Eating vegetables might be better for you, but whether it's any better for the environment is currently up for debate. A study from Carnegie Mellon University found that adhering to the newly-adjusted FDA recommendations to eat more fruits, vegetables, dairy and seafood is actually worse for the environment since these foods use more resources and emit more greenhouse gasses per calorie.
“Eating lettuce is over three times worse in greenhouse gas emissions than eating bacon,” said Paul Fischbeck, one of the authors of the study that looked at the environmental impact resulting from the production of 1,000 calories worth of different foods. “Lots of common vegetables require more resources per calorie than you would think. Eggplant, celery and cucumbers look particularly bad when compared to pork or chicken.” (For the record, Fischbeck explained that beef and lamb are worse than pork and chicken and that beef produces more emissions than lettuce.)
Of course, this isn’t the first attack against salad. Lettuce often gets flak for having a number of failings; for instance, it requires a lot of resources to grow but doesn’t have much caloric or nutritional value and can spoil relatively quickly. The problem with these sorts of proclamations, however, is that they typically don’t take into account the reality of how people eat. Someone could probably create a highly-nutritious gruel that minimizes all environmental impact, but most people don’t want to shovel that into their mouths three meals a day.
Still, you can’t necessarily dismiss research like the study from Carnegie Mellon entirely. When they claim that switching to the new FDA diet produces six percent more greenhouse gasses than the average American’s current diet, it serves as a reminder that all of our food choices are a tradeoff. There really is no perfect diet that will precisely balance both our own health and the planet’s; at least that science has figured out. Until I invent that gruel. Patent pending.