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Hey everyone... my first post here, lots of good info in this forum...

Well, to start off I was drawn to vegetarianism about 4 years ago for environmental reasons, I studied alot of ecological footprint and life-cycle analysis and came across a lot of well-known information linking the environment to our diets. Yes, I've read the Fast Food Nations and the Mad Cowboys also... my main concerns about my diet have always been linked to environmental vegetarianism and do not feel as strongly about the ethical, health, or various other angles, but I respect those who do greatly. I am an ovo-lacto vegetarian so right away I don't feel like a true environmental vegetarian, but I try.

The reason I post today is that I am curious if anyone else who is vegetarian stricly on the basis of environmental impact finds it difficult sometimes to feel like it is always more beneficial for the earth to be veg. I have found that environmental vegetarianism is very debatable if you look at many different viewpoints and keep an open mind. I know people who have had the same view as me, having a environmentally low-impact diet was a good thing, and then changing their mind.

They argued some of the following:

- The "consumption of land" is a weak argument against ranchers alone, agribusiness in many parts of the world has led to environmental degradation, loss of topsoil, etc on a massive scale.

- The ecological gains (in terms of GHGs) of a vegetarian diet are easily outweighed by decisions to drive a car everyday and go on vacation, so it is more important to focus on these issues

- Many parts of the world are much better suited to ranching and if coverted and tilled for agriculture much more environmental degradation would occur

...and so on

I still strongly believe that the positives outweigh the negatives with a vegetarian diet vs. a meat-centred diet, especially when ethics are entered in, but I believe it takes a lot of effort being an environmental vegetarian to make sure that your vegetarian choices are beneficial from a strictly ecological standpoint.

Does anyone believe that a meat-centred diet, when choosing organic, choosing locally produced, avoiding factory farming and feedlots, and choosing other "sustainable" methods can be just as good for the environment than choosing a strictly vegetarian diet? I'm not sure I will get an unbiased answer from a vegetarian forum, but I really would like to know what other environmental vegetarians think on this - in the meantime I continue to ponder this debate and remain vegetarian with confidence - I feel the veggie vs. meat-centred diet debate is something that cannot always be generalized (keeping with a strictly environmental viewpoint), it must be analyzed on a local scale to determine net benefit.

Any thoughts?
 

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Do you really mean "meat-centered?" Regardless, I don't see your scenario as a possibility. If most people eat meat regularly, a world without factory farming or feedlots is a bit of an impossibility, given the human population.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I like to think at the local scale rather than wondering "what would it be like if everyone did it" because that to me is not a reality.

I agree, a world without feedlots and factory farming is probably not possible... but if one was to choose their meat sources sustainably and supported the "best" options for meat production, could they obtain a low environmental impact and near the same impact as the average vegetarian? I argue this can be true in some cases on a strictly environmental level.
 

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No matter how you raise it, it takes more land to raise meat than vegetables. Though there are ways of raising meat which are more efficient than raising vegetables on a particular TYPE of land, if we're just talking any old land, then it is more resource efficient to eat a plant-based diet. Even organic meat requires more land than an equivalent caloric amount of organic vegetables. Now if you're talking about raising bison on restored prairie, then you might have an appropriate environmental argument for having a meat-based diet, but as far as I know, there are only a few folks engaging in this kind of meat-raising.

You can raise almost all the caloric and nutritive requirements for a woman on less than 1000 square feet of vegetables (she will need to take a B12 supplement, I believe, and possibly an iodine supplement). There's no kind of meat you can grow in 1000 square feet which will fulfill so many requirements of the diet as vegetables, to my knowledge.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by klimber32 View Post

Does anyone believe that a meat-centred diet, when choosing organic, choosing locally produced, avoiding factory farming and feedlots, and choosing other "sustainable" methods can be just as good for the environment than choosing a strictly vegetarian diet?
Although I'm not exactly sure what "meat-centered" diet really entails, for when I think of "meat-centered" I think of the focus and bulk of the diet on meat. For example a cat as opposed to the average human. If you mean that meat is included in the diet, to whatever extent, then the only case I could see is comparing one following your specific meat-centered diet (where one who focuses on local and sustainability) to say an average vegetarian. For example (not that this is average), a vegetarian in a cold climate, eating lots of imported fruits and veggies, and lots of processed foods.

However, if you're really comparing someone who is focusing on local and sustainable aspects, a plant based diet will be better for the environment than an omni one. I think Ludi said it best.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by klimber32 View Post

- The ecological gains (in terms of GHGs) of a vegetarian diet are easily outweighed by decisions to drive a car everyday and go on vacation, so it is more important to focus on these issues
see:

http://news.independent.co.uk/enviro...cle2062484.ece

Quote:
Cow 'emissions' more damaging to planet than CO2 from cars

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor

Published: 10 December 2006

Meet the world's top destroyer of the environment. It is not the car, or the plane,or even George Bush: it is the cow.

A United Nations report has identified the world's rapidly growing herds of cattle as the greatest threat to the climate, forests and wildlife. And they are blamed for a host of other environmental crimes, from acid rain to the introduction of alien species, from producing deserts to creating dead zones in the oceans, from poisoning rivers and drinking water to destroying coral reefs.

The 400-page report by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, entitled Livestock's Long Shadow, also surveys the damage done by sheep, chickens, pigs and goats. But in almost every case, the world's 1.5 billion cattle are most to blame. Livestock are responsible for 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.

...

Livestock also produces more than 100 other polluting gases, including more than two-thirds of the world's emissions of ammonia, one of the main causes of acid rain.

Ranching, the report adds, is "the major driver of deforestation" worldwide, and overgrazing is turning a fifth of all pastures and ranges into desert.Cows also soak up vast amounts of water: it takes a staggering 990 litres of water to produce one litre of milk.
more on link

But people who make some claim to be conscious consumers, then turn around and shove a hamburger into their mouth while trivializing or being unconcerned with the ethics are pretty lame IMO. Human greed, selfishness, and willfull disregard for the suffering of innocent others is part of how we got in this situation in which the environment is collapsing. In the same way, meat eaters (and I don't know a single one who only eats so-called "humanely farmed" products) who go out on peace marches are somewhat ridiculous to me. They can't even manage peace on their own plates.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by klimber32 View Post

Does anyone believe that a meat-centred diet, when choosing organic, choosing locally produced, avoiding factory farming and feedlots, and choosing other "sustainable" methods can be just as good for the environment than choosing a strictly vegetarian diet?
disclaimer: for me this isn't an issue, as for ethical reasons I wouldn't eat animals even if it made a small environmental difference.

I think that locally-produced meat from GRAZING ONLY animals (so that plants aren't grown to feed them that could feed people) might as environmentally friendly in a diet as a solely vegetable based diet would. However, I think that in order to be truly an eco-friendly choice for the world to make these animals would have to be raised on ground that is not suitable for crop farming, otherwise it would make more sense to use the land for this. For example, I live very close to the Scottish border (on the English side) so for me, it MIGHT (I haven't done a lot of research into this) be more environmentally to buy Scottish lamb. This is quite local, they seem to be purely grass and hay (from the fields they live in? This would definitely be an issue, I don't know where the hay is produced) fed and the hilly land does not APPEAR suitable for crop farming (but I am not a farmer; I would also have to check this out).

So yes, I think that some very carefully chosen meat might be as environmentally friendly as a local-foods vegetarian diet. And I think that, even with ethical issues pushed aside, I would not be so eager to eat meat that I could be bothered to aquire this very specific meat if I was doing just fine on a vegetarian diet that is just as good for the environment.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by isowish View Post

For example, I live very close to the Scottish border (on the English side) so for me, it MIGHT (I haven't done a lot of research into this) be more environmentally to buy Scottish lamb. This is quite local, they seem to be purely grass and hay (from the fields they live in? This would definitely be an issue, I don't know where the hay is produced) fed and the hilly land does not APPEAR suitable for crop farming (but I am not a farmer; I would also have to check this out).
I don't think hills are necessarily unsuitable for growing crops:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrace_(agriculture)

(But then I'm not a farmer either, so I don't know if this would be possible in Scotland.)

Anyway, I'm quite interested in learning more about the environmental costs of an enviro-frienly vegan diet versus an enviro-friendly omnivorous diet for a person living in a cold-weather climate area like northern Europe.

As Irizary poined out, livestock is responsible for a lot of the greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, growing vegetables in cold-weather climate requires heating (which could potentially come from a number of sources). Alternatively, one can import vegetables from further south at the expense of emissions from transport. Which is better? Is there a way to grow vegetables in cold climates so that emissions are kept to a minimum?
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Quote:
Do you really mean "meat-centered?" Regardless, I don't see your scenario as a possibility.
I agree, that is a push - I just wanted to test the waters here. It's always interesting to get more perspective on this topic, because I find it's debated in certain situations (like the situations Isowish brings up). Regardless, I agree with everyone here that on the whole, there are very few, if any circumstances a meat consumer can match up with a vegetarian on the ecological level... (as nogardsram pointed out, maybe in certain instances where imported and processed veg foods are a primary focus from the veg) but this is definitely not a normal case.

The environmental side of vegetarianism is something I've always been interested in / take pride in so playing devil's advocate here gives me more perspective, refreshes the facts....Irizary, I wasn't aware of that study, thanks for the link.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Quote:
But people who make some claim to be conscious consumers, then turn around and shove a hamburger into their mouth while trivializing or being unconcerned with the ethics are pretty lame IMO
Quote:
In the same way, meat eaters (and I don't know a single one who only eats so-called "humanely farmed" products) who go out on peace marches are somewhat ridiculous to me.
As a side note Irizary, I just wanted to say that in MY opinion, vegetarians who focus on other people's contradictions and not their positive benefit are lame. Yes, I too care about the ethics of meat eating, but it wasn't the #1 reason I went vegetarian (the first being the environment). I have met people who are vegetarian on the basis of health, religion, economics and world starvation, but they did not necessarily care much about slaughter practices per se or certain ethical norms or what impact their diet has on the environment. Nonetheless, I congratulate them, not point out their contradictions. No, I don't shove hamburgers down my throat, but I feel that there are conscious consumers out there and vegetarians out there that don't necessarily have strong ethical motives behind their decisions, yet they are contributing to many world benefits.

I have known too many people that are worried about contradicting themselves on too many levels when it comes to turning vegetarian, and this type of discussion just pushes people further not to make change in their life. It also makes people argumentative at the table.

I have always respected non-combative vegetarians who respect those with the same consumption decisions regardless of reasons, since they are achieving the same end benefits whether it's for religion, health, strong ethical beliefs, or whatever.

As for your second point, I have met people who go out of their way to reduce their meat consumption and search for locally produced meat and "humanely farmed" products. I am not one of these people, but I encourage their efforts because they are taking a step in the right direction, and may be convinced to go the full distance and go veg, rather than pointing out the negative. You may be right on some level saying that marching for peace is contradictory if there is meat on their plate but these two issues are very different on many levels, and I believe that each deserves individual attention.

.... my pet peeve rant


I will end by saying that it is great you feel so strongly (as do many in this forum) about meat eating and its ethical implications, the world is a better place with your personal change in lifestyle
 

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A short time ago, I read a 1980s update of Frances Moore Lappe's classic book, "Diet For A Small Planet". The author has revised some of her original assumptions somewhat about whether or not one must eat a mixture of non-meat protein sources at the same meal to avoid protein deficiency; and there is also some question about precisely how much of a benefit there is if we do. But she still maintained that meat eating was a waste of the earth's resources.

For example, she mentioned reading a report (from a pro-ranching author) that less land was being used nowadays to feed each individual person, even though per-capita meat consumption had risen during the 1900s. Lappe was a bit stunned to note a critical omission in this report: during that same time period, draft animals had been replaced by motorized farm equipment- and this meant that less land had been needed to produce food for the draft animals. She also notes that water, as well as land, is used for meat animals. Pasture areas are often arid, and wells are dug to supply water for livestock grazing in these areas. But the groundwater in these areas has taken so long to accumulate that it could almost be considered a non-renewable resource.
 
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