Is your meat filled diet ruining the world?

There is nothing better than a good steak. Medium rare, brown on the outside, succulent and red on the inside. A culinary delight. Well, at least for approximately 73% of the world population. The remaining 2.1 billion people will not find a lovingly prepared piece of meat on the plate, due to religion, ethical views, a lack of accessibility or simply because of individual taste. But besides these reasons, more and more people are changing their meat eating habits by virtue of environmental issues. So is the influence of meat on the environment really that powerful? And does changing your personal diet actually make a difference?

Picture by Alexandra Golovac from Unsplash


Water consumption as a reference value

For the production of most food a certain amount of water is used. For instance, to calculate the amount of water needed to produce 1kg of beef, many factors should be considered including: the water the animal drinks, the water the plants which are fed to the cow need to grow, the water which is necessary to services the farm and the water that is needed to process the meat to a certain product. In total, this leads to a final water consumption of about 15 000 litres for just one kilo of meat or four of the delicious, aromatic steaks. Or did one or the other already lose the appetite?

In contrast, the production of 1kg of tomatoes, cabbage, apples or potatoes varies from 214 to 822 litres of water. I should also mention, that the extent of the processing of the food correlates with the usage of water. Therefore, bread or pasta achieves proud values of about 1700 litres for 1 kg product as well.
Incidentally, with 300 litres for 1 litre of beer, relatively little water is required for the production of beer. With this information, one or the other readers may have already figured out how to contribute to climate change. 🙂

Picture Mukesh Sharma from Unsplash


Extent of intensive agriculture

Water is not the only resource that is tapped to produce your groceries. Deforestation is required, to establish more space for the cultivation of crops that is later fed to the animals, or further be processed to also vegetarian and vegan food, like palm oil. Since humans started cutting trees, about 46% of the trees worldwide has been felled. Besides the reduction of oxygen converting trees in the environment, there is agricultural pollution, caused by excessive use of fossil fuel, when servicing the fields. Theses drastically environmental changes lead to vast ocean dead zones, where the water is not supplied with oxygen. Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus end up in large amounts in the sea, while the amount of oxygen is reduced. This phenomenon is called eutrophication. Because of the increased levels of nitrogen, algae start to produce oxygen, but die because of all the nitrogen. Decomposers use the remaining oxygen to decompose the dead algae which finally results in no remaining oxygen. This leads to a mass extinction of sea animals.

Picture by Martin Dawson from Unsplash


It is already obvious that there are plenty of problems in our current food production system. A vegan as well as a meat based diet leaves traces in the consumption of our resources. It has to be mentioned though, that the production of meat has an incomparable higher impact on the environment than plant-based nutrition. Other animal-derived products, such as dairy or eggs represent a mediocre of resources needed for its production. Therefore, it can be concluded that a plant-based nutrition does constitute a difference for the environment. But what counts in every diet is not only if its plant-based or with also a nice steak every few weeks. Avoiding food that requires long transportation, eating organic and little processed food is the best way of keeping our ecological footprint small.

4 Responses to “Is your meat filled diet ruining the world?”

  1. Gabriela Eder says:

    I completely agree that we shouldn’t demonise a particular way of life. What I wanted to show in this article was that food production (any food), in the way it is currently done, has a high impact on the environment, which is of course different for different kinds of foods. I think it’s just important to know which foods could be a better option to reduce the individual’s environmental footprint. That brings me to the question of the sense of meat reduction when I take a flight to Bali the next day. I think that is a question of personal values. If I can’t do without my annual holiday, which requires a flight, why not reduce meat? Or cheap clothing delivered from developing countries? Or unnecessary packaging? Or…? And vice versa. If I “need” my steak every now and then, why not change my car for public transport? I think that with regard to the environment, everyone has to find their own individual way to make their contribution. And I completely agree that being vegan/vegetarian doesn’t necessarily mean a lower ecological footprint. As you mentioned, Emma. It’s about what we buy. Fortunately, we have this decision in our own hands. 🙂

  2. tharding1 says:

    I think it is important not to demonise a particular lifestyle. When we constantly single meat out for being a high footprint-food it alienates meat eaters – some of them will just shut off from the discourse around the impacts of diet on climate change. We should highlight reducing rather than stopping consumption and promote less impactful choices, for example consuming chicken instead of lamb and beef.

  3. Emma Barbier says:

    I really enjoyed reading your article, and I really like the topic you chose.

    I think its important for people to realize that being vegetarian or vegan doesn’t automatically mean you’re having a smaller ecological footprint. You really need to try and eat more locally grown foods and organic – in France when you go to the ‘Woolworth’ equivalent, you have big boards with the origin of the fruit and vegetables you are buying. This makes eating local food so much easier!

  4. Aimen Ksiksi says:

    This was a great read! I would like to ask for your opinion on having a minimal ecological footprint. The reduction or elimination of red meat from our diets is a great thing, both for our health and for the environment!

    However, from an ecological footprint point of view, that will all be negated the second you take a plane to your vacation to Bali or where ever. The amount of emissions a single airplane trip releases puts into consideration how we can truly mitigate our personal ecological footprints.

    Further read: