The bean burrito is a way better choice when it comes to fighting climate change.
Photos via Flickr users MICOLO J and Stacey Spensley.
There is plenty of scientific and anecdotal evidence supporting the fact that beans create gas inside the human body.
But one area of science that has remained relatively untapped until now is the potential impact of beans on gas in our atmosphere. (Sorry—this article is not actually about human farts, but about those of cows.) The bottom line is that no matter how much gas humans produce from eating beans, it is nowhere near the amount produced by the cows that we eat—human farts have never caused a barn to explode (that we're aware of, anyway).
Thanks to researchers at Loma Linda University, we can now really put our proteins in perspective and deal with this stark reality: if Americans were to sub beans in for beef, the US would "immediately" reach 50 to 75 of its reduced greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) targets for 2020.
That's because beef cattle are the single most GHG-intensive food to produce; each day, a cow relieves itself of about 500 liters of methane, roughly the same amount of pollution that a car produces in the same amount of time. The production of legumes like beans and peas creates about one-fortieth of that amount of emissions.
And beef production is so taxing that it has significant impacts beyond greenhouse gasses. According to Helen Harwatt, lead researcher of the study, substituting beans for beef would also free up 42 percent of US cropland (more than 400 million square acres or 1.6 times the size of the state of California) for production of non-animal proteins. Like more beans!
These are some pretty staggering numbers, and the implications for consumers are quite clear. "Given the scale of greenhouse gas reductions needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, are we prepared to eat beef analogs that look and taste like beef, but have a much lower climate impact?" Harwatt said in a press release. "It looks like we'll need to do this. The scale of the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions needed doesn't allow us the luxury of 'business as usual' eating patterns."
So the next time you're debating between a bean burrito and a steak one, mind your gas. As for the emissions that come out of your own body, you're on your own.