Eat Green for World Vegetarian Day

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Vegetarians can use protein sources like almonds and walnuts to maintain a balanced diet. Photo: Cindy Baldhoff
Vegetarians can use protein sources like almonds and walnuts to maintain a balanced diet. Photo: Cindy Baldhoff

When Christina Coley became a vegetarian 25 years ago, she did it as a personal, moral choice.

“I was actively involved in animal rights and didn’t think [eating meat] was a good way to live,” she says. But now the mother of three, who lives in Idaho, says she and her husband also appreciate the environmental benefits of vegetarianism.

“We have learned in the recent past that raising animals purely for food has a big impact on global warming, ozone issues and the like,” she says. “I believe that by not eating meat, I am helping preserve the environment a little bit.”

She says a vegetarian lifestyle is more sustainable, because she can easily choose to buy food that is grown locally. “I can even grow it myself,” Coley adds. “I’m not sure you can do that with meat very easily, if at all.”

A 2006 study by the University of Chicago backs up Coley’s statement. In “Diet, Energy and Global Warming,” researchers found that the average American diet gets about 47 percent of its calories from animal sources, which results in a carbon footprint of 2.52 tons annually. When red meat makes up about 50 percent of a diet’s calories, that number jumps to 3.57 tons. However, when just 25 percent of the calories come from fish, but no other meat sources, the carbon footprint drops to around 1 ton.

As World Vegetarian Day is observed on Oct. 1 — kicking off Vegetarian Awareness Month — it’s a good time to reassess what you’re eating and look at the effect it’s having on the planet. While many people are conscientious about recycling, using less electricity and composting, they may not be aware just how big of an effect their diet has on the environment.

According to the Vegetarian Society, livestock farming accounts for almost 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions created by human-related activities, and the United Nations claims that the meat industry produces more greenhouse gases than the world’s transportation sources combined. (Much of that comes from the nitrous oxide found in manure.)

Another environmental effect comes from the fossil fuels used to transport animals for slaughter and for delivery after being processed, and to power the production of their feed. Any way you crunch the numbers, it all adds up to a significant contribution to greenhouse gases, and lowering meat consumption is an important tool in furthering environmental sustainability.

Next page: Easy ways to “go vegetarian”