Become Vegetarian

Planetary Benefits Of A Vegetarian Diet

Become vegetarian and help save the planet. Many vegetarians choose not to eat meat for ethical and health reasons, but there is another important deterrent to eating meat - the environmental cost.

One of the major benefits of a vegetarian diet is that it reduces the demand on the meat industry. Meat production methods cause severe damage to the environment and involve an unsustainable use of water and fossil fuel. If you can’t resist eating meat at least try to reduce your meat intake and eat only organic meat.

planet sprouting leaves

Cost To The Environment

In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization produced a report titled Livestock’s Long Shadow –Environmental Issues and Options. This report called for urgent action to remedy the hugely detrimental impact that meat production has on the environment.

According to the FAO, the environmental consequences of meat production include land degradation, climate change, air and water pollution, water shortages, deforestation and loss of biodiversity. Measured as a percentage of human-related emissions, global meat production produces:

  • 6% of CO2 emissions
  • 65% of nitrous oxide emissions
  • 37% of methane emissions and
  • 64% of ammonia emissions.
The FAO estimates that meat production accounts for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is greater even than the transport sector.

Water And Fossil Fuel Usage

More than 8% of global human water use goes towards meat production, mainly in the irrigation of feed crops. David Pimentel, a Professor of Insect Ecology and Agricultural Science at Cornell University in New York, has calculated the water and energy required to produce meat in comparison to other foods. Producing one kilo of beef requires 43,000 litres of water. As comparison, 1kg of potatoes requires 500 litres of water and 1kg of soybeans requires 2000 litres of water.

Dr Pimental also analysed that beef production requires 40 kilocalories (kcal) of fossil fuel for every kcal of protein produced for human consumption. By comparison grain production requires an average 3.3 kcal of fossil fuel for every kcal of protein produced. Read this Australian Broadcasting Commision interview with Dr Pimental for some interesting insights to food sustainability.

On the topic of the world food shortage Dr Pimental comments that, “I think we could feed the world population of 6.2-billion with the food that is being produced in the world, but then Australians and Americans would have to cut back on their meat, milk and egg consumption.”

Become Vegetarian And Help Save The Planet

One of the most effective ways to help the environment is to become vegetarian. Driving a hybrid car, using energy efficient light-bulbs and recycling your waste are excellent steps to take, but as individuals eating a vegetarian diet is the most effective way to reduce our carbon footprint.

One Chicago University study found that changing to a vegetarian diet was more effective than driving a Prius. Kathy Freston, Health and Wellness Expert at the Huffington Post states it beautifully in this article, Vegetarian is the New Prius :

“Now that we know a greener diet is even more effective than a greener car, we can make a difference at every single meal, simply by leaving the animals off of our plates. Who would have thought: what's good for our health is also good for the health of the planet!”

Reduce Your Meat Intake

Many people have a habit of eating meat every day, which is not necessary given the wide variety of healthy foods available. Even if you'd never choose to become vegetarian, eating meat-free several days a week can help the planet too.

The Australian Better Health Initiative defines the daily recommended serving of lean meat, fish, poultry, nuts and legumes to be 65-100gm cooked meat/chicken. This equates to ½ cup mince, 2 small chops or 2 slices roast meat. (This seems small compared to the actual serving size I usually see heaped on a meat-eaters plate!)

If everyone who read this page replaced one meat-based meal each week with a vegetarian meal, they’d consume approximately 5.2 kg less meat annually. Per individual, that’s 223,600 litres of water and 208,000kcal of fossil fuel saved each year.

If one person every day reads this page and decides to cut out a weekly serving of meat that’s a total of 1898kg less meat eaten annually. That would save 81,614,000 litres of water and 75,920,000 kcal of fossil fuel energy. That’s more than 32 Olympic swimming pools and over 9000 litres petrol.* Aren't you tempted to become vegetarian, at least for one day a week?

"Pass up one hamburger, and you’ll save as much water as you save by taking 40 showers with a low-flow nozzle." - Ed Ayres, of the World Watch Institute.

Vegetarian Protein Sources

It is rare for people who have become vegetarian but still eat a varied diet to be short of protein, as long as they’re eating enough calories. Protein occurs in all living cells, so everything you eat is a protein source. The Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand states that all of the necessary amino acids in protein can be provided in the amounts needed from plant sources.

Most adults need between 0.75 grams (for women) and 0.84 grams (for men) of protein for every kilogram of body weight, with special dietary needs such as pregnancy or breastfeeding demanding a little more.

There are many sources of vegetarian protein in foods that provide high protein alternatives to meat, such as soy products, hempseeds, spirulina, legumes, nuts, seeds, yeast, and freshwater algae.

In the lean meat, fish, poultry, nuts and legumes category (one serving recommended daily) The Australian Better Health Initiative lists the following as being an equivalent to 65-100g cooked meat/chicken, or 80-120g in cooked fish fillet:

  • 2 small eggs
  • 1/2 cup cooked dried beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas or canned beans
  • 1/3 cup peanuts/almonds.

Eat Only Organic Meat

Eating organic meat is a much better health choice than eating meat contaminated by pesticides, drugs and growth hormones that have moved up the food chain from feed to beast.

As well as being free from harmful toxins, organic meat has higher levels of omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, beneficial minerals, essential amino acids and vitamins. Organic livestock farming methods promote health in both animals and the environment through lower stock levels, higher rotations, high animal welfare standards, healthy feeds and pastures and reduced stress to stock.

If you're not willing or able to give up eating meat and become vegetarian at this time, eat less meat and buy it organic. Check out the advantages of being a flexitarian - that is, predominantly vegetarian but occasionally allowing meat in your diet for social or health reasons, or simply because sometimes you really crave meat.

Best Vegetarian Recipes

As you consider a vegetarian lifestyle you might want to browse through some really excellent vegetarian recipes! This site has vegetarian lunch ideas and vegetarian dinner ideas and so much more. Check them out at

If you're looking for inspiration for a vegetarian main course, there are more great vegetarian recipes available at

These are my favourite vegetarian recipe sites and trying all their recipes is keeping me busy and inspired! You'll be amazed at the delicious dishes you can create when you become vegetarian.

As you investigate a healthy vegetarian diet you will probably come across several myths and stereotypes about vegetarians. As you can read in this article on Vegetarianism and Health , a balanced plant-based diet is a very healthy choice.

* I couldn’t believe those figures myself and I’ve already double-checked. But feel free, I used information from Pimentel’s report on the Cornell University website (Pimental gives the figure of 56kcal per 1kcal beef protein in some reports, I took the conservative measurement of 40kcal), USDA figures ( 1gram 85% lean beef has 0.25 grams protein = 1kcal protein, 100g 85% lean beef = 100kcal protein, therefore at 40kcal fossil fuel per 1kcal beef 100kcal beef protein = 4000kcal fossil fuel), and energy conversion websites.

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