While I love EWG’s information on body care and household products, I think they misrepresent the impact of meat on their meat eaters guide.
The crux of the problem as I see it is they measure CO2 output per kilogram of food. But the need for nutrition isn’t measured in kilograms but rather calories. And lets face facts you’re not getting your fat or protein from a tomato or vitamin c from beef. Once you’ve met your macro-nutrient needs certainly you can exchange an egg for a tomato, but you can’t live on low CO2 tomatoes alone.
Another consideration besides calories is getting sufficient protein, admittedly the average American has no problem far exceeding that need, but with a largely vegetarian diet that can be harder. Generally speaking no matter if you’re an omnivore or vegetarian, finding sources of fat and carbs isn’t terribly hard.
I worked up a table comparing a few foods along EWG’s spectrum of foods. First off admittedly beef emissions are way higher than tofu or lentils. But you also have to ask, is it really worth swapping chicken for tofu at just half a Kg of CO2 per 500 calories? While EWG will have you believe beef is 13 times worse than tofu, if you’re counting calories its really only about 4 times the emissions.
|CO2 (Kg) per 500 calories
|CO2 (Kg) per 100 grams protein
Having said all that yes there is reduced CO2 output from plant based protein sources, but not necessarily in a significant manner. At the same time if you like to eat beef and lamb and swap in pork or chicken you’ll make a huge impact. Where I disagree is they focus on the downsides of factory farming, yet give mass agriculture a pass – ignoring the impact of fertilizers, pesticides, etc. In the end I agree with many of EWG’s conclusions to pick better raised meats and locally raised foods – and while I agree there are differences between meat and non-meat protein sources the severity of the difference isn’t always as great as suggested.