Is the vegetarian diet bad for the environment?

Posted at 8:29 PM, Jan 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-27 20:29:17-05

Lettuce, eggplant, cucumbers—these are all types of foods you would normally think of when trying to get healthier. But what's healthier for you might not be great for mother nature.

"Because of all the resources that it takes to grow those foods, to to transport them to you…could have an impact on the environment,” said Darcy Freedman, Population Health Scientist and Associate Professor at Case Western Reserve University.

A recent study done by Carnegie Mellon University found that certain diets, particularly those closely related to the vegetarian diet, end up using more energy.

For example, they found lettuce was three times worse in greenhouse gas emissions than eating bacon.

Freedman said, “This research is specifically looking at what are the environmental impacts around energy, greenhouse gases, related to shifting out diet.”

It was done in response to the USDA'S recent diet recommendations for Americans to increase the amount of fruits, veggies and seafood they eat.

Freedman added, “This research is novel and innovative in the sense that it’s asking the environmental impact question at the same time that we’re looking at a public health impact.”

Bill Drelles has been both a vegetarian and now vegan for the past 13 years. He said his lifestyle choice has changed his life tremendously.

“I think it’s had an impact on virtually every aspect of my life.”

He’s disappointed in the study, claiming it is confusing and can be misleading for those in the non-vegetarian and vegan communities.

“Looking at the general conclusions, it would give them pause and may lead them to not take on that change to their lives.”

Confusing or not, Freedman said, despite the controversy, the bottom line is, it’s all about being balanced.

“It’s less about the controversy—you know whether you should be a vegetarian or meatarian—and more about the reality that we have a problem, we have to make changes as a country to address some of the diet-related health concerns, and at the same time we have to pay attention to the reality of the environmental impacts of any shift we have to the broader dietary patterns.”


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