Monday, September 10, 2007

Your Diet and the Environment


I received my monthly issue of Co-Op America recently, which mainly consists of information concerning investments and ways to cool the earth through them. This month however, there was an interesting article concerning the diet and it's effects on the environment, specifically meat diets. A 2006 study conducted by Drs. Pamela Martin and Gidon Eshel of the University of Chicago, http://geosci.uchicago.edul~gidon/papers/nutri/nutri.html, provided a neat graph that compared different meat (and non-meat) diets with their average annual greenhouse gas emissions. The results: Vegan: 0 tons, Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: .8 ton, Poultry: .9 ton, Avg. American: 1.485 tons, Fish: 2 tons, Red Meat: 2 tons. These diets are based on a 3,774 calorie diet. All diets including meat are calculated as 72 percent plant-based, 14 percent meat, 14 percent eggs and dairy. The lacto-ovo diet is 90 percent plant based, 10 percent eggs and dairy, reflecting the actual animal product consumption o the average lacto-ovo vegetarian. You might be asking yourself, why such an outrageous amount of calories when the usual average is 2000? Well- this 3,774 number is an "FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) figure that represents the number of calories produced and distributed per person in the US, meaning that while we don't necessarily eat that much on average, we eat or waste that much at grocery stores and at home." This study took into account the entire life cycle of these diets. How much energy it took to grow, harvest , transport , and prepare them. The FAO released a report this past February stating livestock accounts for 18 percent of our world global warming emissions. Switching from a Toyota Camry to a hybrid Toyota Prius would save 1 ton of greenhouse gases annually while making the switch to a vegan diet would save 1.5 tons! After reading this article, it only reaffirms what I heard on Real Time a couple of weeks ago; "One can't be an environmentalist and a meat eater." These words spoken by a representative of PETA. What really surprises me is that the fish diet is equivalent to the red meat diet in avg. annual ghg emmisions. "I am a vegetarian, but I still eat fish" doesn't cut it anymore.

11 comments:

Kevin said...

Awesome post! Those are incredible numbers. I think it is interesting as well that vegetarian is .8 whereas poultry is .9, meaning (and it seems appropriate and somewhat obvious) that their is not a great deal of difference between the two in effect on the environment. Of course, bring ethics in and...

I think with the growing awareness of environmental problems, the definition of being environmentally friendly needs to get stricter. So, if just recycling is not going to cut it anymore, perhaps it is not too far off to say "One can't be an environmentalist and a meat eater."

I know my move to vegetarianism almost a year and a half ago was a great decision and one I am both glad about and proud of. It was not as hard as I thought it would be and I have found it has really enhanced my life, made me more conscious, and made me way more healthy.

I encourage everyone to give it a try if you have not already!

Kevin said...

It would be interesting to see numbers put up comparing eating any old meat from the supermarket to eating sustainably raised local meat. In fact, the whole local concept tends to throw studies like these way off.

Hannah said...

I definitely thought about the local meat aspect and how those numbers would change. Seeing those numbers, and an aspiring environmentalist declares "I am a vegan!", but I couldn't get the image out of my head of that small farm and those people out there that still keep things local and raise animals ethically. completely taking meat/eggs/milk out from everyone's diet (hypothetically) and a lot of people's way of life and job is over.

Andrew said...

Why is it that a vegan diet has 0 tons/year when the value includes the energy it took to grow, harvest, transport, and prepare them?

Kevin said...

Not sure, perhaps vegans eat nothing!

Hannah said...

andrew, i believe the energy it took to grow, harvest and transport was all in regards to the raising of cattle/chicken and fish. the article later points out that by merely eating the grain, and cutting out the cow/chicken eating the grain, we reduce the amount of energy used-eating at a lower level of the food chain.
if vegans ate nothing, the population problem would cease to be one, and kucinich would be slowly deteriorating.-hannah

rablash said...

I agree that these numbers seem arguable. I understand that it's inefficient to raise livestock on grain for consumption rather than consuming the grain directly, but what about livestock raised using sustainable grazing on native grass pastures?

I think the number of animals raised and slaughtered for human consumption would have to be reduced to be sustainable, but locally raised animals managed through sustainable practices can't be such an enormous contributor relative to a vegan diet.

However, it is interesting to study the difference between traditional red meat consumption and veganism. Thanks for posting the article. :)

I just used "consumption" so many times I feel like an eighteenth century English physician.

Andrew said...

On the topic of eliminating jobs, I am constantly surrounded by Agronomy students whose way of life I am challenging with my vegetarian diet. Instead of viewing it as an upheaval of livestock production, I tell people that I'm merely trying to support environmentally friendly practices and that I will eat meat if is raised in a friendly manner. By taking this stance, I'm (theoretically) making is economically feasible for farmers to shift away from intensive CFO's (and maybe corn too!). Though this is a less threatening stance to the farmer, their response is usually something along the lines of "well, we've always done it this way so that'll never happen" but I suppose that's getting into another issue altogether.

Hannah said...

way to stay a strong vegetarian around your peers-do they understand your reasoning? I assume most people stop listening as soon as they feel threatened. well that was the point of the study-these are numbers based on what is performed the majority of the time-livestock that isn't raised in a sustainable manner. most the restaurants/homes in downtown new york can't buy meat that is raised within probably hundreds of miles of where they live. if all urban populations switched to a vegan diet, that would be great-any thoughts on how we could do this? :)

Kevin said...

One person at a time, starting with ourselves. I know I did not find it very difficult to switch to a vegetarian diet, but I find going vegan to be a much more daunting task. I have been trying to make moves in that direction (stopped buying cheese, try to reduce my dairy intake) since I started to become comfortable as a veg, but have made little progress. Cut out cheese and eggs and your diet gets much more restricted.

Hannah said...

oddly enough-I had no problem being a vegetarian when I didn't live at home. I didn't buy meat, or crave it, but now that I moved back home, when my dad makes a meal with meat (usally once a week, I have been urging him to cook more veg) I can't help but eat it. no excuses. its the start of the new year (Happy Rosh Ha-Shana everyone!) and I am using this time of reflection and aiming for a more consistent vegetarian diet this year. the transition to vegan will have to start a little later. I admire it-this is why we need to have our dinners at quorum, to share ideas on how to make lots of different foods sans dairy.