What Defines the Ecotarian?

05 December 2018

By Simone LamersGoedBegin.blog

If you make your food choices based on sustainability, you can call yourself an ecotarian. As a starting ecotarian, it can be hard to decide which choices are actually less encumbering for our planet. As soon as you have to look further than CO2 emission and usage of water issues as transportation, origin, deforestation and land use make it rather difficult to make your decisions. Luckily it becomes easier with the right basic knowledge and a few tips. This first post of two, explains which choices the ecotarian avoids. The second will update you about all the ecotarian-proof choices.

The difference in impact between animal and plant-based food

Chart 1

The chart gives a relative comparison on CO2 emission and water usage* between different types of meat, dairy and ecotarian options per daily portion. The portion sizes in the chart are based on recommendations of the Dutch Centre of Nutrition). Obviously, also land use, soil acidification, pollution, pesticides and method of production contribute to the total impact. Still, the chart gives a clear indication on the relative impact of the different products. For more detailed numbers, scroll down to the table at the bottom of this page.

What does the ecotarian avoid?

 As far as the rejection of meat by traditional vegetarians’ concerns, it is based on the suffering of animals. The ecotarian however makes the same decision considering the impact of our food on the planet. A vegetarian would choose two eggs or 50 grams of cheese instead of meat. However, now that numbers show consumption of cheese and dairy products greatly contributes to global warming as well, and that consumption of fish comes with its own down sides, it becomes clear that these options are not ideal either.


If you look at the chart focusing on meat products, you will see that one serving of 100 gram of beef costs 1542 litres of water averaged globally and 5,8 kilograms of CO2 emission. Even though European beef is produced more efficiently than in other parts of the world, everywhere a piece of cow’s meat strongly stresses the planet with CO2 emission and water use. If you find it hard to reduce the amount of meat you eat, please try to at least reduce the amount of beef. That also means steak.

Lamb and sheep meat are not included in the chart, but the total impact on the planet of these products is high and lies between beef and pork (The Hidden Impact, Babette Porcelijn). Despite the fact that pork might seem innocent compared to beef, it still is too harmful for the environment to be a proper ecotarian option. Clearly, chicken is the least harmful.

Not only for supper, but also with breakfast and lunch, significant amounts of meat are consumed. So, when trying to reduce your meat consumption, definitely take a close look at your breakfast and lunch. A serving of 100 grams is often considered a ‘small’ portion, but really more is neither required or healthy. Red and processed meat is related with seizures, diabetes type 2 and cancer. The ecotarian, who wants to merrily and healthily continue this life, will see meat as a treat for the weekend and festivities.

If you do choose to eat meat, choose locally produced and go to the butcher or farmer’s market. This avoids unnecessary transport kilometers and harmful steps in the production chain. Game that is shot in game season is a decent option and meat from male animals as roosters, bulls and billy-goats is also accepted on your ecotarian plate. In addition, goose, dove, canal-lobster, muskrats, and crows are promoted as alternative meat source by sustainable initiatives.

Cheese, dairy and eggs

Cheese, dairy and eggs can be considered a better option than meat. However, looking at the chart, these products still show a much higher CO2 emission than plant-based products. For these products all harmful steps in the entire production chain are still required; deforestation for acres of feed, growth and production of feed, use of water, transportation, methane emission, processing in factories, packaging and cooling….

Let us take cheese as an example. For the production of the accepted daily portion of 40 grams, roughly for one sandwich, the graph shows 205 litres of water are required. Counting the cheddar, feta, camembert and mozzarella you eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, most people eat more than 40 gram a day. No matter how addictive cheese can be, try to reduce the amount of cheese you eat.

When buying eggs, choose eggs that are produced as sustainable as possible. Several initiatives work techniques and farming methods that reduce climate impact and increase animal welfare. Milk, yogurt and other dairy option can be substituted by their plant-based alternatives. These are fortified with the required nutrients and have a much lower impact on the planet.


Sorry guys, eating fish is not always an environmentally friendly alternative either. The total impact of fish consumption is high and lies between the impact of pork and sheep (The Hidden Impact, Babette Porcelijn). This impact however, is not so much related to CO2 emission, more to overfishing, damage to ecosystems and a negative impact on biodiversity.

Depending on the fishing method boats use a lot of fuel and energy. With this in mind, tuna, flounder, swordfish, shrimp, lobster and crab are definitely no good alternatives for an ecotarian dinner. Neither are scampi and gamba as they are caught on, and transported from the other side of the world. If you choose to eat fish, choose local fish and buy fish with sustainable quality marks.

Curious for ecotarian-proof options?

Read about meat- and dairy replacers, bugs, insects and pulses in the follow up of this post.

Table 1

Product Daily portion CO2 

(kg/kg product)


(kg/daily portion)

Water usage

(L/kg product)

Water usage

(L/daily portion)

Milk 150 ml 2 0.3 1020 153
Soymilk 150 ml 0.8 0.12 296** 44.4
Egg 120 gr (2 eggs) 5.1 612 3300 396
Cheese 40 gr (for 1,5 sandwich) 12.9 516 5100 204
Legumes** 70 gr () 0,9*** 63 4055 283.85
Walnuts 25 gr (1 handful) 2.3*** 0.0575 9000 225
Chicken 100 gr 13.4 1.34 4325 432.5
Pork 100 gr 14.3 1.43 6000 600
Beef 100 gr 57.9 5.79 15415 1541.5

*water use is the total global average of fresh water sources, rain water and water required to clean pollution caused by production. This concerns water for growing feed crops, drinking water for the animals, service water for cleaning of stables and cows and water used in meat processing. The CO2 emission and water use values are based on calculations of


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