Upon being invited to holiday dinner, a Tibetan Buddhist pal warned that he couldn’t eat “food with a face on it.” Nothing with eyes or mouth, he said. Of course, not everyone enjoys seeing something on their plate gazing back at them. But surely, we said, that did not rule out leg of lamb?

They’re cute, yes, but we try not to think about that — this is the time of year they’re being born in droves, which translates to some good eats for us. That’s why we traditionally eat them at Easter and Passover. After all, chowing on seasonal, fresh food is the eco-foodie mantra. And if you think nothin’ beats mutton, choose grass-fed animals — those lambs that frolick in pastures before they wind up on your dinner plate, not ones that are confined to stalls and fed on grain. When we eat the latter, as Michael Pollan has told us in book after best-selling book — aren’t we listening, yet? — we’re also eating tons of fossil fuels. Indeed, the 30 percent of every American’s diet that consists of meat, eggs and poultry (not to mention all those pretty Easter eggs!) is responsible for the release of 3,274 lbs of global warming emissions a year. It comes from the petroleum used to make the petrochemical-derived fertilizer and pesticides used to grow corn and soy for animal feed, the fossil fuels burnt in transporting animals and their products, the methane gas released by cattle intestines, and the forests being cut and burned to make space for livestock.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock production emits about one-fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases. That’s more than transportation does.

Next mantra:  “Eat local.” In other words, choose meat from neighborhood farmer’s markets instead of meat that is shipped in from far distances. But to complicate matters, a 2007 study shows that New Zealand lamb shipped 11,000 miles to England uses far less fossil fuels than British-grown lamb. That’s largely because the New Zealand animals are grazed rather than grain-fed. So, if your local grocer is stocking New Zealand leg—grab it!

That said, fresh food in season is more often local than not. Or so we’d like to think—at least until the next study comes along.

Story by Mindy Pennybacker. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in March 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008