Depending on who you ask I am a vegetarian, flexitarian, freegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, broke, and/or someone who overthinks their diet. With the exception of the last one, all of these descriptions are technically inaccurate. I don’t eat meat, unless the food will otherwise be thrown away and my consumption of it will not create an incentive to produce more meat. I am also lactose intolerant (and prone to forgetting my lactase pills) so I often avoid cheese and milk. Finally, as a Jew I don’t eat pig products, even if they will be thrown away (I also don’t eat meat from camels, hyraxs, or hares—but those are uncommon). Generally I just say I’m a vegetarian.
This isn’t an arbitrary set of rules. They are a heuristic that minimizes the environmental impact of my food consumption without demanding heavy research that, until lately, I did not have time for. I derived them from three basic premises: food production increases greenhouse gases; producing the average calorie of meat increases greenhouse gas emissions more than producing the average calorie of non-meat; and one’s food consumption influences what foods are produced. Given these premises, it makes sense to minimize one’s consumption of food, especially meat. Therefore eating only food that will otherwise be tossed is the ideal diet. After that, minimizing one’s meat consumption is the best hack job method of decreasing one’s carbon footprint. For me, this means being a vegetarian. For a lot of people I know (and me in the past and likely future), that means being a vegetarian five days a week and allowing a couple cheat days. The objective, in other words, is to minimize meat consumption—not to cultivate an unnecessary ‘purity or bust’ mindset.
There are a lot of problems with this approach to consumption. If a meat is locally produced and the animal in question is part of the farm’s ecosystem, it is likely better to eat that animal’s meat than a pile of almonds, grown on petroleum based fertilizers and sprayed with similarly produced pesticides, which have been cultivated as a monocrop in a drought stricken region halfway around the globe. I am thus beginning a project to determine the “optimal” diet, focusing exclusively on questions of environmental protection and prioritizing minimization of global warming and ocean acidification. From this diet, I hope to reverse engineer a method of eating that I will be able to follow consistently for the majority of my life. As I post piecemeal conclusions from my research on the site, I hope feedback on here shapes the direction I take the project.