Cooking Our Beef and Planet, and Other Climate Change Briefs

How not to be toast and shrimps as the unkosher bellwether of ocean warming

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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Roast beef. Using a pressure cooker turns out to be good for the planet.
Roast beef. Using a pressure cooker turns out to be good for the planet.Credit: vitals / Shutterstock.com
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, but don’t toast it

Having digested that edible herbivores burp and that a heavy meat habit is bad for the planet, now we learn that not only mass animal husbandry but cooking is significant to food-related emissions. Food production generally is responsible for about 37 percent of global emissions, studies have indicated. Now ZME Science presents a new report in Nature Food on the contribution of cooking – it is responsible for over half the impact of “food” on climate change.

Regarding meat, we are not shocked to learn that if producing it is highly carbon-expensive, then roasting it for an hour or more adds significantly to the emissions. Perhaps more surprising: “Toasting of bread contributes 13% of the total emissions released [from cooking],” ZME reports. Pressure cooking, which takes less time and energy per roast or bean et cetera, is the planet’s friend, the study concludes.

Apropos meat, ZME also brings to our attention that organic meat is no better for the environment than “normal” meat.

Pad thai with shrimp. Their popularity puts natural shrimp in trouble.Credit: Kidsada Manchinda / Getty Images

The shrimp chronicles

Shrimp are not kosher, but that isn’t a problem for most people, or many Israelis, come to that. Like cows, however, at the enormous quantities they’re being cultivated, it is a problem for the planet. One reason for giant shrimp farms, which are mostly in Asia and the Americas, is because shrimp are popular as food and natural shrimp are in trouble from climate change. So however are the farmers of cultivated shrimp.

A prawn.Credit: Etrusko25

The small arthropods have become the poster crustaceans for environment since, like fish aquaculture, shrimp farms may befoul their surroundings. Farms can stream shrimp feces, antibiotics and other chemicals into the environment, polluting estuaries and groundwater, the World Wildlife organization explains. The Fish website offers some tips for responsible shrimp farming (based on experience in Vietnam).

Shrimp are also a bottom-crawling bellwether for climate change. The oceans are warming (albeit slowly) and like all creatures, each shrimp species each has its optimal temperature range. When subjected to uncomfortable water temperature, shrimp do not thrive and may become susceptible to disease, among other problems. The National Observer ran an evocative piece last year on how natural shrimp populations are shrinking not because of overfishing, for once, but because of climate change. (Note however that’s in their usual habitat: shrimp changing address to avoid uncomfortable water are extending shrimping season in places unused to that luxury.) Over in Virginia Beach, Virginia for instance, it turns out shrimpers are happy as clams.

Northern shrimp on a shrimping boat.Credit: NOAA FishWatch

The Gulf of Maine has been cited as an example for climate change-stressed shrimp. The gulf’s waters are warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, according to the Natural Resources of Maine, and none of the fish, mollusk or arthropod populations appreciate the change. Lobsters are moving north, clams are moving to deeper, cooler water and shrimping has been shut down year after year to try to give the unhappy animals a chance to recover. Also, ocean currents that used to bring shrimp to the gulf have been changing because of ocean warming, which may also be to blame. Who is happy? Invasive green crabs, the NRCM says, which love the revamped Gulf of Maine and are crunching up those mollusks still hanging around.

Also, you know how people complain that tomatoes have lost their taste? Wait for it. As the world turns and warms, the acidifying oceans may affect the flavor of shrimp, oysters and other species we eat. That is because changes to ocean chemistry will impact the animals at a molecular level, The Counter explained in September. Though, it qualifies, we may not notice sea life gradually losing flavor over the course of decades. Who knows, maybe they’ll start tasting like chicken. Which has been gradually losing flavor over the course of decades.

A green crab.Credit: Luis Miguel Bugallo Snchez