Rethinking the Environmental Impact of Meat


The rise of the Age of Information has created a new era of communication, innovation, and growth for all of humanity. With the power of information also comes the power of action.


In recent years, there has been a rise of groups leveraging interactive channels of communications to promote the awareness of unsustainable and unethical practices in our everyday supply chain operations.

Agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of US water consumption. - US Geological Service

One such documentary is Cowspiracy, a film that presents a compelling argument in that a plant-based diet could reduce your carbon footprint by 50%. To any budding young environmentalist, this was a call to action, one that encouraged many to change their eating habits to environmentally conscientious diets like vegetarianism.


For many, these diets stood by with little challenge as to their impact relative to the omnivore’s diet. In recent years, however, more research has been conducted on the environmental impact of plant-based diets versus diets including meat. This issue may be more complicated than it seems.


Conflicting Research

In a 2015 study, Carnegie Mellon researchers found that diets consisting of more fruits and vegetables and less meat could have a greater environmental toll than the typical American diet. They concluded that the former plant-based diet would increase energy use by 38%, water use by 10%, and greenhouse gas emissions by 6%.

Nearly half of the contiguous US is devoted to animal agriculture. - Center for Biological Diversity

In another study published by the US National Library of Medicine in 2017, researchers found that although a vegetarian diet could reduce one’s carbon footprint, food waste could counter the positive gains made.


A New Focus

More recent research challenges popularly held beliefs that a vegetarian or vegan diet has more environmental benefits than the omnivore’s diet. This research encourages consumers to be more mindful of where our food comes from, as well as how much food we waste.

Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation. - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

For example, according to the Carnegie Mellon study, about 40% of fruit gets wasted, while only 33% of meat does. Thus, regardless if someone is vegetarian or not, we all must be more mindful of what we are eating and the consequences for the environment.


This same logic applies to when we purchase food. Shopping at farmer’s markets and buying locally sourced food can greatly reduce our carbon footprint.


According to the Council on the Environment of New York City, “Transporting food long distances uses tremendous energy: it takes 435 fossil-fuel calories to fly a 5-calorie strawberry from California to New York.”


By being mindful of where our food comes from, we could significantly reduce transportation greenhouse gas emissions.

Bottom Line

We no longer live in an era where we can afford to eat mindlessly. Even if you do not become vegetarian or vegan, you can still make a tremendous impact on the environment by choosing where and what you eat carefully.


Instead of going to the chain grocery store, try to source your produce from local farmers. Be more mindful of how much food you put on your plate and take leftovers home. Though these changes seem small, they can add up to truly transform the world we live in.

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