Truth, Inspiration, Hope.

Ranchers Irate as Google Installs Emissions Data Into Recipe Searches to Discourage Meat Eating

Neil Campbell
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: October 18, 2022
Google is attempting to modify user behavior by nudging recipe searchers to eat tofu instead of beef because carbon emissions.
A security camera at an unmanned supermarket in Sweden in May of 2021. Google is set to begin “nudging” users who search for recipes to eat social credit “correct” options, such as tofu, beans, and nuts instead of meat, drawing the ire of the agriculture and ranching industry. (Image: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images)

The agriculture industry is not happy after Google announced it plans to deploy a new social credit-style feature to its search engine last month that nudges users to choose recipes that utilize tofu instead of meat on the basis of the carbon climate narrative.

On Sept. 28, Google Search published a post on the company’s The Keyword blog about “a trend we love to see,” which involved, “Search interest in terms like electric vehicles, solar energy and thrift stores” having “reached new highs globally over the past year.”

The benefit, the company stated, is that the data was “suggesting that people are looking for ways to practice sustainability in their daily lives.”


While the bulk of the post glamorizes updates to Google’s search engine that gives a not-so-subtle nudge to users towards social credit-approved lifestyle choices such as electric cars, low emissions vehicles, and buying pre-owned clothing and goods, the more incendiary portion is carefully hidden at the end.

In a section cleverly titled “Brussel Up a Healthier Dinner,” Director of Google Search, Hema Budaraju, opens with, “Some food ingredients are more sustainable than others. But it’s not always easy to find out how the environmental impact of chicken compares to fish or how eggs compare to tofu.”

And continues, “Soon, when you search for certain recipes like ‘bean recipes’ or ‘broccoli chicken,’ you can see how one choice compares with others thanks to ingredient-level emissions information from the United Nations.”

The section is accompanied by a gif of an example of a user searching for “tofu panang curry recipes” that scrolls down to a section that says “food is responsible for about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions” while displaying a chart of which ingredients are alleged to emit more environment-damaging CO2. 

At the top of the chart are meats like beef, lamb, and shellfish, which clock in as high as 32 “KG CO2 equivalent,” contrasted against the bolded “correct” option of tofu & tempeh, which register a more palatable 1.4 demerits.

At the bottom of the sin list is nuts at 0.2 social credit points.

And it is exactly this portion that caught the (unwanted) attention of the Texas agriculture industry.

An Oct. 17 piece published by Cowboy State Daily cited Western Ag Network owner Russell Nemetz as lambasting the feature, “This is nothing more than just another baseless attack on animal agriculture, and shame on the folks at Google for not using sound science for not even doing their own research — and Googling the beef industry.”

Nemetz was further paraphrased as characterizing the “feature” as , “The latest in a string of attacks on the livestock industry, which falls in line with groups like People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals, whose main objective is getting people to stop eating meat.”

Farmers the outlet spoke with also argued that the UN data Google cited on the carbon impact of a cow versus a peanut is misleading and even inaccurate. 

Wyoming Stockgrowers Association President Jim Magagna told the outlet, “It’s pretty disappointing, but it’s also very misleading, because they’re doing (it) based on some global averages.”

Don Schiefelbein, President of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, told Cowboy State Daily, “Google is using its billions of dollars of resources to target cattle producers and ignore the science that demonstrates beef’s sustainability and value to the environment.”

He argued that ranching actually has a net benefit to the climate because, “Cattle production protects green space, upcycles grass and forages and provides consumers with a lean protein source packed with essential nutrients.”

Author of the article Kevin Killough similarly noted, “Studies have found that people who eliminate meat from their diet have a very small impact on thier individual carbon footprint.”

Killough’s support for his statement was more balanced than that of the industry’s cohorts, however, “A systematic review of peer-reviewed studies published in Journal of Cleaner Production found that the average person eliminating meat from his or her diet in developed countries cuts emissions by 4.3%.”

Nudging you and nudging me

Google’s stated intention to nudge the public is at least consistent with its internal company culture.

In March, Fast Company reported that the behemoth managed to trick its employees into eating less food at the cafeteria by making the bowls inconspicuously smaller.

Emily Ma, lead of the company’s Food for Good program, told the publication that just by replacing bowls with ones that were an inch more shallow, “That unconsciously led to people taking a little less food—30 to 50% less—and that actually downstream led to 30-70% less waste.”

The article directly referred to the approach as “behavioral nudges” that “are part of the approach,” quoting Ma further as candidly admitting, “Even the size of the scoop you get makes a difference.”

In fairness to Google, their initiative is more than just a petty psyop.

Ma also said company chefs are trained to be more accurate in basic techniques such as trimming strawberries efficiently.

Additionally, the kitchen advocates for “component cooking,” which Ma explained in the following way, “Instead of making a chicken tikka masala, it’s like, Hey, can we keep the chicken separate from the curry, separate from the herbs, so that we could recreate something with those ingredients tomorrow?”

Ma explained further that because of staff rollover or the realities of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) work from home trend, indoctrination and conditioning are simply mandatory. 

She stated, “We have so many new Googlers who have joined who have never been in one of our offices…So there’s an opportunity to share with them that every small action they take, consciously or unconsciously, actually ladders up to them living out a sustainable life.”