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Go green - be a vegetarian

by PhD & RD
| April 28, 2010 9:00 PM

Vegetarianism is becoming increasingly popular among children and teens. Many believe that this way of eating is easier on the environment. I have had the honor of having Coeur d'Alene High School senior Kara Schultz job shadowing me for the last month and thought it might be insightful for her to write about her rationale for being a vegetarian for the last eight years. Here is what she said:

Going Green

In our society, with the ever so prevalent push for "going green" a simple alteration in diet can make as big of an impact on Mother Earth as using reusable bags or a more fuel-efficient car. There are numerous positive effects of a vegetarian diet on the environment. Eating vegetarian is easier now than it has ever been before. Restaurant menu options are springing up everywhere for vegetarians. In addition, protein-packed meat substitutes are so well circulated on the supermarket shelves today that it is no longer difficult to maintain proper protein levels in one's vegetarian diet.

Producing livestock products requires significantly more water, fossil fuels and land than producing other foods, which results in a greater environmental impact. Simply by altering our food choices, we can make a significant contribution to reducing our ecological footprint. Producing the equivalent amount of protein from meat takes 11 times the amount of fossil fuel use compared to a vegetable based protein, such as soy protein. Nutritional researchers in Germany have examined the ecological impacts of a typical western diet versus that of an lacto-ovo vegetarian (those who do not eat any type of meat or fish, but do consume eggs and dairy products) vegetarian. For a lacto-ovo vegetarian, the savings are a 54 percent less use of energy, 52 percent less carbon dioxide equivalents, and 66 percent less sulfur dioxide equivalents than that of a typical Western diet. These statistics are cited in "Six Arguments for a Greener Diet" by Michael F. Jacobson, Ph. D.

Factory Farming

Much of the meat Americans consume comes from factory farming and not family farming, which was very popular just fifty years ago. Global industrialized farming can be cruel to animals, highly detrimental to the environment and can create vast amounts of global pollution. Also, feeding a large amount of grain to produce a small amount of meat seems like a waste of limited resources. By eating the grain instead of the cow that eats the grain, there would be far less strain on the Earth's limited resources and a significantly lower global hunger rate. The effects on the environment that the meat industry creates are far too often overlooked. General knowledge about how the meat industry affects so much of the environment in such a critical manner is something many people never even stop to think twice about.

The next time that we go the grocery store, perhaps we should be filling our green reusable bags with yummy meat alternatives such as Idaho beans and lentils, tofu, and quinoa rather than environmentally unfriendly steaks and bacon. For those meat lovers out there, try following a "flexitarian" diet - meaning eat more plant-based meals and a little less meat!

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