New Study Suggests Plant-Based Diets May Harm the Environment

| 1/7/2016 12:13:00 PM

Tags: Plant-Based Diet, Energy Use, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Food Consumption, Carbon Footprint, Environmental Studies, Kayla Matthews,

If you're a vegetarian, you may think your healthy, meat-free lifestyle means you're creating a healthy environment. But a new study from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) suggests that this notion may be a myth.

The study on energy use, greenhouse emission and food consumption, published in the November issue of “Environmental Systems and Decisions,” produced evidence that following the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary recommendations — which encourage Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables, with less red meat — actually harms rather than helps the environment.

cubed pieces of red pepper, broccoli and chicken
Photo by Agnieszka.

That's because foods like fruits, vegetables, dairy products and seafood require high resource use and greenhouse gas (GHG) per calorie — even more so than meat. This finding directly contrasts with the ideas promoted by many "green" organizations like Down to Earth Organic and Natural, which urges Americans to consider adopting a vegetarian diet to save the earth.

Even Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former bodybuilder, action movie star and California governor, said in a recent United Nations conference that Americans can protect the environment from greenhouse gases by reducing their consumption of red meat.

But the CMU study — titled "Energy Use, Blue Water Footprint and Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Current Food Consumption Patterns and Dietary Recommendations in the U.S." — claims that the resources involved with growing, processing and transporting "greener" foods increase energy use, water use and GHG emissions — taking a significant toll on our planet.Therefore, says CMU Social/Decision Sciences professor Paul Fischbeck, "Eating lettuce is over three times worse in GHG emissions than eating bacon."

1/21/2016 2:53:49 PM

53 calories in a head of lettuce!

1/21/2016 2:51:17 PM

I don't eat lettuce. I don't eat this way for any other reason than to be more healthy! Rice and beans are cheap and I can grow veggies and trade things for other veggies others grow. Also the grocery store throws away a lot of produce that can be had for free. I use tote bags for groceries, recycle glass/cans. I can't see how this article makes much sense.

1/21/2016 7:27:26 AM

Greenhouse? Have you actually been to the massive warehouses of factory farms? I spent years living in rural Minnesota. All the land was used for feed - not for the lettuce eating human - but the cow, turkey and pig farms. The toxic waste from the animal confinements was beyond anything a plant would produce. The massive amounts of water, waste and gasses were from the animals, which never saw the light of day. One summer was so hot and someone forgot to turn on the big fans at the turkey barns, it killed them all so they cleaned it out and start over again - now you're telling me my lettuce eating is worse for the environment than that? Wonder who sponsored that research.

1/10/2016 4:41:29 AM

This study has no real basis in reality as it is based on caloric intake. So yes eating lettuce vs. meat to get your calories might be worse, though your going to have a lot harder time eating all that lettuce. For example to get 100 calories from lettuce you need to eat about 1 head of lettuce compared to 2/3 of a chicken breast.

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