This week, a young woman posted a TikTok singing the praises of washing fat off some cooked ground beef. Cooked, ground beef. In a fine mesh strainer. Under the faucet. Exactly the way no one does.
The video sent internet into an extremely dumb but infectious rage, wherein all of Twitter came to the defense of fat as a source of flavor. Some people even apparently sent her death threats, which is obviously horrible. I definitely don’t condone death threats about something so trivial (or anything really), but really, we should not be putting beef fat in the drain.
From a culinary perspective, everyone is right about fat being delicious. But as a Climate Person, there are even more important reasons to not pour hot beef fat into your sink. For one, we urgently have to quell beef production because it’s so energy and resource intensive. But if you’re going to eat beef, at least keep its sizzling drippings away from the sink. When oils, fats, and grease get into the drain, they can congeal into our rickety pipes. Fat blobs can catch more debris, resulting in jams.
As our pals at Lifehacker noted this week, these nasty clogs can seriously mess up plumbing systems, resulting in sink, toilet, or full-basement sewage backups which are as gross as they sound. You may recall that this was a big concern when giant fatbergs were found under London’s streets a few years ago. These backups can expose people to bacteria and parasites and ruin floors, furniture, and appliances.
And it’s not just homes that can be affected. When drainage systems get blocked, sewage can also pour into waterways. As you may imagine, exposure to human poo isn’t great for marine ecosystems. Sewage is full of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, which can create toxic algae blooms that in turn food chains. Just this month, Florida’s Indian River Lagoon saw a mass fish death, when thousands of stingrays, shrimp, trout, and other species’ carcasses floated up on the shore. Scientists think sewage pollution played a major role. The climate crisis is also making algae blooms worse and more common, and the last thing we need is a bunch of people pouring beef fat down the drain to make matters worse.
A puddle of fat on a plate might be unsightly. But if you think a greasy dinner is gross, check out this mess of condoms, cooking oil, and butt wipes:
If that doesn’t convince you, maybe this stinky green algal sludge on a river will:
You, too, can prevent this nastiness if you keep your fat out of the sink.
My concern about the damage a wave of sink beef fat could cause is particularly acute because of the state of infrastructure in the U.S. Drainage systems throughout the country have simply fallen into disrepair. Most of the nation’s water infrastructure was built more than 50 years ago. It will take major policy moves to make the necessary fixes across the country. Overwhelming them with congealed beef fat (or olive oil, chicken schmaltz, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, or any other fat) is not one of those fixes.
Not endangering our janky water infrastructure with grease is among the easiest actions you can take. It’s better to dump excess oils into the trash. And if you’re concerned about it getting sent to landfills—which fair—consider saving your fats to reuse. Bonus points if they’re delicious, which, let’s face it, they pretty much all are. Or if you’re committed to health, choose a leaner dinner. Or just eat the damn oil, because it tastes good.