The food system is responsible for 70% of the world’s freshwater use and almost 80% of freshwater pollution. About three-quarters of the ice-free land area of the planet has been affected by human use, primarily for agriculture. Land-use change such as deforestation is a major source of biodiversity loss. What we choose to eat has a major effect on how the food system impacts the environment.
A comprehensive study by researchers at several UK universities has found that a plant-based diet yields one-fourth as much greenhouse gases as a diet rich in meat. Vegan diets produce 75% less heat-trapping gas, generate 75% less water pollution, and use 75% less land than meat-rich diets.
Just going to a low-meat diet cuts the environmental cost of a high-meat diet in half. Pescatarian diets perform better than low-meat diets, and vegetarian diets do even a little better than that.
There are a variety of reasons why many people won’t, can’t, or even shouldn’t become vegans. What should be learned from this study is that our dietary choices have a major environmental impact. So, taking actions like cutting down the amount of meat and dairy – which most people can do with relative ease – can be valuable.
There are many choices with respect to where we live, how we get from place to place, where we get our food, and, yes, what food we eat, that impact the environment. We are not all going to do the best possible thing in all these cases, but if we each make some choices that at least help, it can make a big difference.
Photo, posted November 5, 2017, courtesy of Stephanie Kraus via Flickr.