Diet / Evidence

Vegetable, Vegetable

Graph taken from scrolling through the National Geographic March 2015 issue, I found a brief synopsis of a research article analyzing the effects that various diets have on our carbon footprint. Researchers estimated the global warming potential of various diets by weighting dietary components according to carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide produced during production, transport, storage, cooking and wastage of food. The results? Estimated greenhouse gas emissions are twice as high in carnivores as in vegans. Moreover, as study authors note, “a family running a 10 year old small family car for 6,000 miles has a carbon footprint…that is roughly equivalent to the annual carbon saving of two high meat eating adults moving to a vegetarian diet.” In other words, your meaty diet is an extra family car.  I did a little bit more searching and found a similar analysis on this website, as well as the accompanying graphic depicting the “foodprint,” or carbon footprint, of emissions associated with five different diets.  Some fascinating facts emerge, for example, including: “In the average diet animal products make up 60% of emissions despite accounting for just a quarter of food energy.  For the Meat Lover beef consumption causes almost half of emissions from just a tenth of food energy.”

Currently, published reports indicate that only about 5% and 2% of Americans, respectively, follow vegetarian and vegan diets, leaving a lot of room for improvement.  The economic advantages of reducing our carbon footprint with vegetarian/vegan diets are further enhanced by a large body of evidence suggesting that individuals following these diets are generally healthier than the average population. For example, epidemiological data from over 150,000 Seventh Day Adventists, who routinely follow a variety of vegetarian diets, demonstrate that vegetarians have lower body mass index, coronary heart disease,  hypertension, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome incidence, as well as lower risks for colon, gastrointestinal tract, prostate and overall cancer. In fact, overall mortality risk may be up to 12% lower with some form of vegetarian diet.

In addition, vegetarian diets feed more people. Harvard University sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson estimates that if the entirety of the earth’s 3.5 billion arable acres were used to produce food for people only (instead of also supporting livestock), we could sustain 10 billion vegetarians (rather than only 2.5 billion U.S.-style omnivores). Consider these policy-making implications: Vegetarian diets could have the potential to beneficially impact global warming, alleviate international food shortages by increasing our capacity to produce more food,  AND reduce healthcare costs! Now that’s food for thought…


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