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While most people agree that population growth is closely connected to the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG), which are harmful to the environment, as they lead to global warming, a rare individual believes that he or she can make a difference in the matter.
However, contemporary dietary habits have a significant impact on environmental sustainability, as meat production industries are resource-intensive and considerably add the emission of nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, and methane. Additionally, transportation and preservation of animal products are connected to plastic industries and refrigeration, which are also immense contributors to the GHG discharge. Therefore, every individual turning to a diet, which consists of locally produced plant-based nutrients, can make a noticeable impact on the environmental situation.
Traditional western diet maybe not only unhealthy but also dangerous to the global environment. Food and Agricultural Organization states that “adopting sustainable diets at a global level is urgently needed” (Lacour et al. 2). Indeed, livestock is considered to be accountable for almost 18% of GSG emission, as it requires substantial energy to produce feed and fertilizers, breeding activities, electricity use, and resources to build farms (Lacour et al. 2). Livestock farming is also closely connected to the loss of biodiversity, as natural ecosystems are destroyed by farms used for grass and feed crops (Lacour et al. 2). Therefore, a reduction of animal product intake worldwide can sufficiently improve the environmental issue.
It is also worth considering the location of the food production, as it helps to understand the accompanying harms of meat production. Animal products are time-sensitive and can get spoiled very quickly without specialized packaging and refrigeration. The need for additional packaging is associated with excessive plastic production, which can in turn also be a reason for environmental problems. Polyethylene is characterized by very slow decay, and there are no efficient and widespread methods of its processing to lighten the adverse effects it produces.
Additionally, the production and use of refrigeration facilities to transport and store animal products are also harmful to the environment. In brief, turning to a diet that consists mainly of locally produced foods has the potential to reduce the associated harms of traditional food provisioning methods.
Vegetarian and vegan diets are associated with lower GHG emissions compared to omnivorous ones. According to Lacour et al., food habits of consuming no animal products produce 2.5 times less GHG than diets rich in animal products (8). At the same time, vegetarian and pesco-vegitarian people contribute 46%-54% less GHG than omnivorous men and women (Lacour et al. 8). Therefore, it can be stated that pro-vegetarian food choices are generally more environment-friendly. Even though most contemporary researchers of the matter agree with this statement, some still believe that there is not enough evidence.
Fossil energy consumption and land use are also significant concerns of the environmental activists. According to Lacour et al., livestock farming requires more electricity and other energies than plant product yielding (7). Hence, the amount of GHG emitted by power plants and farm machinery is less in comparison with meat production. At the same time, vegetarian products require less land to feed the global population. According to Lacour et al., a 35% reduction in meat consumption can lead to “a 24% decrease in diet-related land use” (7). Additionally, vegan diets may lessen land use by up to 50%-60% if adopted globally (Lacour et al. 7). These statistics lead to the conclusion that more land can be preserved in its natural state, which leads to improved biodiversity.
Some researchers believe that most studies in the field of diet choices influencing environmental situations are based on hypothetical data. According to Rosi et al., eating habits’ effects on the environment have been analyzed through Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) method to single foodstuffs or food groups (1). LCA can fail to reflect the real-life choices of people and their actual effect on the environmental situation (Rosi et al. 1).
Rosi et al. also state that interdisciplinary research is needed to acquire a more realistic picture of the issue (2). In their study, they found no statistically essential differences in effects on environmental situation produced by omnivorous, lactovegetarian, and vegan diets (6). In summary, the method utilized by most specialists in the sphere can be considered outdated, and the results acquired from their research should be revised.
While there are obvious benefits of conducting interdisciplinary studies, there is no accepted framework for such researches. Rosi et al.’s approach lack universality, as it is based upon a limited cohort of 153 Italians. Moreover, the study does not discuss the energy intake of food procession and associated adverse effects of animal products transportation in storage. Even though the study is a valuable insight into the matter, it can be used only to inform the general population that individual eating habits can lead to degradation of the environmental situation.
At the same time, LCA is a reasonable approach approved by most of the researchers in the sphere. In short, while the influence of dietary habits on the global environment is a complicated matter, LCA is a well-established method to acquire relevant scientific data.
Before coming up to a conclusion, it worth mentioning that all the statistics presented in the paper are extrapolations based on data gathered from unprepared people. In practice, environmental effects may differ considerably, if the proposed strategy to replace animal products with agricultural ones is accepted globally. Additionally, such a shift may lead to adverse economic effects, as livestock farming is a considerable contributor to the global financial system. However, pro-vegetarian diets are considered to be healthier than omnivorous ones and are more likely to be able to feed the global population in the future. Therefore, the question of whether a plant-based diet can improve the environmental situation may require further research.
The environmental state of the Earth is a matter of concern due to the greenhouse effect, decrease of biological diversity, and pollution. While some of the approaches towards improving the situation are straightforward, such measure as the reduction of animal products consumption worldwide is a matter of discussion. While there is an immense body of evidence supporting the idea that a global shift towards pro-vegetarian diets can improve the environmental situation, all the conclusions acquired from these studies are extrapolations that may not be representing the actual situation.
However, the approach utilized by most of the authorities in the matter is globally accepted as a relevant method of obtaining scientific data. Therefore, the transition to a plant-based diet consisting of locally produced foods can ensure the preservation of the ecological balance and improve the health status of the global population.
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Lacour, Camille, et al. “Environmental Impacts of Plant-Based Diets: How Does Organic Food Consumption Contribute To Environmental Sustainability?” Frontiers in Nutrition, vol 5, 2018. Frontiers Media SA. Web.
Rosi, Alice et al. “Environmental Impact of Omnivorous, Ovo-Lacto-Vegetarian, and Vegan Diet”. Scientific Reports, vol 7, no. 1, 2017. Springer Nature. Web.