The Tofu that Ate New York

Sensational, misleading headline of the day: “Becoming Vegetarian ‘Can Harm the Environment.’”

Oddly, the content of this bogus article from the UK Daily Telegraph contradicts its own headline, quoting the author of the study it purports to address:  “Simply eating more bread, pasta and potatoes instead of meat is more environmentally friendly.”

Let me see if I follow:  going veggie is bad for the environment. But eating bread, pasta and potatoes (all plant-based, vegetarian foods last time I checked) is better for the environment than eating meat.

Leaving no moronic stone uncovered, the intrepid Telegraph reporter exposed tofu’s deep, dark secret, hidden in a study commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund. Soybeans for tofu, stop the presses, are not widely grown in the UK. So when British vegetarians start multiplying (after all, if they eat like rabbits, they might very well like them too), demand in the UK could prompt an increase in soybean acreage, and thus cause land degradation overseas. Tofu, you see, will eventually destroy the planet.

So, it’s true: becoming vegetarian can harm the environment – but only if by becoming vegetarian one intends to eat nothing but tofu.

Now, you may not be surprised to find that this isn’t exactly what the British study says. The study didn’t examine only substituting tofu for meat. In addition to tofu, the authors assumed vegetarians might replace their meats with some pulse-based products and Quorn (yes, Quorn, a fungi-based mycoprotein food product. Yum.)

Which suggests one of two things is going on: either the study’s authors don’t know a lot of vegetarians, or the reputation of British cuisine also applies to the vegetarian food eaten in the Isles.

While the meat-industrial complex is no doubt salivating over the Daily Telegraph’s half-assed story, here’s what the study actually concluded:  “….a reduction in consumption of livestock products could play a significant role in any deep and long-term abatement strategy to cut emissions from the UK’s food chain.” The authors also noted that “There is a growing body of scientific research that highlights the importance of cutting meat and dairy consumption both for environmental reasons, but also because of the potential health benefits to be gained.”

Sorry to burst your bubble, livestock industry, but it turns out that you can’t say that eating turd burgers will help save the planet.  (Well, actually, you can say it, and major media outlets will help you spread the word.  But your pants will be on fire.)

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2 Comments

  1. Posted February 15, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Any post recommending tofu should include the adjective “organic” in front of tofu, Charles. I was horrified to learn how hard it is for farmers to grow organic soybeans, now that Monstanto controls most of the seeds in the USA, and they are genetically-modified. (Watch Food, Inc.) Ugh! Maybe the UK has used more sense and their tofu is still organic?

  2. Posted February 16, 2010 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    Alexandra, thanks for your note! While consumers should know that non-organic soy products are likely from GMO soy, there are still many organic options for tofu and other soy products (in fact, one of the world’s largest non-GMO and organic soy producers is based in the US, see http://www.ussoy.com).