Go to any Whole Foods and you will see a variety of terminology describing a "new way" of raising farmed animals: local, organic, sustainable, free-range, etc. While it is certainly optimistic that the environmental and ethical impact of our diet has come into the collective awareness, we must pause to question how "green" this new meat really is.
While supposedly sustainable, free-range beef and dairy cows are not gobbling up as much grain, they are drinking notably more water than a factory farmed animal because they are more active. As byproducts of their metabolism, they are still producing methane and nitrous oxide, a dangerous greenhouse gas almost 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And it takes vast amounts of land to graze these cows, land that was once habitat to wildlife and endangered species.
Furthermore, a closer look at the production and distribution mechanisms behind self-proclaimed "local", "sustainable", and "free-range" animal products reveals that they are not the green superstars many in the local food movement believe them to be.
When we think of eating green, we often think of locally produced food as being the most ecological choice. Local eating is the latest eco buzz. People want to know how "green" their tomato is. Is it an island hopper with pages of stamps in its passport, or is it a down home local from the farmer's market?
Buying and eating regionally is a principled pursuit, however few people realize that in terms of eating carbon consciously, choosing a tomato is always a better option than choosing an animal product regardless of the proximity of its production.
While buying regionally grown and produced food is often good for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, choosing a plant-based product over an animal product reduces our environmental impact significantly more. Upon deeper investigation into production, local animal products have far more environmental impact than a tomato with a tropical tan.