According to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Americans who eat beef could slash their diet's carbon footprint by as much as 48% by swapping just one serving per day for a more planet-friendly alternative.
Researchers surveyed more than 16,000 Americans and what they eat in an average day, then calculated how much of a difference people could make if they swapped one high-impact food item for a similar, more sustainable one.
The researchers examined how such a change impacted the greenhouse gas emissions and water scarcity footprint. Around 20% of survey respondents ate at least one serving of beef in a day. If they collectively chose ground turkey instead of ground beef, their diets' greenhouse gas emissions fell by an average of 48% and water use impact declined by 30%.
The study also examined how the change would affect the overall environmental impact of all food consumption in a day. If only the 20% of Americans who ate beef in a day switched to something else for one meal, it would reduce the overall carbon footprint of all U.S. diets by 9.6% and reduce water use impacts by 5.9%.
"The changes needed to address our climate problems are major. They are needed across all sectors and along all levels of human organization from international agencies to federal and state governments to communities and households," said lead author Diego Rose, a professor of nutrition and food security at Tulane University's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. "Many individuals feel strongly about this and wish to change our climate problem through direct actions that they can control. This, in turn, can change social norms about both the seriousness of the problem and the potential solutions that can address it. Our study provides evidence that even simple steps can assist in these efforts."