Cattle continue to be one of the United States food supply chain's largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Cows emit methane from digestive processes, which contributes to the growing amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, in addition to the emissions resulting from deforestation required to clear grazing areas for livestock and producing cattle feed. Additionally, emission result from the manufacturing and storage processes. Implementing dietary changes to substitute beef for beans, a high source of protein and a low source of greenhouse gases could cut the number of emissions enough to meet the U.S.' 2020 reduction target. While the research is informative and convincing, presenting it to the general public could be a challenge as Americans' food preferences are closely intertwined with socialized gender roles and culture.
A 2017 study headed by Helen Harwatt studied the environmental impacts and implications of Americans' cow-fueled diets, finding that substituting beans for beef would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 334 mmt and would prove to be an adequate protein source. Although the implications and findings of the study are significant, convincing Americans to substitute beans for beef would prove to be a challenge. The dietary choices of Americans are closely tied to their cultural, social, and economic attitudes, as well as the nutritional value of the food. These factors vary across populations and are also influenced by social stereotypes and marketing initiatives that either work to break these stereotypes or perpetuate them. Beans are far more affordable and provide just as much protein and even more dietary fiber than beef, however, meat is a staple of the American diet.
The average American will consume 71 pounds of red meat, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and 56 percent of Americans consumed meat at least once per week in 2012. National Public Radio in partnership with Truven polled 3,000 Americans in 2015 and found there has been no significant change in how Americans consume meat, however, more Americans have expressed wanting to consume less meat for the health benefits and savings. This appears promising, however, in January 2018 the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service reported that Americans were expected to consume record amounts of livestock and dairy products throughout 2018.
Many people who consume red meat know the adverse health impacts that are associated with its consumption, however, many people continue to consume it and will continue to do so. A report from the Seattle Times found that despite growth in the plant, insect or cultured meat consumption, animal-product sales are predicted to outpace those products. In order to decrease the consumption of cattle, and meat in general, social marketing strategies with the aim of changing behaviors and perceptions are required. By looking at popular culture, it is not surprising that meat consumption is heavily intertwined with the social construction of masculinity, and in the media, the strongest men have been portrayed as lovers of meat, such as Ron Swanson in Parks and Rec. This linkage of meat consumption and masculinity has become so pervasive that an op-ed was written in The Guardian to empower men to choose vegetarian options at restaurants. According to the Huffington Post, 79 percent of vegans and 59 percent of vegetarians are women. Men comprise 41 percent of vegetarians. By analyzing why more women forego meat, these conclusions could be tailored to apply to the population as a whole, in addition to efforts promoting affordable and appetizing meatless products.