Environmental and Natural Resource Economics

Second Major



Trandafir, Simona

Advisor Department

Environmental and Natural Resource Economics




Animal Agriculture, Meat Consumption, Environmental Impacts, Plant-Based Diets, Diet Choices

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.


How sustainable is our food system? An investigation of diet choices and their environmental impacts

Food is often thought of as a commodity, when fundamentally it is our nourishment and foundation of life. In the United States, it appears as if we have a functional food system, but in reality what we have is an unsustainable system of industrialized agriculture perpetuated by a disproportionate allocation of resources. Current consumer behavior within our food system is detrimental to future environmental and human well being, ultimately exacerbating the timing and magnitude of global climate change.

With negative impacts of climate change looming over our heads, many people believe that there is little a single individual can do to reduce our global environmental footprint. This leads us to the false notion that making small changes in our daily routine (taking shorter showers, driving electric vehicles, investing in solar panels, recycling, etc.) will satisfy our individual necessity to combat climate change. While those incremental changes in lifestyle may be beneficial, the heart of the problem associated with climate change is a result of consumer choices within the food market. Specifically, our excessive consumption of meat and dairy.

A change in diets, and therefore a change in consumer behavior, may be more effective than combatting climate change with technological mitigation strategies alone. At the very least, a reduction in consumption of meats and dairy products is essential to avoid further negative environmental impacts. Reducing meat consumption will create tangible benefits almost immediately through reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and decreased pressure on land and water use. At this point, detrimental effects of climate change are imminent, and a major shift needs to take place soon in order to ensure the prosperity of future generations on this planet.

This project aims to investigate and outline the human and environmental health benefits of plant-based diets as compared to an average American diet. A qualitative benefit-cost analysis is conducted in attempt to assess the desirability of a plant-based diet. The benefit-cost analysis will be based on the assumption that non-meat eaters in the US will increase by 10%, resulting in 13% of the population on a plant-based diet over a 25-year period. The outcome of this analysis, in combination with investigatory research, seeks to provide a foundation upon which feasible recommendations are constructed. In addition, by placing an emphasis on locally sourced plant-based consumption, solutions for a sustainable future with a real world application are explored.