Reader, beware! What I am about to tell you is difficult to share and tough to swallow. While ignorance may be bliss, the subject is all too urgent and both vegetable and meat eating readers alike deserve to know. After all, knowledge is power!
If you are a vegan or a vegetarian like me, then you probably assumed your diet was helping the planet. Well, we were wrong. Seriously! The more research I did on plant-based diets the more I kept coming across contradicting information. How is it possible? I thought. Yet, as I read article upon article about how rice and lettuce are fucking up our planet a sadly conclusive sense of rationality washed over me…These facts actually make sense.
An article published in the Washington Post took a serious jab at previous conceptions of how environmentally friendly it is to be a vegetarian. It cites a paper from Carnegie Mellon University that looks at the environmental toll of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in comparison to the more “typical American diet”. Basically it looks at a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables compared to a diet full of unhealthy foods. According to the paper, “Shifting to the diets recommended by Dietary Guidelines for Americans would increase energy use by 38 per cent, water use by 10 per cent and greenhouse gas emissions by six per cent”. This means that if we were to eat more produce and less meat, we would actually be harming the environment more. It also means that the processed and sugary foods we usually try to avoid for our health is actually more environmentally friendly than many fresh foods.
Herbivore or omnivore, you are probably sitting there thinking, “Psh, you’re wrong girl! Meat production is destroying our earth!”. Yes you are devastatingly right about this. In just the U.S. over 80 per cent of its agricultural land is used for raising animals and growing the food to feed them. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that we waste more food on our own food production!
There are many reasons that a vegetarian diet isn’t actually better and why many studies are not representative of this fact. For one thing, different studies collect data in different ways. As per the article, some of the research used only considers what people are actually eating. So what about food that goes to waste?
In the same Washington Post article, Paul Fishbeck, a professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and his colleague Michelle Tom reveal that “while 40 per cent or more of fruit goes to waste, only 33 per cent of meat does.” If we always looked at how much fruits and vegetables actually go to waste, the environmental costs of all produce would be looked at much differently.
Although we can say a vegetarian diet has a lower carbon footprint, food waste actually increases the footprint and counters positive gains. We tend to forget that it’s easier to throw a piece of meat in the freezer than eat a cucumber before it goes moldy.
As eaters we must consider the impact of “air miles, global land and resource use determine the sustainability of the food we eat — food production can destroy or displace natural resources in order to supply growing demand.” For example, avocado farming is causing devastating deforestation in Mexico and similar patterns have been seen in global regions where soy and maize are farmed. All of these staples that are seen as critical to the vegetarian diet are taking a considerable toll on the planet.
Right now we live in a society that tends to think: “if it’s good for us then it’s probably okay for the planet”. You know, that one time you thought you were doing the “better” thing by eating salad instead of a hamburger, you were wrong. The production of lettuce creates just as much greenhouse gasses as beef does and is 3 times worse than bacon!
Vegans and vegetarians, if I made you feel bad I apologize. This is one of those times where I think the truth is better than living a lie. So what can we do? Just like you, I never thought much about the journey my avocado took to get to my dinner table. Does that mean I will stop buying avocados? Probably not, but it did make me more conscious of what I can buy to help the planet. My advice would be to make the bland choice and buy frozen produce. It will stay good for longer and it is just as good for you! Maybe it does not taste better, but in the long run it is the better choice for Mother Nature.