, , , ,

Lo-res_178864581-SCiting data that indicate livestock operations account for approximately 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, most attributable to cattle ranching, while also noting its mission to “inspire home cooks to be better, smarter, and happier in the kitchen,” the Epicurious website has announced that it no longer will be publishing recipes featuring beef. Previous entries that highlight the meat will remain available on its site, but posts henceforward will highlight other alternatives.

According to the editors, the site has quietly been eliminating beef-based recipes for more than a year. It issued the statement after the fact, to highlight its commitment to sustainability and call on various actors—including consumers, restaurants, and agricultural supply chain members—to devote themselves more intensively to similar principles.

Despite proactive efforts to head off criticisms, by asserting upfront that the move was not “anti-beef” but rather “pro-planet,” the announcement sparked some complaints. Representatives of the beef industry mocked the site’s decision; regular users worried that their preferences for beef were not being supported. But some other users complained because they believed the editorial choice was insufficient, and if Epicurious really were dedicated to sustainability, it would remove all animal products from any recipes it published.

Other groups, such as animal rights organizations, and various consumers also expressed appreciation, noting that the variety of options currently being published had helped them diversify their own meal planning. According to Epicurious, data indicating engagement rates and traffic also support the decision, because recipes that list various ingredients as alternatives to meat attract more visitors.

Notably absent from the debate have been well-known, expert chefs or social media influencers in the foodie realm. According to one industry observer, this lack of reaction to what might seem like a stunning exclusion signals a wider shift in trends. Beef simply isn’t the essential ingredient it once was for today’s menus. Part of that shift might be due to environmental considerations: Reducing people’s meat consumption by one-quarter, and replacing it with plant-based options, would eliminate an estimated 82 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere.

But predictions of the end of a U.S. beef culture also may be premature. The average U.S. consumer eats about 215 pounds of meat each year. And that’s the sort of information that Epicurious cited in explaining why it has made its editorial choice. It wants to contribute and intensify discussions about which food choices ultimately will be most sustainable for people and the planet.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is Epicurious’s ethical stance and argument convincing? Why or why not?
  2. Do you anticipate that other cookbooks, food magazines, or websites will follow Epicurious’s lead and reduce their focus on beef?
  3. Look through a recent issue of a food-oriented magazine. How many beef-based recipes do you find? How would you interpret your finding?

Source: Derrick Bryson Taylor and Christina Morales, “Epicurious Has a Beef with Beef,” The New York Times, April 27, 2021