Environmentally Optimal, Nutritionally Sound, Protein and Energy Conserving Plant Based Alternatives to U.S. Meat
Because meat is more resource intensive than vegetal protein sources, replacing it with efficient plant alternatives is potentially desirable, provided these alternatives prove nutritionally sound. We show that protein conserving plant alternatives to meat that rigorously satisfy key nutritional constraints while minimizing cropland, nitrogen fertilizer (Nr) and water use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions exist, and could improve public health. We develop a new methodology for identifying nutritional constraints whose satisfaction by plant eaters is challenging, disproportionately shaping the optimal diets, singling out energy, mass, monounsaturated fatty acids, vitamins B3,12 and D, choline, zinc, and selenium. By replacing meat with the devised plant alternatives—dominated by soy, green pepper, squash, buckwheat, and asparagus—Americans can collectively eliminate pastureland use while saving 35–50% of their diet related needs for cropland, Nr, and GHG emission, but increase their diet related irrigation needs by 15%. While widely replacing meat with plants is logistically and culturally challenging, few competing options offer comparable multidimensional resource use reduction.