It’s no secret that meat production, specifically the cattle industry, contributes to climate change. Because of this, some scientists and international organizations have called on the world to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Is that even possible?
We live in a society that has a distinct craving for meat. Within a half-mile radius of my apartment, there are at least ten different restaurants that sell crispy chicken sandwiches, juicy ribs, and mouth-watering meatballs. Holidays like Thanksgiving and Memorial Day are an opportunity for people to gather and smoke meat, while the infamous hamburger is the epitome of American identity.
This idealization of meat isn’t unique to the U.S. In many societies throughout the world, meat bears a cultural and spiritual meaning. The pig symbolizes good fortune in Chinese culture. Many Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups view the lamb as a symbol of sacrifice and renewal. And for the Sioux people, the buffalo represents self-sacrifice and is often used in sacred ceremonies.
I, along with many scientists, acknowledge that the production of meat is partly responsible for the current climate crisis we’re up against. But the mainstream climate movement’s demonization of meat and the meat industry can come across as culturally insensitive.
Thus, the paradox emerges. How do you convince a world that produces 340 million tonnes of meat annually to change the way it eats?
Eat more meat. Particularly more offal.
Yes, you heard me. More Meat.
Let me be clear. I’m not saying eat McDonald’s five days a week or add bacon to every meal (please don’t do that for the sake of your health and the environment). I’m asking you to eat more offal and different varieties of meat that aren’t just breast, thigh, or sirloin.
Sometimes referred to as variety meats, offal is the various organs and other body parts of the animal we don’t normally eat in the U.S.(think sweetbreads, liver, and tripe).
It’s difficult to find offal in most retail grocery stores because this food is portrayed by Western media as undesirable. Journalists write articles that rank the food from unappetizing to repulsive. Chefs and food bloggers create television shows that present offal in an unappealing light. But many cultures routinely consume this meat and some consider it a delicacy. My own mother grew up eating tripe and sweetbreads as it was a common staple in my grandmother’s home country, Iraq.
Despite its reputation in American culture, eating offal might offer a new way to address climate change. In 2019, a study published in Environmental Science and Technology found that eating offal at least twice a week could reduce methane emissions from meat production by 14%. The study also found that increased consumption of offal would lead to less food waste, which could reduce emissions by 11%.
Guys, this is huge. By all means, the consumption of offal isn’t a straight shot to meeting the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement, but it presents a compelling opportunity for meat-eaters to fight climate change. So, why haven’t we adopted this diet?
As I mentioned earlier, part of the problem are the cultural taboos surrounding offal. Our lack of appreciation for nature is the other half of the equation, which has caused our society to rely on technology to solve our problems rather than confront the behavioral issues that harm our relationship with the Earth.
I’m not saying technology is a bad thing. It’s an incredibly important and advantageous tool, but it’s not going to solve all of our problems. Take lab-grown meat for instance.
Within the past decade, scientists have figured out a way to use stem cells to create lab-grown meat, an invention that could reduce carbon pollution from agriculture by 96%. However, a report conducted by CNBC, revealed that this new invention could actually cause more harm than good since the production of lab-grown meat requires large amounts of energy.
Why are we investing millions of dollars to develop new technology when the answer is right in front of us? Eating offal is a great way to reduce food waste, learn about other cultures, and reconnect with our food. By reconnecting with our food, we learn to appreciate the resources and time it takes for the Earth to sustain all forms of life. It may sound cringy and even a little naive, but we cannot address the climate crisis without healing our relationship with the Earth.
As meat-eaters, it’s important for us to keep in mind that our diets contribute to climate change. Part of this means diversifying our diets to include other foods, like offal or ants, which could mitigate climate change. Nevertheless, we also need to understand that not everyone is going to become vegan, especially in a country where meat is deeply ingrained in our culture.
Rather than create new technologies, environmentalists should focus on dismantling the cultural taboos that are associated with eating offal and non-traditional foods. Eating offal is not the entire solution, but it can involve more people in the journey to healing the Earth.