Lady Gaga clearly enjoys shock-and-awing rapt audience and reluctant bystanders alike, but her beefy getup at Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards surely skirt-steaks the question of taste, not to mention sanitation. The American chanteuse’s Atkins-approved getup, made entirely of slabs of tenderloin, strip steak, flank steak, and rump roast (about $100 worth of the cheaper cuts, notes one New York butcher) will have press and public squawking for days. But given that livestock production generates almost a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases—more so than transportation—according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, we have to ask: How large of a carbon footprint does the “Bad Romance” singer’s costumey stunt have compared to other types of high-protein nosh?
WHERE’S THE BEEF?
Despite improvements in productivity over the past 30 years, the beef industry is one of the worst offenders when it comes to environmental impact. One study from Japan claims that raising 2.2 pounds of beef generates as much greenhouse gas as driving a car continuously for three hours.
The fact that the meat came from Argentina, rather than say, Wisconsin, doesn’t help numbers.
The fact that the meat from Gaga’s dress came from Argentina, rather than say, Wisconsin, doesn’t help numbers, since freighting meat from abroad requires more energy than trucking it domestically. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that the environmental of meat production starts long before it reaches your plate (or in this case, your body),” says Rita Schenck the executive director of the American Center for Life Cycle Assessment, which examines the environmental impact of products from cradle to grave. “The fertilizers that are used to grow the feed, the trucks that are used to transport the animals, and the waste generated from farms themselves.”
Still, it could have been worse, according to a 2007 study by Audsley & Sanders (see chart above). The biggest contributer to global warming is lamb, generating over 100 tons of carbon dioxide per ton of protein. Following that, in order of decreasing impact, comes beef, eggs, pork, and poultry. Vegetables barely register a blip on the greenhouse-gas front in comparison.
The biggest contributer to global warming is lamb, generating over 100 tons of carbon dioxide per ton of protein.
“I have to say, after I saw this data, I changed the way I eat—I eat a lot more vegetarian food now,” Schenck adds. “It’s my hope that more people will think about the entire life cycle of food and all products we consume.”
For Gaga’s next performance, might we suggest a less-nauseating organic salad, instead?