The following is Part I in an explanatory series about dietary carbon
When many people first learn about “dietary carbon” and the profligate cost of beef consumption, their first question is why. The answer-–while not obvious–is simple once understood.
The majority of human nutrition is derived from either plant or animal sources but to raise animals, you need start with a lot plants! Domesticated cows eat around 24 lb. (11 kg) daily. Most cows will not be slaughtered until they reach 18 months of age.
When you consume a plant you’re closing the loop on a sublimely efficient process. A plant is grown, harvested and consumed with little more input than water, CO2 and sunshine. When you eat a cow you’re eating 18 months of plants–or at least a portion. This is before you consider the (carbon) costs of raising, boarding, slaughtering, cleaning, freezing, shipping, storing, cooking and much more (more on this in a future post).
Picture that if you will. One day’s lunch could be the year(s) long accumulation of calories and carbon resources OR, the plant inputs required to sustain that same animal for twenty minutes! Seen from this perspective, using meat to satisfy your calorie requirements is like making a bonfire from finished, antique furniture. Lavishly expensive and nonsensically inefficient.
With all factors accounted for, the relative cost of a single cheeseburger is absolutely staggering. Educating ourselves on the relevant science is the best way to consume more mindfully and become better stewards of our planet.