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Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products, and Services Excerpt from Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products, and Services

by Adria Vasil


The Union of Concerned Scientists says that being a vegetarian is one of the top things you can do for the environment. Not that vegetarians should presume their own eco righteousness. Beans, the veg-head protein of choice, aren't necessarily all that holy. Brazil, the second-largest soy producer after the US, has been tearing down rainforests not only for beef but for, gasp, soy. Large soy farms there have been linked to poor working conditions, slave labor, and high levels of pesticide use. And it's not just rainforests that are losing ground. Half of Brazil's soy comes from savannas once teeming with 90,000 insect species, 550 birds, and 150 mammals (including jaguars) that are now being pushed out by soy monoculture, according to the WWF. But, tofu lovers -- and this is a big but -- the vast majority of soy is grown for cattle feed, not human feed. So you're generally off the hook for rainforest destruction. More good news? A moratorium on growing soy in freshly cleared rainforest seems to have curbed deforestation for soy, but we'll see if that trend holds as commodity prices go through the roof.

If you're as uncomfortable with the unknown impacts of playing god with crops, as, oh, all of Europe is, you'll be perturbed to learn that 85% of American soy (and over half the world's) is genetically modified -- patented by Monsanto (the notorious biotech company and manufacturer of Agent Orange; see page 77 for more on Monsanto). To add to the corporate soya plot, chemical giant DuPont owns Solae, which makes the heavily processed soy protein isolate found in Yves, SoLean, El Burrito, and Gardenburger products. Solae makes both GE-free and genetically engineered soy, so be sure to check with the brands (El Burrito admits it uses both; Yves says it's GE-free; SoLean and Gardenburger both say they're not GE-free). (For a full list of Solae products, check out the cobranded products in the media room at

Don't freak -- the planet is still better off for your being a veggie lover! To mediate any sins affiliated with the veg diet, always buy certified organic when you can. You can feel good knowing that your protein source, whether chickpeas or tempeh, was grown on a sustainable farm without chemical inputs or genetically modified seeds. Buying from local organic companies is even better, since less fuel is needed for transport. Health stores are loaded with organic meat alternatives.

Beans are the original vegetable protein of choice, and ambitious boys and girls can even get the dried kind in bulk. Those of us without the foresight to soak stuff overnight can get organic canned beans by brands like Eden in any health store (and Eden doesn't use bisphenol A linings in its cans). Organic tofu and flavored organic tempeh can be had almost everywhere. If you're one of those veg-heads who think eating anything that emulates meat is nasty, try nut burgers instead. For quick, protein-rich meals, look for frozen tofu vegetable lasagnas, veggie loaves, burritos, and the like in the freezer section (though frozen, packaged foods have a higher carbon footprint).

Top 6 Reasons To Go Vegetarian

1. It's a gas, gas, gas. Animals raised to feed our hunger for meat burp and, um, fart out more greenhouse gases than cars, trucks, and planes combined.

2. Tanking up. The average meat-centered diet essentially burns a gallon of fuel a day, twice what it takes to feed a vegan (according to Cornell's David Pimental).

3. Rainforest crunch. An area of rainforest larger than New York State is estimated to be destroyed every year for grazing land, says the WWF. In the last 5 months of 2007 alone, 1,250 square miles have vanished from Brazil's rainforest, according to the New York Times.

4. Saving Nemo. Over three-quarters of the world's fish stocks are on the verge of collapse, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

5. Dodging Dolly. You'll be steering clear of controversial cloned livestock recently okayed by the FDA.

6. Tainted love. You won't be munching on antibiotics, hormones, and dioxin-laced fats.

Omnivore vs. Vegetarian

Land area needed to feed the average omnivorous North American: 3½ acres

Land area needed to feed a vegetarian: ½ acre

The above is an excerpt from the book Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products & Services by Adria Vasil. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Reprinted from Ecoholic by Adria Vasil copyright (c)  2009 by Adria Vasil. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.