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Opinion Getting to the meat of the matter

Angus beef cattle eat hay at Senterfitt Farms in Madison, Va., on March 31.
Angus beef cattle eat hay at Senterfitt Farms in Madison, Va., on March 31. (Al Drago/Bloomberg)
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Stephanie Feldstein’s April 30 Friday Opinion essay, “Biden isn’t trying to cut meat consumption. But he should.,” suggested that national climate policies should promote lowering meat consumption. Agree or not, there’s no need for intrusive or drastic measures. The Agriculture Department could simply level the playing field with agricultural subsidies and let consumers decide.

In 2020, the USDA disproportionately subsidized the production of foods that emit the most greenhouse gases. USDA and Environmental Protection Agency reports reveal that rice, beef, dairy and pork producers were subsidized with an estimated $800 to $1,400 per ton of methane emitted. Considering subsidies that reduced animal feed costs as well, the range stretches to $2,600 per ton.

Though some may propose methane digesters, feed supplements or carbon credit swaps to reduce climate impacts, the USDA should prioritize its spending on proven mitigation methods, such as helping farmers transition to producing more climate-friendly commodities.

It is foolish for taxpayer dollars to favor high greenhouse gas producers when providing greater consumer access to low greenhouse gas foods is a simple, cost-effective way to empower Americans to reduce the climate impact of the agriculture industry.

Laura Reese, Campbell, Calif.

The writer is executive director and co-founder of the Agriculture
Fairness Alliance.

How quaint to read about James Hohmann’s passion for cooking and consuming dead animals [“My beef with Epicurious,” op-ed, May 2]. Like many an effusive carnivore, Mr. Hohmann apparently likes his meat in quantity. The thick rib-eye steak in the photo accompanying the column could easily provide the daily protein needs for a family of four. In a typical U.S. household, that over-serving of meat for dinner was likely preceded by excessive portions of meat at breakfast and at lunch.  

The global impact of meat consumption on our climate may be debatable, but even the lower-impact estimates are significant. We need a comprehensive plan to reduce all major causes of climate change. The excess consumption of meat is where we can create change with minimal sacrifice. 

The cost of meat should reflect the true cost to society. That rib-eye steak cooked by the author should be so expensive that he’d be foolish to consume it by himself. Excessive meat consumption is a negative thing for everyone involved. It is bad for the overweight consumer, bad for the planet’s climate and obviously bad for the animals. On the other side of the scale, we have Mr. Hohmann’s new hobby and his insatiable taste buds. This seems like a no-brainer decision for most folks. And, for the record, Mr. Hohmann, if you have never experienced the delicious plant-based burgers now available, perhaps you can learn how to cook them properly.

David Dunn, Fairfax Station

James Hohmann’s May 2 op-ed contained its own “fundamental misunderstanding” of how to address climate change. The authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasizes that “fundamental societal and systems transformations” are necessary to meaningfully reduce the risks of global warming. Though we should be skeptical of announcements like the one Epicurious made, we should not outright dismiss them. 

Transformation means there is no one magical solution to the climate crisis but many. By no longer publishing recipes including beef, which has a significant climate impact, Epicurious is acting within its sphere of influence and asking its readers to reconsider the current food system. Engaging in this kind of reflection does not mean we are shifting responsibility from powerful corporate and government actors to individuals. 

To create effective change, we all must rethink the values and decisions that have led to the climate crisis, including how we eat. It is unrealistic to think our daily lives will not or should not change as a result, even if those changes are driven by top-down policies. Instead of arguing over which action is best, let’s all get to work to tackle this problem in whatever way we can.

Claire Christian, Arlington

Read more letters to the editor.