In a couple of recent articles for Mother Jones, "dyed-in-the-wool" vegetarian Kiera Butler explores whether vegetarianism is always better than eating meat ... and tries her first hamburger.
Like many vegetarians, Butler says she assumed that her dietary choices were always better than those of her meat-eating friends. "Aren't my salads, cage-free egg sandwiches, and veggie burgers always better for the planet than any kind of meat—no matter how responsibly it's raised?" she asks. After talking to various experts, however, she discovers that the issue is a lot more complex.
Although pure, unprocessed vegetables generally have a lighter environmental impact, protein alternatives – foods like tofu, veggie burgers, and fakin' bacon – could be worse than beef. That's grass-fed beef, to be specific, which might have a positive effect on the land and soil. (Whether raising grass-fed cows is sustainable in terms of greenhouses gases is debated.) But even vegetables don't escape criticism in the articles, which ultimately reveal that there are no simple answers.