Pass the Veggies

April 4, 2009

Sue Coe, 1991


A common assumption among foodies and environmentalists is that it’s healthier for the planet to eat local. There are a number of ways to poke holes in this premise, but one recently grabbed my attention. A recent study in Environmental Science and Technology showed that it’s not where our food comes from that matters environmentally so much as what the food is in the first place. What we should seek is not a shift to local foods, the authors suggest, but a “dietary shift” away from meat to more fruits and vegetables.  No news flash here, but the numbers really place things in perspective. The energy demanded to put meat in our mouths (even the grass fed and free range options) far exceed that to bring plants to our plates.  Taking meat out of the average American diet one day a week would reduce a family’s carbon foot print the same as if that family bought all food locally. Cutting out meat altogether would be six times more effective than buying all food locally. The lesson here is hard to deny: saving the planet through our diet requires the sacrifice of eating much less meat.

Source:  Weber and Matthews, “Food Miles and Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States,” Environmental Science and Technology 42 (November 10, 2008), 3508-3513.

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