Let me put it out there right away: I was born and raised vegetarian. As someone who came to vegetarianism by default, I have spent most of my life keeping quiet about it. I consider it a very personal matter and somehow feel like it's too deep of a topic to be evangelical about it. Furthermore, I can't even imagine what it's like to be raised on meat and how I would have responded.
That said, I grew up with people repeatedly questioning the health of vegetarianism and asking me ridiculous questions like, "where do you get your protein?" Even today, after decades of research, after a vegetarian/vegan was named Sportsman of the Century and Olympian of the Century, many people still have odd ideas and think a vegetarian diet isn't an adequate or healthy diet. (A few people have made comments to me along these lines just within recent weeks.) That gets old.
From all the research and science I've read on the matter, the findings of a new study from Loma Linda University don't surprise me at all. As I stated in the headline, it found that vegetarians (and also "semi-vegetarians") live 20% longer than omnivores. In addition, it found that they create about 33% less greenhouse gas emissions.
Since much of what I write about (solar energy, biking, and electric vehicles) I have become interested in out of a desire to stop global warming, I now feel a public obligation to cover the climate benefits of a vegetarian diet as well. Accounting for 18% to over 51% of greenhouse gas emissions (based on which study you consult), livestock production is a huge matter to tackle.
Regarding the current study, you may be wondering how many people were analyzed to come up with those health results — 10? 30? 100? No, this was a huge study. 73,000 participants were analyzed, with data collected over the course of decades. In fact, I'm quite confident that no other study on this topic comes close to this one in terms of participant diversity and depth of data.
"To our knowledge no studies have yet used a single non-simulated data set to independently assess the climate change mitigation potential and actual health outcomes for the same dietary patterns," said Joan Sabate, MD, DrPH, and co-author of the study noted.
I think the following quote captures the key finding in a very clever and pointed way:
Tag on global warming and climate change to see the results get even more extreme.
Will this change anything with the general populace? Will people stop asking, "but where do you get your protein?" Will people stop saying, "I like the idea but I can't go vegetarian for health reasons" and other variations of that?
Unlikely. But I hope the study will encourage more people to take the leap and adopt a vegetarian diet, or at least a semi-vegetarian diet.
If we want to prevent runaway global warming and climate change, we need this.
If you want to read more about the health benefits of going vegetarian, also see: Vegetarians at a Lower Risk for Heart Disease, Stroke