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How to be the most environmentally friendly vegetarian or vegan.

Updated on June 8, 2019
stephaniedas profile image

Stephanie has been trying to save the world since she was 4.

Veggie Burger: It takes a lot of energy to make soybeans look this good!
Veggie Burger: It takes a lot of energy to make soybeans look this good! | Source
Tofu Dogs?
Tofu Dogs? | Source

Where do your groceries come from?

You've probably heard the word "localvore" before. It is a trend in green eating that looks to promote awareness of where your food comes from, with the logic being that if you eat food from sources within 100 miles, you support your local economy and reduce your carbon footprint by reducing the distance that your food needs to travel to get to you.

This concept is relatively simple: Eggs from the chickens on the farm outside of town travel ten minutes to get to your house. Eggs from the factories in Delaware may need to travel for days or even weeks. Let's not even get started on foods that are processed and packaged overseas in faraway places such as Thailand and China. In short, eating local mean less pollution. Eating local means eating green.

But something that people often overlook are the implications of a vegetarian diet. While many people chose to be vegan or vegetarian because of environmental concerns, the importance of meat in our culture leads them to purchase products made from corn and soy that are meant to mimic the flavor and texture of meat. Unfortunately, the greenness of not eating meat could be overridden by the sale of these so-called "vegetarian" foods, as they are heavily processed and packaged, and often must travel long distances to land on your dinner plate.

Hazelnuts. Nuts, beans, and whole grains. Plant protein is the most green.
Hazelnuts. Nuts, beans, and whole grains. Plant protein is the most green. | Source

What a Bard College Professor Has to Say.

Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at Bard College, analyzes the environmental impacts of food production. He calculates the nutritional value of the food versus the amount of energy put into its production. For example, for every 100 calories of energy that are put into producing a steak from a factory-raised cow, only 6 calories make it into the mouth of the consumer. In comparison, foods like apples actually give you 110 calories for every 100 calories spent producing them, meaning that their nutritional value in comparison to the energy put into getting them to you makes them a bargain to produce.

Eshel believes that "vegetarian meats", including store-bought veggie burgers, use just about the same amount of energy as the real meat itself. And aside from the energy costs of making soybeans look like chicken, the chemicals used in the production of fake meats usually include EPA-registered air pollutants.

A goat cheese making demonstration proclaims "Eat your zipcode. Be a localvore.
A goat cheese making demonstration proclaims "Eat your zipcode. Be a localvore. | Source

Where is your food coming from?

If you do eat these meat-mimic products, take a look at the label next time before you buy it. Are there any words that you don't know how to pronounce? Do you understand how every single ingredient is made? Choosing minimally processed foods with ingredients that you are familiar with is a good rule of thumb for spending your money in the most environmentally friendly way possible.

Let me know what you think.

Which do you consider yourself?

See results
Green house. Growing vegetables in a greenhouse during the winter can have worse environmental consequences than meat.
Green house. Growing vegetables in a greenhouse during the winter can have worse environmental consequences than meat. | Source

Of course, you can't survive without protein...

If you're very commited to your vegetarian or vegan diet, there is some good news for you: plant protein is the greenest choice, as long as it isn't super-duper-processed. Think raw nuts, beans, and soy paired with whole grains like brown rice. However, animal protein can play a part in a healthy diet, and it is wise to take this into account when your omnivore friends starts to grill you about your dietary choices. If you or someone you know wants to eat "green" without giving up meat, you can try to return to our traditions: be a localvore. After all, Earth's grasslands evolved with large herd animals like cattle and bison. While factory farms feed cows corn and engineer fertilizers out of petroleum, naturally raised cattle feed on grass in a pasture.


A farmer's market in London
A farmer's market in London | Source

So, what's the moral here?

Someone really smart once said something like, "Change doesn't come from everyone being perfect, but from everyone being better." Something along those lines. You get the idea.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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    • stephaniedas profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Das 

      9 years ago from Miami, US

      @WannaBWriter- That is great for you! Trust and community is very important. Thanks for leaving a nice comment :)

      @Just Rodney- Thank you for commenting, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    • Just_Rodney profile image

      Rodney Fagan 

      9 years ago from Johannesberg South Africa, The Gold Mine City

      Good Hub

    • WannaB Writer profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 

      9 years ago from Templeton, CA

      We have access to local grass fed beef, since we do live in an agricultural area. We also have great farmers markets and can get to know local growers.

    • stephaniedas profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Das 

      9 years ago from Miami, US

      @Stephanie Henkel- Thank you for the comment, I'm so happy that you found this useful and ere-opening! And I appreciate the votes!

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 

      9 years ago from USA

      Wow! This was eye-opening! I'm not a vegetarian, but I am concerned about where our food comes from, whether it's meat or vegetables and fruit. I never thought about the environmental reasons for supporting local growers -this gives me lots to think about! Voted up, up, up!

    • stephaniedas profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Das 

      9 years ago from Miami, US

      @MarloByDesign- Well, I can't tell you exactly what goes into each brand, but there are two angles that we could come at this issue from:

      1. Greenhouse gases. According to Gidon Eshel, processed foods that come pre-made and pre-packaged are not efficient to produce, and their production emits just about the same amount of greenhouse gases as producing meat does. This may vary according to the brand and ingredients, but the basic rule of thumb is that most of these foods are brands owned by huge companies that produce most packaged foods, and they have the same method of production even if they are "organic" or "natural". This even includes veggie burgers that are not meant to look like meat, because just making beans into patties and packaging them and freezing them uses a lot of energy.

      2. Health. I am not going to pretend to know hard facts about this, but from what I've read, I can gather that any time a food goes through processing that involves heat and the longer a vegetable is away from it's source-plant, the more nutrients are lost. So, you could gather that "fake" morningstar "chicken" probably doesn't have that many nutrients. On the other hand, a brand-name veggie burger that still looks like vegetables formed into a patty would have more nutrients because its gone through less processing. Of course, the way to get the most nutrients out of your veggie burgers is to make them at home with fresh beans and fresh vegetables.

      I hope that made sense. I'm not saying that these foods are bad for you or not good for you, I'm just applying my own logic to the situation. The greenest and healthiest way to eat is to avoid packaged foods. I hope that helps!

    • MarloByDesign profile image

      MarloByDesign 

      9 years ago from United States

      Are veggie burgers okay (Morningstar)? And are you saying the the "fake" Morningstar chicken may not be so good for me? Thanks!

    • stephaniedas profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Das 

      9 years ago from Miami, US

      @rsusan- Thanks for your input. You make a good point. While certain groups of people seem to be moving towards more natural living, large companies are messing with the genes and chemical composition of our food more and more each day, so the next generation will need to be extra-aware in order to counter any possibly harmful effects. Anyway, I never trusted those fake meat products. Something instinctual told me that soy beans aren't supposed to look like meat!

    • rsusan profile image

      Rika Susan 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks for some solid information, stephaniedas. I think the most important sentence is, 'The moral is that you need to educate yourself'. And we also need to teach our kids to read labels and to understand these issues. They will probably need to be even more aware down the line, as everything around foods and nutrients seem to be getting more complicated daily...

    • stephaniedas profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Das 

      9 years ago from Miami, US

      @MarloByDesign- Thank you for voting and commenting! I voted in my poll too :) I'm glad you find these hubs useful! I do try to do research before writing. Unfortunately, some people tend to think of all non-meat diets as environmentally sound and healthy, but it definitely takes a little bit of effort to do it right.

    • MarloByDesign profile image

      MarloByDesign 

      9 years ago from United States

      Great Hub and I voted in your Poll and voted UP. I had a burnt steak last night...as I rarely eat meat and I am back to being a vegetarian for a while. I need to take this seriously and find vegetarian foods that provide me all of the right nutrients, so your Hubs are most helpful!

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