Next time you throw out a half-eaten pork chop, keep in mind that you’re wasting a lot more than a dead pig.
Meat waste is worse for the environment than vegetable or grain waste because animal-based foods typically require more energy and emit more greenhouse gases, experts say. And in the United States, we waste a lot of meat.
According to a recent report from the Department of Agriculture, 13.4 billion pounds of meat and poultry were lost at the retail and consumer level in 2010. Consumers were responsible for more than 11.1 billion pounds of that waste.
When looking at these striking numbers, we tend to forget that the hidden resources used to raise the animals go to waste as well ― the fuel, fertilizer, land, feed and water.
Ronald McGarvey, assistant professor at University of Missouri’s Industrial & Manufacturing Systems Engineering Department, told The Huffington Post just how resource-intensive meat production really is ― and how this has direct consequences on the environment.
“When you throw away that pound of beef,” McGarvey said, “you’re essentially throwing away all of the embodied resources that were needed to generate that meat.”
Meat waste accounts for 21 percent of food waste’s global carbon footprint, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. And if food waste were a country, the FAO says it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter on earth. Meanwhile, global demand for meat is continually rising: The FAO estimates that by 2050, meat demand will have increased by 173 percent.
McGarvey and his colleague Christine Costello published a study on the environmental impact of food waste in 2015, comparing estimated greenhouse gas emissions of food items that were wasted in the kitchen or after meals at dining halls at the University of Missouri. The “meat and protein” category was responsible for the greatest proportion of greenhouse gas emissions, despite ranking fourth in total weight.
In a different study, researchers examined the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions of food items produced and transported to a port in Sweden. They found that animal-based foods typically used more energy and emitted more greenhouse gases than plant-based foods.
So what can we do to reduce meat waste in everyday situations, when planning a large family meal or a party? McGarvey proposes a simple solution: “Try to err on the low side for meats and have your ‘just in case’ overproduction in plant-based foods. And of course, don’t throw away leftovers, but especially not meat leftovers!”
To store your meat leftovers, the USDA recommends cutting large chunks of meat into smaller pieces, sealing them in airtight packaging, and cooling them quickly. Freezing meat is a good long-term option, since frozen foods remain safe indefinitely. And if you’re worried about loss in quality, you can consult these storage times.
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