According to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, “eating lettuce is over three times worse in greenhouse gas emissions than eating bacon.”

As news of this research spread around the web, Vegans reacted like this….

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But wait…before everyone flips out…

Let’s take a closer look at the study

In this study, the Carnegie Mellon researchers were investigating how three different USDA-esque weight loss plans would impact the environment.

Here are the three diet plans

  1. Reducing caloric intake to achieve “normal” weight without shifting food mix…aka same diet as before, just less of it.
  2. Switching food mix to USDA recommended food patterns without reducing calories…aka “healthy” diet, same calories as before
  3. Reducing calories & switching to USDA recommended food patterns…aka “healthy diet” AND fewer calories

How did they measure the environmental impact?

To compare the three diets, the researchers calculated how…

  • growing,
  • processing,
  • shipping,
  • selling
  • and storing all the foods consumed in the three diets

…impacted energy use, blue water footprint and greenhouse gas emissions.

They crunched all that data to arrive at a series of environmental impact scores (energy, blue water, GHG) per kcal for each food.

From there, they calculated the overall energy, blue water & GHG scores for each of the three diets

Their findings?

Dietary Recommendation #1 resulted in a decrease in energy use, blue water footprint and GG emissions by approximately 9%.

Which makes sense…2000 calories of pizza is going to use less energy than 3000 calories of pizza.

Dietary Recommendation #2 increased energy use by 43%, increased blue water footprint by 16% and increased GHG emissions by 9%

The data showed that eating more fruits, vegetables, dairy & seafood bumped up the global footprint because of their relatively higher resource use and emissions per Calorie.

Even when the researchers dropped the caloric intake of the healthy food for Dietary Recommendation #3, they still saw an increase in energy use of 38%, an increase in blue water footprint of 10% and an increase in GHG emissions of 6%

And that’s where we get our headline…“Eating lettuce is over three times worse in greenhouse gas emissions than eating bacon”

bacon

Even if you starve yourself on healthy food, you are harming the environment more than if you ate the standard American diet of grains & processed food.

This can’t be true, can it?

Yup…it’s true. But here’s why.

Our current food production system is geared towards producing the food most of us eat…processed grains and cheap fats & protein.

We are incredibly efficient at producing crap food. 

From farm to table, our mainstream food infrastructure is an amazing artificial organism.

Conversely, our infrastructure for healthy food is a joke in comparison. Small-scale healthy food producers give us amazing foodstuffs, but at a per-unit cost (financial & environmental) far in excess of their mainstream competitors.

If our healthy food producers had the infrastructure of our less-than-healthy food producers, they would match them for price & crush them in terms of environmental impact.

But they don’t and as a result, we are left comparing apples & oranges.

karl_smile

So cheer up my vegan brothers & sisters. And keep eating your fruits & veggies.

As more and more “normal” people start eating healthier, the financial & environmental costs of healthy food will drop.

Reference

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