Prepare to have your mind blown. I know mine was. Well, I mean not that I was eating meat in order to not be environmentally friendly. However like everyone else in the world I like to receive a little bit of affirmation that I am doing things right. And Boo-yah! I am. Eating meat is more environmentally friendly than being a vegetarian.
How was this study conducted?
The USDA modeled three different diet scenarios for the US. One of the scenarios was a reduction in calories consumed, but no changes in diet. The second scenario was a shift to a vegetable-heavy diet but no calorie reduction. The last one was a mix of the two (recommended of USDA.)
The highlight was conducted to highlight the difficulty of balancing human issues and environmental issues.
There were three parameters that they came up as benchmarks.
-Energy used for food production
-Water footprint or how much water is used to make the product
-Greenhouse gases released
What were the results of the study?
The first diet reduced all of the above by 9 percent, per the study. This was the diet that had no changes, except a lower calorie range.
The 2nd and 3rd scenarios which resemble the Mediterranean diet, were not as good for the environment as the 1st scenario. This is because they require more consumption of fish, vegetables, and fruit compared to the average diet in the United States. However this diet has better results for our bodies as we lower the fats, meat, and added sugars from our diets.
All three of the established parameters went up in the 2nd and 3rd scenarios.
What were the concrete results from the study in numbers?
The third scenario (you’ll remember as the one that was a mix of the lower vegetable and lower calories) had a 38 percent increase in energy used. A 10 percent increase in water usage, and the green house emissions were up by 6 percent.
The second scenario (you’ll remember as the one that was vegetable heavy with no calorie reduction) was found to be even worse than the above.
So, what are the “why’s” behind these results?
Vegetables require more energy than meat does, calorie for calorie. Yet they only create one quarter of the GHG emissions.
As Michelle Tom, a PH.D student and lead author of the report points out, “there’s a complex relationship between diet and the environment. What is good health-wise isn’t always what’s best for the environment. That’s important for public officials to know and for them to be cognizant of these tradeoffs as they develop or continue to develop dietary guidelines in the future.”
Let’s get fishy
Fish are recommended by the USDA guidelines. The problem comes up when fisheries are required to produce the fish. These require fuel to transport as the fisheries are typically far away from the shores. That fuel and the emissions from the transportation make fish a little less than ideal in the energy category as well.
Do all countries stack up in this way?
This study was done purely in reference to the United States, and the particular infrastructure and so on, here. Other things to be taken into account when considering these results are different dietary requirements and current eating habits.
Between 34 and 42 percent of food is wasted every year. Reducing the waste will reduce our impact on the environment. One country fighting the war on waste in food is France. They recently passed very strict laws. This furthers their culture’s ability to sustain their resources into the future.
For more detailed information on this study please click on this link.
Featured photo credit: Estrada Anton via shutterstock.com