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November 23, 2017  |  Login
Finding Your Foodprint: Is Vegetarianism Essential for Green Living?
By Yvonne Jeffery, Liz Barclay & Michael Grosvenor
 

People become vegetarians, meaning that they don't eat meat, and even vegans, meaning that they eschew meat, dairy, and other animal products, for health reasons, philosophical reasons, or both.

When you ask people why they choose to be vegetarians, you often find that they're protesting the meat industry's production methods. Others give up meat in favor of vegetarianism because they're alarmed by the health issues. Still others are concerned about the resources that go into the production of meat.

Grain-feeding animals in a factory farm uses up a lot of resources - gasoline for tractors to plant the stuff, power for lighting and machinery, water to flush away effluent - and in many cases relies on fertilizer and pesticides. Even though many farmers keep their cattle and sheep out in the fields, their diets often are supplemented with grain at times when there's not enough grass.

Researchers now use the word foodprint to indicate the amount of land that various diets require to sustain them; the idea is linked closely with the idea of a person's ecological footprint. The diet footprint is a handy way to visualize the environmental impact of your diet; the bottom line is that a more sustainable diet requires less land per person. The popular notion is that a meat-free diet uses the least land per person and is thus the greenest, most sustainable way of eating. This reasoning is in part because animals consume feed grown on land that can otherwise be used to grow vegetable or fruit crops for humans.

However, researchers at Cornell University recently added a new twist to this argument when they explained that, depending on the specific type of land that surrounds you, a diet that contains a small amount of meat and dairy actually can be more efficient than a straight vegetarian diet. That's because vegetarian crops require higher quality land than the pasture land that animals need. So if your geographic area and climate offer more pasture land than crop land, eating a small amount of meat can be more efficient. (The Cornell researchers suggested an annual meat and egg intake that averaged approximately 2 cooked ounces per day.)

The argument over the greenest use of land for food, which is particularly applicable given the current emphasis on eating local food in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, demonstrates why green issues are rarely black and white and why one solution doesn't necessarily fit all situations. So if you lust for a lamb shank and pine for a pork chop, you can still pursue a green eating strategy. Meat can be, and is, produced in the same organic and sustainable way that many fruits and vegetables are farmed. You can cut down your impact on the planet's resources by reducing the amount of meat you eat and choosing green meat whenever possible.

Learn more about some common green food questions and concerns:

 
 

 

 
 
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