climate offenders.” A quick question for the magazine’s editors: Will they provide the same treatment for milk, cheese, butter and cream, much of which also comes from cows and hence contribute to global warming? Seeing how eliminating recipes containing those ingredients would do away with a great deal of the website’s dessert section, perhaps virtue signaling has its limits.
Climate activists, however, surely won’t stop at ostentatious faddism. A World Resources Institute working paper recommends dramatic shifts in diet away from beef and toward plant-based foods such as beans. The New York Times’s Ezra Klein recently called for dramatic investment in developing “meatless meat” — beeflike products developed from plants. These arguments merely echo the scientific consensus that cutting beef consumption and returning grazing lands to unused pasture are required to meet climate change goals.
The beef industry can make some changes on the margin to forestall this drive. Researchers are trying to develop changes to cattle feeding that can reduce the amount of methane cows produce. Changing the way cattle graze can also help mitigate the effect of greenhouse gases by increasing the amount of plants that suck these gases out of the atmosphere. Better treatment of cattle manure can reduce emissions, too. Manure management accounts for 12 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. agricultural sector. Picking up and storing manure, among other changes, can help save the planet.
But none of these changes will stop climate activists. It’s clear that economic development spurs beef demand; rich people like to eat red meat. Global climate policy always requires the buy-in from low-income countries, meaning that already-rich nations will have to bear the brunt of emissions reduction. It likely won’t happen tomorrow, but Americans’ love of steaks and hamburgers will face increasing pressure as climate activists gain more power.
Americans will eventually have to come to grips with what is being demanded of them in the name of fighting climate change. Saving the planet doesn’t mean buying an electric vehicle and being done with it. It means changing the way we live from top to bottom. Even that might not be enough, if progressive filmmaker Michael Moore is to be believed. “Planet of the Humans,” a 2019 documentary for which Moore served as executive producer, argues that even the radical climate change agenda won’t save the planet, because producing widespread renewable energy or universal electric cars creates nearly as much emissions as they save. Many climate activists reject this argument, but that would merely return us to the fact that serious climate policy means dramatic lifestyle changes.
I doubt Americans are up for that, especially when it comes to beef. Why eat less red meat when India has more than 300 million cows — the most of any country in the world and three times that of the United States — and lets millions of them roam at will because that nation’s Hindus consider them sacred? And what about China, which now has more cattle than the United States? Climate activists praised China’s 2016 dietary guidelines for recommending a 50 percent reduction in meat consumption, but Chinese per capita consumption of meat has continued to grow. Chinese beef consumption alone rose by 11 percent in 2019. And this doesn’t even address beef-hungry nations in South America, where per capita consumption equals or exceeds America’s.
The battle over beef is coming whether Biden owns up to it or not. We’ll see whether Americans are willing to let their beef-eating ways get led to the climate slaughterhouse.