FOOD 15th March 2017

Diet Ethics: In the quest to save planet earth, should you eat meat or plants?


Did you know your food choices carry a carbon footprint? It’s not as obvious as the car you may drive or the dish soap you use, but food production is one of the biggest contributors to global warming.

The paleo and vegan movements have come into prominence over the past decade, to address, not only our nutritional needs, but provide sustainable ways to coexist with nature. Except, that’s where their similarities end.

Vegans believe meat consumption is destroying the planet, whilst proponents of paleo eschew the very thought of a meatless world and consider animal farming vital to the state of the planet. 

So who’s right? Let’s consider some facts.

VEGAN’S, who limit their diet to plant-based foods only, are right when it comes to the damage caused by factory farming methods. Livestock are confined to crowded spaces and fed grains they are unable to metabolize.  Sadly, it doesn’t end there. These same farming methods employ the use of antibiotics to enhance the size of their stock, releasing toxic chemicals into the environment.

According to

  1. About 10 billion land animals in the United States are raised for dairy, meat, and eggs each year.
    Factory farming accounts for 37% of methane (CH4) emissions, which has more than 20 times the global warming potential of CO2.
  2. Manure can also contain traces of salt and heavy metals, which can end up in bodies of water and accumulate in the sediment, concentrating as they move up the food chain.
  3. When manure is repeatedly over applied to farmland it causes dangerous levels of phosphorus and nitrogen in the water supply. In such excessive amounts, nitrogen robs water of oxygen and destroys aquatic life.
  4. Burning fossil fuels to produce fertilizers for animal feed crops may emit 41 million metric tons of CO2 per year.

In other words, factory farming methods intoxicate the land we live off, not just the food we derive from it.

PALEO’S, whose diet consists of meat, but more broadly, anything our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate, would probably agree with the vegan concerns. However, the methods described above are not in line with paleo principles.

A true paleo diet consists of meat from grass-fed sources, but also includes things like wild caught fish, root vegetables, and some fruits. None of which are sourced from factory farms. According to Lierre Keith, a food justice writer, farmer and environmental activist, paleo farming ‘builds topsoil, requires no fossil fuel, supports local farmers, repairs habitat and waterways, and sequesters (removes) carbon.’ 

And it doesn’t end there, biologist Allan Savory provided, what most regard, as one of the most provocative conversations on how to reverse climate change. In his 2013 TED Talk, Savory, who has studied the environment for over 50 years, argues that deserted farmlands in some of the worlds poorest nations are actually releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, than the burning of fossil fuels.

To reverse climate change, Savory argues that we must fully adopt livestock grazing: an agricultural practice where animals such as cows are allowed to feed off grass and forage, for conversion into meat, milk and other products.  The dung left behind by the animals contains enough nutrients to replenish the land back to its natural fertile state, therefore better for the environment.

So who won your vote? Will you be going meat free, or sticking with grass fed beef? Advocates of both vegan and paleo movements defend their cause with an almost religious zeal, but ultimately both carry scientific clout. I encourage you to read further and have provided some useful links below.

As always, pushing for health. 

Image Source: Getty Images