Study Claims Being Vegetarian is WORSE For the Environment Than Eating Meat

Study Claims Being Vegetarian is WORSE For the Environment Than Eating Meat

Everyone knows that obnoxious vegetarian that boasts about how good their diet is for the environment, because nothing gives a person license to be self-righteous than being a vegetarian. Unfortunately, the reality doesn’t back up the boasting: it turns out that a vegetarian diet is worse for the environment than eating meat.


A new study has looked at what would happen if the entire U.S. population followed exactly the dietary guidelines from the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The team modeled three different scenarios: a reduction in calories consumed but no changes in diet; a shift to a more vegetable-heavy diet but no caloric reduction; and a mix of the two, which is the one recommended by the USDA.

The study, which is published in Environment Systems and Decisions, aims to highlight how complicated it is to balance environmental issues and human needs.

The researchers investigated three parameters for the scenarios: energy use for food production, blue water footprint (the amount of freshwater necessary to produce a product), and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In scenario 1, quantities of these variables were reduced by about nine percent, which is unsurprising since the only change was the consumption of fewer calories.

The diets in scenario 2 and 3 have more fish, vegetables, and fruit compared to the average U.S. diet. The higher intake of these healthy foods is balanced by a reduction in meat, solid fats, and added sugars. While this diet is good news for our bodies, as evidenced by the many benefits thought to be offered by the famous Mediterranean diet, the study suggests it might not be so good for the environment.

All three parameters actually increased under scenarios 2 and 3. For scenario 3, energy use went up by 38 percent, water use by 10 percent, and greenhouse gas emissions by six percent. Scenario 2 was found to be even worse. But why is that? Per Calorie, production of vegetables requires more energy and water than meat, but generates only one-quarter of GHG emissions compared to beef.

Also, the study investigated a vegetarian diet, not a vegan one. “Dairy, by far, has the greatest impact on increased GHG emissions because it has the third highest emissions intensity value, which is then compounded by USDA recommendations for substantial increases in dairy,” wrote the authors in the paper.

So next time some know-it-all vegetarian starts bragging about how they’re helping to save the environment, you’ll have some facts to throw in their smug faces. And every time you eat a nice, juicy steak or some crispy bacon, you can rest easy knowing that you’re helping the environment more than the self-righteous vegetarians are.

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