Eating a small cheeseburger for lunch is, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to driving an extra 10 miles.
By contrast, eating a serving of lentils would barely get your car out of the driveway, according to a new report released on Monday by the Environmental Working Group, a research organization.
The study, “A Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health,” highlights the effects of the nation’s meat addiction and offers a suite of user-friendly online tools to help consumers understand the many-faceted repercussions of their food choices.
In particular, the study calculates the “cradle to grave” effect on climate for 20 different types of protein, including meat, cheese, seafood, beans, nuts and lentils.
These calculations, based on data from the federal Department of Agriculture, factor in everything from the pesticides, fertilizers and water used to grow livestock feed to the emissions related to raising the animals and processing, transporting, cooking and disposing of the meat.
Lamb, beef and cheese were found to have the highest emissions, in part because they were related to digestive processes that constantly produce methane, require more energy-intensive feed and produce more manure.
Lentils, beans and nuts were at the other end of the emissions spectrum, responsible for just a fraction of the greenhouse gases. Comparing meat to meat, one kilogram of beef (2.2 pounds) is responsible for the release of nearly four times the emissions associated with one kilogram of chicken.
"The calculations reveal that 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. "