The study examined how nine different plant-forward dietary patterns across 140 countries would impact individual- and country-level greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and freshwater use and found there was no one-size-fits all diet that could simultaneously address climate change, obesity and undernutrition, as key underlying drivers. The researchers not only considered which foods were consumed, but took into account their impact on greenhouse gas, blue and green water footprints, the health of the population, and import pattern and associated difference between the production of foods in different countries of origin. The researchers found that the most greenhouse gas intensive food source “by far” was ruminant meats, including cows, sheep and goats. Plant foods were generally the least GHG-intensive overall, even after accounting for GHGs associated with deforestation for palm oils and soy. The researchers found that while a vegan diet had the lowest environmental impact, not everyone needs to give up all meat to have a positive impact. Rather, it found that diets with protein predominantly from low food chain animals, were nearly as low as a vegan diet in terms of environmental impact. Similarly, adopting a ‘two-thirds vegan diet’ generally had a lower impact than a traditional vegetarian diet that includes eggs and cheese. Another wrinkle in the findings comes when the researchers considered nutrition guidelines for countries. This variable showed that even when a low red meat or meatless day diet was adopted by all countries alongside nutrition goals to account for under and over consumption, there was still an average net increase in diet-related greenhouse gas and water footprints. Most of this impact came from populous countries where under consumption is a significant problem.
Lightbulb Moment: Humans are omnivores, can you be a healthy vegetarian, yes of course. But don’t think you are saving the planet by doing so. Promote meatless products to support meatless consumers but don’t add fuel to the fire by saying it is more sustainable. Especially when many products are highly processed and not notionally complete. Want to keep up on the plant protein trend? Schedule a Capabilities meeting with us and see what we can do for you.