Is Becoming a Vegetarian Better for the Planet?
Is going vegetarian better for the planet?
No! No way! Absolutely not! Eat all the bacon and eggs you want!
Okay, acknowledging my obvious bias, the real answer is: not necessarily.
In the circles of environmental science and the organizations of people who are concerned about global warming, there is a lot of discussion about what one single person can do to make a positive impact. Almost always, diet is one of the first things that comes up. Time and time again people are told to make the shift towards vegetarianism, or better yet veganism, if they care at all what happens to the planet.
While there are some very real concerns about the environmental impact of commercial farming, a great deal is typically left out of these conversations, especially on the side of advocating for small, local, and sustainable farms.
First, a little information about why meat is popularly considered bad for the environment. For the sake of simplicity I will only talk about beef, which is usually targeted as one of the worst meats from an environmental standpoint. There are many reasons for this: cows being ruminants produce methane gas, a more powerful (but shorter lasting) greenhouse gas than CO2; raising cattle requires more water than producing an equivalent amount of food from crops; the high consumption of beef in countries like the US has placed a demand to be filled by other countries, for example those in South America where rainforests have been harshly converted to agricultural lands.
While these issues are absolutely important and should be discussed and addressed in many ways, they show only one version of meat production. Industrial agriculture systems account for the vast majority of food production, but they are not the only way beef is raised.
Let’s contrast the above with a regenerative farm like The Farm New Marlborough. While our cows produce methane just like any others, the method of livestock rotation used by The Farm actually helps to regenerate soils on land all over town, leading to healthier plant growth and more vibrant ecosystems, and eventually to better carbon sequestration of the soils. This means that having cows out grazing can actually lead to more carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere and stored in soils.
Consider also the value of locality in food production. When your beef comes from down the road instead of from Texas, those fewer food miles mean a lesser carbon impact from transportation, which is collectively the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the US. And the same can be said for Mexican avocados, for example, because many foods that fit within the limits of vegetarianism or veganism are often not considered by their climate impact in the same way that meats are.
The bottom line is: food is a tricky and complicated topic, especially when combined with the trickier and more complicated topics of climate change and environmental health. There is no one answer, and we shouldn’t act like cutting out meat is the cure for a much more extensive problem. The most important thing is that we are all eating what makes us happy and healthy, and the great news is that supporting local and sustainable farms is a wonderful way to do that while encouraging environmentally friendly practices at the same time!