'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.
- New Online Calculator Lets You See the Impact of Your Meat Intake ›
- McDonald's Quietly Ended Its Meatless Burger Trial With Beyond Meat - EcoWatch ›
New fossils uncovered in Argentina may belong to one of the largest animals to have walked on Earth.
- Groundbreaking Fossil Shows Prehistoric 15-Foot Reptile Tried to ... ›
- Skull of Smallest Known Dinosaur Found in 99-Million-Year Old Amber ›
- Giant 'Toothed' Birds Flew Over Antarctica 40 Million Years Ago ... ›
- World's Second-Largest Egg Found in Antarctica Probably Hatched ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- Pruitt Guts the Clean Power Plan: How Weak Will the New EPA ... ›
- It's Official: Trump Administration to Repeal Clean Power Plan ... ›
- 'Deadly' Clean Power Plan Replacement ›
By Jonathan Runstadler and Kaitlin Sawatzki
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have found coronavirus infections in pet cats and dogs and in multiple zoo animals, including big cats and gorillas. These infections have even happened when staff were using personal protective equipment.
- Gorillas in San Diego Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Wildlife Rehabilitators Are Overwhelmed During the Pandemic. In ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
- Utah Mink Becomes First Wild Animal to Test Positive for Coronavirus ›
By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
By John R. Platt
The period of the 45th presidency will go down as dark days for the United States — not just for the violent insurgency and impeachment that capped off Donald Trump's four years in office, but for every regressive action that came before.
- Biden Announces $2 Trillion Climate and Green Recovery Plan ... ›
- How Biden and Kerry Can Rebuild America's Climate Leadership ... ›
- Biden's EPA Pick Michael Regan Urged to Address Environmental ... ›
- How Joe Biden's Climate Plan Compares to the Green New Deal ... ›