Not everyone would be excited about a box of 16 pounds of meat. But for the members of the Bay Area Meat CSA, the enthusiasm was off the charts. I took part in their spring share this year, where member of the CSA receive a monthly box of pork, poultry, lamb and beef from local Bay Area Farms. The idea began when blogger Bonnie Powell of The Ethicurean put out a call to her readers. Many of them were already getting vegetable CSA’s – a meat CSA seemed a logical step. Since then, Tamar Adler, a cook at Chez Panisse stepped in to help run it. And running it is no easy task. This past spring, they were distributing 1,000 pounds a month to members.

Since the CSA only buys whole animals, members get a few interesting things in each delivery. As Adler says, not every cut on an animal is a grill-able cut. Some cuts require other cooking techniques, and so members are challenged to do braises and stews with what they get. The idea is to create a new market for many of the local, small-scale producers. And Adler says she’s been getting phone calls from many others looking to join.

Adler has decided the CSA will take the summer off, so she can work on restructuring it into a more cooperative model. As she says, one of the goals of the CSA is for consumers to connect with their producers and she’s hoping the CSA’s structure can reflect that. The good news is a number of other meat CSA’s have arrived on the scene in the Bay Area for those of you looking to join one. Those are:

As I also discovered in this story, eating a low-carbon diet is not simple. Researchers are just starting to get a handle on the methodology used to do a life cycle analysis for food. And the news isn’t good for meat and cheese lovers – it turns out red meat and dairy products have the highest carbon footprints. The further you dive into their life cycle, the more complicated it gets. Luckily, Gail Feenstra of UC Davis’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program has a few simple tips to cut your carbon.

You can get a sense of the footprint of your diet through the Bon Appetit Management Company’s Eat Low Carbon Calculator or you can look up a local farmer’s market with Local Harvest.

You may listen to “Eating a Low Carbon Diet” report online, as well as find additional links and resources.

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Reporter’s Notes: Eating a Low-Carbon Diet 2 October,2015Lauren Sommer

  • Once again, a story that emphasizes that people “reduce” (a better word is “eliminate”) meat and dairy and ends with an emphasis on meat. How very, very sad that even a segment that is trying to demystify what it means to eat “low-carbon” ends by featuring a MEAT, EGG, and DAIRY-based CSA. People know where to find meat. What they don’t know is how to change the meat-, egg-, and dairy-based habits with which they grew up. I encourage you to extend your research BEYOND the meat culture (“local” or not) and begin providing resources for people who want to eat more plant-based foods. Compassionate Cooks ( teaches plant-based cooking classes, provides resources, encourages people to eat locally as much as possible, and actually empowers people to eat consistently with their ideals.

    Your piece, unfortunately, just added more confusion. I look forward to the day when journalists and media outlets stop being afraid to say “eat vegetarian.” This piece just gets chalked up as another meat-promoting story.

  • I’m so confused by this story. As a vegan, I know that adopting a vegan diet is the best thing a person concerned with global warming can do. Eliminating animals and their “products” from our diet is more beneficial than trading up to a new Prius, or changing every light bulb to a CFL, or even ending all flight-based travel. At a time when people really want to make a difference by learning about their “footprint,” Quest and KQED really dropped the ball. Why not be more daring and talk about the food choices that will have the biggest impact on reducing a carbon footprint? Why not be the guide folks are looking for on these kinds of issues? Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is a local vegetarian author, educator, and guide, not to mention KQED contributor. How about a future show that taps resources like her to help folks learn what to do with their local, organic, vegetables? Encouraging folks to eat a plant-based diet is something Quest could be proud of considering it’s better for the planet, better for your viewers/listeners health, and much, much better for the animals. In fact, why not coin a new phrase and do a show about reducing our “cruelty footprint”? Unfortunately, talking about carbon footprints, while at the same time, pushing meat, is just a sad waste of time. And, fyi, pushing folks toward locally raised meats is pushing them towards an option that is completely unsustainable. I’m disappointed Quest didn’t do a better job in their research on the subject.

  • I just had to add that I just watched a CNN clip on youtube entitled “Vegan Revolution.” It was all about reducing your footprint by going vegan. I never would have thought that CNN would prove to be more forward-thinking than my beloved, local public broadcaster, KQED. Two interesting points they mentioned in their piece:
    – A 6 oz. steak has a carbon footprint 24x greater than a veggie stir-fry!
    – Every person that adopts a vegan diet reduces their footprint (as measured in Co2 emissions) by 1.5 tons per year!

  • Thanks for your feedback. As you point out, there are a number of issues to consider when making decisions about meat consumption, and in this story we chose to focus on one: carbon emissions. The advice of the expert in the story, Gail Feenstra, is right in line with the issues you’re raising – reducing meat consumption can have a large impact on your carbon footprint. And, of course, eliminating your meat consumption can have a larger impact. This tip is a general guideline, as Feenstra put it. It’s up to the consumer to decide how much of a reduction they’d like to make. For those consumers who choose to eat meat, reducing meat consumption is the message she felt was most important to impart, since it is not necessarily an all-or-nothing choice. We also included the Meat CSA to cover a new way consumers are trying to make purchasing choices with carbon and sustainability issues in mind, since eating locally is also one way to approach a low-carbon diet. You’re certainly right that a vegetarian or vegan diet is one way to reduce your carbon footprint. Since it is not the only way, the story covers those aspects as well.

  • Thanks Loren for your additional comments. Certainly, it was your piece to do the way you wanted. However, I just chose to point out that you took what I thought was a pretty pitiful approach to guiding people towards a “lighter footprint.” The last two lines of your comment above make it seem that the CSA was something you mentioned in addition to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Of course, if that were the case, I don’t think I would have taken issue with the piece. But the fact is, a vegan or vegetarian diet wasn’t mentioned at all, which was truly unfortunate, especially when there are such great local resources for folks looking to make a real impact. It seems even sillier that so much of your online space was dedicated to the CSA, when it isn’t even currently active. Again, I’ll take a moment to mention the sustainability issue by saying that meat CSA’s are a fairly exclusive thing that a majority of people just simply cannot participate in due to costs. So this piece looked like it was being offered to well-to-do viewers with guilty consciences and money to burn. Given that a vegan/vegetarian diet is far more accessible to the masses and has a far greater impact than buying from a meat CSA does on our carbon footprints, I think it’s bears repeating that you all missed out on this opportunity to guide your viewers toward a healthier choice. Too bad for us.

  • Lauren,

    I appreciate your feedback, but it doesn’t make any sense. If you said in the piece (or if SOMEONE said) that “locally produced meat” actually reduces the carbon footprint, then I could see why you would advocate the meat CSA and Chez Panisse and Jennifer Prentice. But not only did you say that “reducing your meat and dairy consumption” is the way to go because of the methane production (and this goes for “locally produced” meat, too), then the focus should have been on HOW people can reduce their meat and dairy consumption and increase their vegetable consumption. And THAT was the failure of the piece. I’ll give you that you didn’t even have to mention “vegetarianism” (heaven forbid), but you focused on meat when you should have focused on plants – by virtue of what had already been suggested earlier on.

    And I’m sorry that the argument that “a vegetarian or vegan diet isn’t the only way to go for people” just doesn’t fly. Not only does it keep the bar low and expect nothing from people, I’m sorry to be so blunt, but it’s a cop out. According to the research, meat and dairy have the most impact on our environment, and by virtue of that, responsible journalists should be helping people to eat more plants. Instead, pieces like yours just serve as ads for meat- and dairy-producers.

  • Jason Jones

    I think this story was great! I am not a vegetarian, and I have no desire to be one. I like to eat meat, and I am always annoyed by people who seem to want me to not eat meat (just as I am annoyed by the religious right who wants me to not marry my partner just because we are gay!). A little tolerance is always appreciated. I am intersted in making the adjustments throughout my life that helps to lower my carbon footprint and make a difference. I still drive a car, but I take my own reusable bags to the store. Little things do help, but I won’t stop driving. I do eat meat, but am interested in more environmentally friendly sources of that meat, and I will not stop eating it. I think the story was a very interesting and informative piece for people like me, and I agree, it offered nothing for vegetarians, but I don’t understand why a vegetarian would expect it too, considering it is about purchasing meat to eat! A very good book for non vegetarians who want to eat meat, but want to do what they can to lower their carbon footprint and support humane farms, is “The Compassionate Carnivore” by Catherine Friend. It is about farming animals for food but treating them humanely. It is a great book, I reccomend it highly! But, don’t read it and complain that it does not promote vegetarianism.

  • Jenn. B

    Great story. It is something worth looking into.

  • Actually, Jason. That’s my entire criticism with the piece; it wasn’t “about purchasing meat to eat,” as you indicated, which is why your analogy to any potential criticism of “The Compassionate Carnivore” doesn’t work. The KQED piece was – according to their own intro and summary – “about lowering your carbon footprint,” and it emphasized that people should reduce their consumption of meat and eggs. I’m not asking them to “give something to the vegetarians.” I’m asking them to provide the listeners with helpful information and resources in order to accomplish the goal of “reducing meat and dairy.” For the piece to have become “about purchasing meat to eat” was inconsistent and disingenuous.

    BTW, advocates of vegetarianism do so on the basis of causing as little harm to others as we are capable of. The “religious right” stopping gays from marrying is hardly the same thing as people raising awareness about the damage caused by eating animals and their products. Being gay doesn’t harm anyone else, and I just don’t understand people who fight to stop people from living their lives. Alternatively, eating animals is not a harmless act. It is not a “personal act.” It harms someone else. It exploits someone else. We don’t get to hurt someone else for our own pleasure, and that argument sounds similar to men who beat their wives or parents who abuse their children: “it’s my personal business; what I do is nobody else’s concern.” Actually, it is someone else’s concern when there are innocent victims.

    There is no such thing as killing an animal humanely. That’s just a farce we tell ourselves so we can sleep at night. There is no such thing as “environmentally friendly meat” – an oxymoron if I ever heard one. Methane production (and actually more so from “grass-fed” cattle), the killing of wild animals in favor of domestic, the huge amount of animal waste, the transportation are just a few of the problems.

    If KQED did responsible pieces about these subjects, listeners like you would be informed about all of those issues.

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  • Ann Parkin

    I disagree with the assertion that, “eating a low-carbon diet is not simple.” A local, seasonal vegan diet is the single most effective way to lower our personal carbon footprint. What’s so complicated about that. It is a diet that benefits our health, the environment and the animals.
    It is, however, not simple, or even possible, for us to expect to make significant progress against global climate change without being willing to make significantly different personal choices.

  • I agree with Jason on this one. I am a meat eater and will continue to be one but would like to know how to eat meat but have a smaller footprint. This piece provided me with one way to do that.

  • Janis

    I had high hopes as I began to listen to your show, “Eating a Low Carbon Diet”, which aired on June 13, 2008. As the show progressed, I heard all of the advice that I know to be true; Eat locally, Eat seasonally and Reduce meat and dairy consumption. What came next was shocking to me. You advised your listeners to join Meat CSA’s. In one breath you say “cut the meat”, and in the next you say to “eat meat”. Meat and dairy consumption is not the path towards eliminating greenhouse gases and thus, global warming. I would recommend that you research this concept using the telling report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow”. This is a detailed report funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and can be found on the web. While you are looking at the impact of animal farming on our earth, you might also pay attention to the abuses caused to all animals that are killed for human consumption. You can find out more about the joys and ease of a vegan lifestyle by going to the Compassionate Cooks website at There you will find a wealth of informative podcasts, recipes, information and support. Searching on the web will bring up countless other sites relating to veganism and its low carbon footprint also. Peace and compassion needs to begin in our homes and we can create meals, clothing and other products without killing innocent creatures. There is no nice way to kill an animal for food. Please consider running a show on the best way to reduce your carbon footprint – going vegan.



  • John

    Jason, Barry…so you two like to eat meet. I’m thinking mainly for the taste correct? Well what if you had something similar in texture, close to or better than in taste, didn’t involve the slaughter of animals and was better for the environment and your health? Would you change your diet? It’s out there, trust me. Think about this also while you’re driving down the highway and see a bunch of cattle peacefully grazing in some fields nearby. Could you pull over in your car, run over there and slaughter one of them? If you could…well you have other issues, but I’m doubting you could not but you’re allowing someone else to do the “dirty work” for as you disconnect yourself while buying the packaged meat at your grocer. Here’s a great informative site for you to check out

  • Where do I find this faux meat that tastes good? I have yet to find any but am always trying to find something that’ll taste good…

  • Kathy Mead

    It’s real that eating a low-carbon diet is not simple. My dad always eat more and more everyday, he said it is life.

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Lauren Sommer

Lauren is a radio reporter covering environment, water, and energy for KQED Science. As part of her day job, she has scaled Sierra Nevada peaks, run from charging elephant seals, and desperately tried to get her sea legs - all in pursuit of good radio. Her work has appeared on Marketplace, Living on Earth, Science Friday and NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered. You can find her on Twitter at @lesommer.

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