Eating Vegetarian is Only Better for the Environment If You Source Your Food Correctly
Eating meat is not sustainable on a macro level. If the entire world started eating meat the way Americans do -- and evidence shows us that developing countries like India and China are increasing their meat consumption year after year -- we will run out of water and land in very short order.
So what is an environmentalist to do? Not eating meat is the sensible choice, but not if you are going to ignore the carbon footprint and environmentally destructive practices that are necessary for harvesting other foods.
Many people in England have noticed that eating meat isn't sustainable over the past decade and meat consumption in the UK has leveled off over the past 15 years. Many Americans like to brag about being vegans or vegetarians as a way to save the planet. A vegetarian diet does not necessarily carry less of a carbon footprint.
It all depends on what you eat and where your food is sourced. Eating vegetables flown in from South America carries a huge carbon footprint. Eating rice also carries a huge carbon footprint because it produces so much methane. Just being vegetarian does not necessarily put you in the class of people who are more environmentally kind. Do you eat palm oil? Eating palm oil, long used in cosmetics and now all the rage in snack food, leads to the destruction of rain forests.
Waste is also a big issue. It is estimated that in the UK, almost a third of food grown in the field never makes it to anyone's plate. Fruits and vegetables are more perishable than meats and are usually thrown away before they are eaten. Anyone who has purchased a large amount of fruit with the best intentions of changing their diet can attest to this. You end up throwing out a bunch of food after it goes uneaten in the back of your refrigerator. While not only a huge waste of money, this is also a waste of energy and accounts for a larger carbon footprint.
Another factor in your carbon footprint regarding food is how you buy your food. If you live in the suburbs or in the country and use a grocery delivery service like Peapod or Freshdirect, you actually save on carbon footprint. However, if you live in a city like New York, where many people walk to the grocery store or farmers market, you don't need a study to tell you that hiring a truck to show up at your door with your groceries produces much more carbon than getting them yourself.
Experts stress that eating vegetarian instead of eating meat can be more environmentally friendly. But you need to eat what is in season locally as much as possible. Getting grapes flown in from Chile isn't sustainable and forces the company shipping them to use fossil fuels to transport them by plane and then by truck to your grocery store. Instead, try getting locally farmed fruit when possible or buying vegetables from your farmers market instead of the grocery store. If you are going to be a vegetarian to try to save the earth and then get your fruit flown to you from around the world, you might as well eat a burger and stop touting your green diet as a badge of honor.