Vegetarianism has gained popularity in the United States, where over 20 million Americans follow a vegetarian-inclined diet. The reasons for the switch range from health concerns to questions over animal cruelty to environmental awareness. A mixed diet with meat is ecologically expensive because of the large carbon footprint of livestock farming. However, there is another twist concerning whether that veggie burger is really the green choice.
The Cost of Processing
One of the risks of eating meat comes from processed foods. The same risk, however, exists with veggie burgers, particularly those made with soy. Processing introduces a myriad of chemicals into the foods you eat that you may not know about.
Veggie burgers, for example, are made using a chemical called hexane to extract oils from the final product. The problem is that hexane exposure can cause a host of health effects, including depression of the central nervous system, dermatitis and nausea. If you’re concerned about environmental impacts of a meat-based diet, these are valid drawbacks.
Livestock and Energy Costs
One of the reasons that some may choose to follow a vegetarian lifestyle may lie with health concerns over antibiotic use in factory farms. While the FDA has recognized the problem, little headway has been made to alleviate the health risks associated with antibiotic use in livestock.
One of the drawbacks of eating meat is the environmental cost of bringing the product to market. However, a study by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology and the Agroscope Reckenholz-Tänikon Research Station in Switzerland found that while eating veggie burgers has less of an impact on global warming, it requires the same amount of energy to produce as a meat burger.
The Farm Stage
The farm stage has the largest carbon footprint during meat production. An alternative that has less of an environmental impact is grass-fed beef. It is a healthier choice in terms of antibiotic resistance. Energy use is minimized by feeding livestock this type of diet. It alleviates some of the concerns regarding animal welfare. For those wanting to green up their lifestyle, it may offer a viable option.
The facts about veggie burgers show how important it is to research and know what you’re eating. You may not be able to eliminate your carbon footprint, but you can make choices that have less of an environmental cost.