'Blended Burger' Allows a Simple Shift to More Sustainable Eating
By Richard Waite, Daniel Vennard and Gerard Pozzi
Burgers are possibly the most ubiquitous meal on Americans' dinner plates, but they're also among the most resource-intensive: Beef accounts for nearly half of the land use and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the food Americans eat.
Although there's growing interest in plant-based burgers and other alternatives, for the millions of people who still want to order beef, there's a better burger out there: a beef-mushroom blend that maintains, or even enhances, that meaty flavor with significantly less environmental impact.
- Reduce agricultural production-related greenhouse gas emissions by 10.5 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year, equivalent to taking 2.3 million cars (and their annual tailpipe emissions) off the road. That's like the entire county of San Diego going carless;
- Reduce irrigation water demand by 83 billion gallons per year, an amount equal to 2.6 million Americans' annual home water use; and
- Reduce global agricultural land demand by more than 14,000 square miles, an area larger than the state of Maryland.
Beef-Mushroom Burgers Taste Great, With Less Impact
The Culinary Institute of America and others recommend blending plant-based foods into meat-based dishes as one way to shift mainstream consumers' diets without requiring lifestyle changes. Mushrooms have a meat-like texture, moisture retention properties and an umami taste that can enhance the burger's flavor while enabling chefs to also cut back on salt. Beef-mushroom burgers can also be lower in calories and saturated fat than all-beef burgers, making them a healthier choice. Across a variety of important consumer attributes—including flavor, texture, appearance and the ability to make a consumer feel full at the end of the meal—the beef-mushroom blended burger stacks up favorably to a conventional all-beef burger.
Beef-Mushroom Burgers Are Good for Business
Blended burgers represent an exciting sustainability opportunity for restaurants and food service operators, as beef accounts for a sizable portion of these companies' greenhouse gas emissions. McDonald's, for example, estimates that 28 percent of its corporate carbon footprint—an amount similar in size to the footprint of its energy use across all of the company's restaurants and offices—results from beef production. Similarly, agricultural supply chains tend to account for 90 percent or more of a food company's total water footprint. Beef production is a particularly thirsty water user, requiring more irrigation water per pound of product than any other animal-based food. With companies increasingly setting science-based emissions-reduction and water-stewardship targets, the blended burger is a sustainability strategy that could sit alongside renewable energy, energy efficiency, water efficiency and waste reduction measures.
Encouragingly, the beef-mushroom blended burger also appears not to increase costs for food service operators. Effects on costs and profitability will depend on the relative prices of beef and mushrooms, the effects on meal preparation time, necessity for additional chef training and kitchen equipment, and the listed price of the blended burger on menus. A 2014-15 trial in a Baltimore public school suggested that the blended burger could be at least cost-neutral compared to traditional beef burgers. Over time, if meat producers and distributors sell pre-prepared blended burgers, economies of scale could make the blended burger an even more attractive business proposition to food service.
The blended burger is already starting to gain traction across the U.S. Last month, Better Buying Lab member Sodexo introduced "The Natural," a beef-mushroom blend aimed at meeting increasing consumer demand for sustainable foods with a lighter footprint. It will go into full-flavored dishes like burgers, lasagna and chili in workplaces, universities and other settings across the country. Another Lab member, Stanford University's Residential & Dining Enterprises, has been exclusively offering blended burgers in their operations for several years. And in mid-2017, Sonic became the first national burger chain to join the trend, trialing Sonic Slingers—their "juiciest burger ever"—at locations across the country.
WRI's Better Buying Lab is working with member companies and partners in the culinary world to refine and scale this remixed burger across the market. This includes researching and testing improved names that could further drive demand. The potential is so great that the lab is pursuing the blended burger as one its three core Power Dishes, which are more sustainable menu items with the kind of appeal and familiarity to go mainstream.
A Simple Shift to More Sustainable Eating
Shifting to healthier and more sustainable diets does not always need to mean overhauling people's lifestyles. The blended burger is a nice example of a potential "multiple win"—better for the environment, better for health and enjoyed by consumers.
Blending plants into burgers is only a start. Consider that only about one-third of ground beef is consumed in the form of burgers in the U.S. If plants were mixed into all ground beef dishes—tacos, chili, lasagna, meatballs, pasta sauces and so on—the total potential environmental benefits could be much higher.
Meat producers and distributors, restauranteurs, chefs, food service operators and retailers all have a role to play in serving up this delicious strategy for change.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.