If your eco-foodie soul’s ever been wounded by a misguided diet-coke-swilling vegan who tried to shame you for eating a cage-free egg, you are not alone — but rest assured that many vegans and vegetarians are friendlier — and wiser. Not too long ago, I wrote about whether or not plastic-wrapped vegan meat can claim any eco-creds — which led to some very thoughtful comments from vegans and non-vegans alike. And this month, a lifelong vegetarian called Kiera Butler visits the same issue at Mother Jones — by eating a grass-fed burger.

This article’s a must-read for anyone who’s been confused about all the conflicting scientific-sounding reports — let alone dogmatic one-sided rants — about eating green. Kiera pulls data from — and provides links to — a large number of studies comparing eco-omnivore diets to vegan ones. Long story short: Everyone agrees factory-farmed meats are horrible, but when you compare local, organic, sustainably-produced meat and animal products to processed plant proteins, one isn’t necessarily greener than another.

What Keira’s article really pointed out to me is how raising sustainable livestock and organic crop farming go hand in hand — since rotating those two functions on a piece of land yields lots of benefits — like reducing greenhouse gases and cutting down on soil erosion. Instead of letting that symbiotic relationship occur, however, land’s often been divvied up for a single, not-as-green, purpose.

“71 percent of America’s prairies have been converted to cropland,” Keira writes. “And more than half of all corn and 98 percent of all soy grown in the United States goes to raise livestock.” Turn that cropland back in to prairie land livestock can graze on, and we’ll still have plenty of cropland to meet human needs, points out Jim Howell, a senior partner at the Savory Institute. That’s smarter land use!

In conjunction with Keira’s article, Mother Jones asked “five smart people” to weigh in with their thoughts on the vegetarian vs. omnivore diet conundrum. Everyone from Eating Animals author Jonathan Safran Foer to Small Planet Institute’s Anna Lappé weigh in — and say surprisingly similar things.

Read, learn, and enjoy good, planet-friendly food over the weekend, whether you decide to finally go vegan — or finally try a bite of grass-fed bison from the farmers market.

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