Going vegetarian is a better way to reduce your carbon footprint than buying local, according to a new study published in the journal Global Food Security.
Researchers found that in the European Union, the average person’s annual diet contributes the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as driving 2,738 miles in a car. Meat and dairy products are responsible for 75 percent of that pollution.
The typical U.S. diet likely results in a similar carbon footprint because Americans eat just as much dairy (and even more beef) than do people overseas, says study author Vilma Sandström, a researcher at the University of Helsinki in Finland. Animal products are worse for the environment than crops are because livestock, and the agricultural processes needed to raise them, create more carbon emissions.
The environmental incentive of buying locally grown foods and dining at farm-to-table restaurants is that it reduces emissions because the food doesn’t need to be transported. But apples to apples, the researchers say that going vegetarian reduces your carbon footprint even more.
If you’re not ready to convert, eat vegetarian one day a week (these plant-based foods are great for longevity), make your meat and dairy portions smaller, or switch from red meat to chicken or fish, Sandström says.