If you had to make a choice to omit one ingredient from one of America’s favorite sandwiches, The BLT, which would you choose? Without the bacon or the lettuce, there’s no BLT, but if it meant being more environmentally friendly, which ingredient would you choose?
For years, vegetarians have been eating what many think is a more eco-friendly diet, but new research shows that some vegetables, like lettuce, may be harder on the environment due to increases in water, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions. A new study released from Carnegie Mellon University found that if Americans were to strictly follow the Agriculture Department’s dietary recommendations, there would be a 38 percent increase in energy, 10 percent increase in water use, and a 6 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
What Should You Eat?
As we try to follow dietary guidelines and improve our food choices, there always seems to be contradicting information about what’s actually “good or bad” for you. While lettuce is a better food choice, it produces three times as more greenhouse gas emissions than bacon and while bacon may have a lower greenhouse gas emissions, the World Health Organization says it can give you cancer. It’s not as easy as saying that “produce is bad, meat is good”, because that would be a false statement. Lettuce and bacon aren’t the only offenders, basically every food will make some sort of environmental impact.
In the Carnegie Mellon University study, researchers found that fruits have the largest water and energy footprint per calorie while meat and seafood have the highest greenhouse gas emissions per calorie. Perhaps the best way to make less of an environmental footprint would be to to get health and weight under control. By eating fewer calories, researchers suggested a positive impact on the environment by decreasing water, energy, and greenhouse gas emissions by 9%.
Be a More Mindful Consumer
Not only would eating fewer calories be advantageous for your health and the environment, but wasting less food can decrease energy use. With approximately 31% of food produced in the United States wasted, it not only results in a financial setback of about $162 billion lost, but wasted food can lead to an increase of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly when looking at the diesel fuel or fertilizer that’s used. University of Missouri researchers concluded that although meat is wasted less, on average, it has more of an impact on greenhouse gas emissions than produce that is wasted.
Therefore, it is recommended that consumers, who want to make sure they have “enough food prepared”, should make an excess of vegetables rather than meat. However, the practice of food waste should be avoided as much as possible. Getting in the habit of making what you need is not only good for your health, when tracking calories, but it will decrease your chance of tossing out food.
While there is no clear answer as to whether or not bacon or lettuce is the biggest environmental offender, since you must look at the big picture, moderation and mindful consumerism are good ways to counteract environmental degradation. You don’t have to ditch bacon, as long as you don’t eat it all the time and you can try less environmental damaging produce like broccoli, carrots, and brussel sprouts.