Down the Rabbit Hole Trying to Barbeque “Green”

August 11th, 2007

Update: Terrapass’s blog talks about a UK study that found lamb grown in New Zealand and flown to the UK produces less carbon than the domestically-raised variety. More to my point that even the “food miles” analysis is incredibly fine-grained. It seems almost impossible to make any assumptions without digging back to the source of every physical and energy component of everything society produces. Yikes.

I read several interesting pieces recently that made me think about how hard it is to tease apart the interwoven strands of modern life- at least from an environmental perspective. Barbeque is a good example.

Photo courtesy grillforum.comA cursory glance at the thick smoke coming out of a charcoal grill tells me that gas is greener and cleaner. The conventional wisdom seemed to agree: charcoal is made in a messy, chemical-filled process that produces lots of emissions itself. Burning the briquettes then sends out more particulates and CO2, not to mention deforestation and transport of the wood starting product (though charcoal in the developed world is mostly made from waste wood- no trees were cut just for charcoal production).

The flip side is that propane comes from fossil fuels- i.e. long dead, long-“sequestered” carbon. The CO2 emitted by burning charcoal was in the atmosphere more recently, so perhaps the net addition to the atmosphere is less. Not all CO2 molecules are equal in this analysis.

Finally, the article above notes that grilling in total results in about 0.003% of US carbon emissions annually. Brad Feld points to this article positing that the real issue is meat production. A gas grill may produce 5.6 pounds of CO2 per hour and a charcoal grill 11, but 2.2 pounds of beef on it likely resulted in nearly 80 pounds emitted before the meat hit the grill at all. Vegetables, unless very locally grown, may not be much better.

So where does this leave me? Still grilling meat on gas, and a bit worried about digging deeper. Cereals and pulses (beans and peas) may be the best environmental choice, but where do they come from and how can I cook them “green”?

I’m afraid that if I keep digging any deeper I’ll end up convinced the only foods I can eat with enviromental conscience will be grown in my San Francisco back yard and eaten raw- and that won’t leave many options!

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