In the past few years I have changed my diet to be (mostly) a weekday vegetarian. If I’m honest this change was aided by also switching to one of the weekly meal kit boxes. I signed up for the vegetarian box and through it gained many delicious vegetarian recipes.
Vegetarian on its own isn’t automatically a path to reduced environmental impact. But Rose, Willits-Smith, and Heller (2022) found that switching just one food item a day for a more environmentally friendly option can have a significant impact on personal carbon and water impacts.
Industrially raised beef is widely accepted as having one of the highest environmental impacts of all food items. In the US, 20% of people consume beef daily. For these people, switching out a serving of daily beef for chicken or pork reduces the carbon footprint by almost 50% and water footprint by about 30%. Sadly, they didn’t compare substituting beef with vegetarian equivalents.
They did however make a few other comparisons. The most significant changes were switching out shrimp for cod, peas for asparagus, and soy milk for dairy milk.
What I appreciate in this study is that it recognizes that most people aren’t going to make whole scale changes. It looks at what one daily change could do. I got rid of meat during the week, but I did that after I had already adopted some diet changes. And, as I mentioned, the meal kits made a difference. It took a lot of effort out of making the switch, making it possible to have nutritious and tasty meals without all the searching and meal planning.
While, single daily changes by individuals isn’t going to solve climate change or water scarcity, small changes are steps to bigger ones. Making one food change can be a stepping stone to other food changes and to other potential changes like walking or biking to one spot that you would normally drive to.