Are Vegetarians Really Helping The Environment

global benefits of vegetarianism

With many challenging the sustainability of importing so much food from far away, we are beginning to ask if switching to a vegetarian diet to cut emissions, due to high meat demands, is sustainable as one might think.

The influence of the global trade of food on local diets and ethnic choices has exploded over the past couple of years.

Food supply chains deliver nearly 4 billion people agricultural produce and operate worldwide. It was this principle that established the world’s first agricultural research station some 150 years ago when the creators of Rothamsted saw the possibility of the farmland surrounding a growing urban population to be supplied by London.

Many are conscious of what it is that they eat — both from a health and environmental perspective.

However, what’s the effect of this? We are increasingly motivated to eat less meat to handle climate change.

Additionally, there are now new labels for different kinds of meat eaters: flexitarians (just eat meat occasionally) or the reducetarian (aim to eat less meat) that reflect the ways various groups are trying to cut down.

global benefits of vegetarianism

However, what about all those fruits, vegetable, and basics crossing over the globe — can we label them as more sustainable than eating meat?

The development of ethical food purchases makes up close to 10% of market purchases in the UK, which is twice that of tobacco. However, in addition to the effect of air miles, global land and resource use determine the sustainability of the food we eat — food creation can destroy or displace natural resources to be able to supply growing demand. Altering land use to expand avocado production in Mexico, as an example, is destroying the rain forest. Devastating impact of non-certificated palm oil, used in a whole host of other products but also food.

And then there is the problem of food wastage.

However, the first thing we have to be able to do is quantify the environmental effect of the food we eat. We can do this for different food supply chains using carbon foot printing methods. The problem is that consumers choose foods based on what they enjoy — and this frequently changes but rarely considers the effect of climate change.

From this, we can say that a vegetarian diet does deliver a reduced carbon footprint. However, additionally, it shows us that international distribution and food miles could be the least of our troubles.

Food waste, in turn, improves the carbon footprint which counters the favorable gains. Moreover, perishable fresh fruit and vegetables are more likely to be thrown away than fresh meat and fish.

Thus is being vegetarian actually best?

Ultimately, we cannot say that eating a vegan or vegetarian or meat diet is any better for the environment.

This is because all can be proper if production systems are sustainable, there is absolutely no waste, and positive health outcomes are realized. There are clearly trade offs in choosing foods. Air freighting of green beans from Kenya into the UK was seen as unsustainable due to air miles, but also, it supports up to 1.5 million individuals and livelihoods in some of the lowest regions of Sub-Saharan Africa.

It is not just meat that increases greenhouse gasses. Rice — produced on 163m hectares, around 12% of the international arable region — has one of the finest plant carbon footprints because it creates a large amount of methane.

An Indian tribal farmer takes paddy seedlings in Assam.

However a fall in production of rice is not only improbable, but it may also interrupt greenhouse gasses held in the earth. Alternatively, using distinct fertilizers or rice varieties that are much less vulnerable to the heat.

The best way forward?

Consumers have to understand trade-offs and to keep up to date on tips of what is better to purchase.

It is an important project any sustainability impacts, and to spot food tendencies, as an example. The number of gluten-free products available are doubling year-on-year in the US and also Europe. This has resulted in a gain in the ingestion of plant proteins from beans and lentils.

vegetarian environmental benefits

These types of foods are arguably more eco-friendly than meat but — whatever your thoughts about gluten-free eating — it will change protein harvests are distributed globally and might redirect pulses or increase the cost of them for nations such as India, how that depend on non-livestock proteins.

This is one method to make sure that what you eat is less harmful and/or helps sustain livelihoods and good agricultural practices.

However, it is day to day food waste — both at home and in supply chains — that can make any diet unsustainable whether you decide to be a meat eater, vegetarian, vegan or a mixture of these. Different preservation formats can reduce food waste to zero. In the instance of food that is frozen we understand food waste could be halved compared with foods that are fresh — less of it is thrown away.

Despite what you might think, frozen could be equally as nutritious and compares nicely to fresh.

We all choose foods based on that which we like, what we can obtain and what we can manage. However, interest and continued surveillance in sustainable production will mean we can buy produce we understand has a better supply chain.

And of course, if we wish to cut back on air miles, we can source more food locally and seasonally as well as contemplating options that are preserved.

Like eating less meat, there are ways to get your footprint.

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