Which diet has the lowest carbon footprint?

What sort of diet has the lowest carbon footprint? A new study dives in.

Which diet has the lowest carbon footprint? A new study dives into the numbers!

What sort of diet has the lowest carbon footprint? A new study dives in.

The study, published in the journal Climatic Change, looked at the greenhouse gas emissions associated with different eating styles. They analyzed the diets of omnivores, pescatarians, vegetarians and vegans to measure each one’s greenhouse gas emissions. They surveyed 2,041 vegans, 15,751 vegetarians, 8,123 pescatarians and 29,589 omnivores aged 20–79 and looked at the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their food choices.

What they discovered was a direct correlation between eating more plants and reducing your carbon footprint. Here’s a chart summing up their findings:

There is  a direct correlation between eating more plants and reducing your carbon footprint.

A heavy meat eater produces almost 250 percent more CO2 per day than someone eating a vegan diet. Those are some pretty dramatic findings!

Lead researcher Professor Gidon Eshel, at Bard College told The Guardian, “I would strongly hope that governments stay out of people’s diet, but at the same time there are many government policies that favour of the current diet in which animals feature too prominently.”

Related: USDA Doesn’t Follow Own Advice on Dietary Guidelines

Eshel encouraged governments to “Remove the artificial support given to the livestock industry and rising prices will do the rest.”

The disparity between what’s healthy for people and the planet and what the government subsidizes is huge. Check out this pie chart showing which foods the U.S. government subsidizes most:

Meat & dairy get dozens of times more subsidies than fruits and vegetables. Any wonder why American's don't eat right?

The U.S. isn’t the only country that heavily subsidizes animal foods and animal feed. Here’s an at-a-glance showing major meat subsidies worldwide:

Meat subsidies across the globe
Image via Meat Atlas 2014

It’s no wonder that most people in developed countries tend to eat more animal foods. They’re just plain cheaper.

This isn’t the first study to look at the environmental impacts of eating meat. A 2012 Cambridge study found that reducing meat consumption could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the UK by 27.8 million tons per year. And that’s just one of many.

Making a Plant-Based Diet More Affordable

Eating vegan isn’t just better for the planet. Study after study show that eating more plants is better for our health. For people on tight food budgets, though, these subsidized animal foods might seem like the only feasible option. Here are some of my favorite tips and resources to make eating vegan easy and affordable!

A vegan diet, like any diet, can certainly be expensive. Just as an omnivore on a budget probably isn’t cooking up filet mignon, a vegan on a budget isn’t buying fancy, exotic mushrooms or goji berries. There are plenty of filling, healthy, plant-based foods that are totally affordable.

I think the first misconception about a vegan diet is that you need a lot of “fake” meats and cheeses to be healthy. That’s just not true! You can easily meet your daily requirements for protein without meat and without expensive vegan meats. Not only are these meat analogs expensive, they have a higher environmental impact than their whole food counterparts.

Whole food, plant-based protein sources like beans and whole grains are very budget-friendly. There’s a great book called Eating Vegan on $4 a Day that can help you navigate eating vegan on a budget with ease.

If you want some free recipe inspiration, check out our vegan recipe archives! Our sister site, Vibrant Wellness Journal also has an amazing archive of vegan recipes that range from the quick and easy to the more complex.

For a lot of folks on a tight cash budget, there’s a tight time budget happening too. Planning your meals is also a great way to save money and time on a plant-based diet. Weekend cooking is a great way to get your fridge stocked with healthy, vegan food that you can heat and eat all week long.

Written by Becky Striepe

6 Comments

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  1. Protein is not an issue for vegan diets, but iron, B vitamins, and some minerals are very difficult to for the human digestive system to extract from a vegan. It is not as simple as many vegan advocates claim. Switching to a healthy vegan diet takes alot of work and some people can’t for a variety of reasons. Given that nearly 50% of female populations in most countries have some degree of anemia, some animal products, specifically red meats are key for some diets.

    • I do not agree with this at all. Yes, you need to watch certain vitamins/minerals on a vegan diet – mostly B12 – but you do not need red meat to avoid anemia. If what you say is true about 50 percent of the female population, it seems like red meat isn’t really helping prevent anemia. Half of all of women certainly aren’t vegan or even vegetarian. Presumably, a good portion of that anemic group eats red meat.

      As far as other nutritional needs, I highly recommend checking out The Vegan R.D. (Ginny Messina) and Jack Norris, R.D. They are long-time vegans and registered dieticians who have written extensively on vegan health. Their approach is based on science, and their advice is always very common sense.

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