More fruit and vegetable consumption worse for the environment than meat?

By 17. December 2015Blog, Taste

As we like to say here in Germany, Jein (a mix of yes and no). It all depends on how it is produced.

So first things first, why is this in the headlines? For the first time the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has started to think about sustainability when recommending what Americans should eat. There have been calls for some time that we should switch to a vegetarian diet (or at least dramatically reduce our meat intake) as the increasing demand in meat is unsustainable.

In a study published in the journal Environment Systems and Decisions, researchers have compared variations of the typical US diet  to the new diet suggested by the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee in terms of energy usage, blue water footprint (a measure of how much water is used) and green house gases (GHG) emissions.  The diets analysed were:

1)      Typical US diet

2)      Typical US diet with reduced caloric intake

3)      Following the new dietary guidelines without reducing current caloric intake

4)      Following the new dietary guidelines with reducing current caloric intake

What they found they describe as counter intuitive and I can only agree. It would seem that based on their calculations switching to diet number 3 caused an increase in all 3 measures. The energy use increased by 38 %, the blue water footprint increased by 10 %, and GHG emissions increased by 6 %.

The researchers point out that as more calories are coming from fresh fruit and vegetables this equates to a greater demand of resources as they have a “relatively high resource use and emissions per calorie”.

There is a lot of information in the publication to digest and I expect there will be a lot of expert reaction to this in the next few weeks. It has already been picked up by some who quote the paper as saying that lettuce production is worse for the environment that pork.

But before you jump on the bandwagon and avoid the vegetable aisle when shopping, the researchers say in the paper that we would not have the same problem here in Europe and that the 3 measures would actually decrease as our food is produced more locally.

If you want to go one better why not get a window box or vegetable patch and grow some of your own. Just a thought……

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