Michael Pollan Retracts Comment about Meat-Eating Prius Drivers

At last week’s 2009 Poptech conference, author Michael Pollan made this claim: “A vegan in a Hummer has a lighter carbon footprint than a beef eater in a Prius.”

Michael Pollan />

Michael Pollan

Days later, Pollan, author of the bestseller Omnivore’s Dilemma, retracted the statement after researchers showed that Hummers are significantly more destructive to the environment than hamburgers.

In a blog posted by Reuters’ Adam Pacisk, this evidence came to light:

  • Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin of the University of Chicago found, in a 2006 study, that the difference between a heavy meat-eating diet and a vegan diet was about 2 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per person per year.
  • The professors found the difference between a Prius and a Hummer-sized SUV is 4.76 tons per year.

Therefore, switching to a Prius from a Hummer saves more than twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as giving up meat. Of course, going vegan and hybrid at the same time would be like super-sizing your carbon offsets.

Pollan Eats His Words

After Pacisk posted his blog with the facts, Pollan wrote the following note to Reuters:

“After digging into it further, and consulting Gidon Eschel, I don’t feel comfortable defending [my earlier statement]. It’s much more important to keep the focus on the central thrust of the environmental case against eating industrial meat, which is not in dispute and certainly does not stand or fall on the case of the vegan Hummer driver.”

Al Gore with Burger />

Al Gore’s inconvenient dietary habits

Pollan’s acknowledgment that he put his foot in his mouth is not likely to stop the ongoing debate about the relative impact of clean driving and dirty dining. The blogger Fat Knowledge posted a 2007 spreadsheet calling a tie between Hummer-driving vegans and burger-chomping Prius owners. Then, there’s the infamous 2006 CNW study that claims that Priuses are worse than Hummers in terms of energy consumption, regardless of drivers’ diets. And let’s not forget Big Vegan’s 2007 challenge to Al Gore to give up his cherished cheeseburgers to prove his commitment to reducing global warming.

In issuing the challenge to Gore, various vegetarian organizations and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals cited a United Nations study showing that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.


  • sean t

    Read “Eating animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer.

  • sheckyvegas

    Aren’t all of these vegans usually the ones who end up dying of malnutrition? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

  • Baloney

    CO2 is a big farce to pay for Social Justice. Check out MIT Professor Lindsey, he proves Carbon (Al Gore) is a big lie!

  • AntiIdiocy

    Darn it, now I’m going to have to buy a Hummer to eat my BigMac in, just to spite these idiots. Oh well, small price to maintain sanity.

  • Just a Thought

    Sometimes a sheep is a wolf in disguise… Sometimes a person who appears to be an environmental protector has a hidden agenda for the other side. I don’t think Al Gore is one, otherwise he’d have ran for president and won. Michael is probably not one either. But rest assured, there are “spies” among both sides to cause disarray internally.

  • Mr.Bear

    I don’t want to supersize my carbon offests. I want to supersize my colon offsets.

  • Witmer

    “Baloney says: CO2 is a big farce to pay for Social Justice. Check out MIT Professor Lindsey, he proves Carbon (Al Gore) is a big lie! “

    Hey Baloney. Let me put your face up to my vehicle’s tail pipe while I put it on. Lets see how long you’ll last breathing in the CO2 before you die. You should breath just fine since the Professor told you so. Sucker !

  • Indigo

    Well, it’s not like being vegetarian and driving a fuel-efficient vehicle are mutually exclusive. You can do both!

  • veek

    Well, Hooray for Michael Pollan, even if he has to eat crow.

    I think he has show the problem is considerably more complex than just choosing to drive one car or another.

    And speaking of problems … to heck with Al Gore and his cheeseburger. How about Al Gore and his mansions? And his yachts? And his groundwater-polluting mines? And all the miles he has toted up on his private jets to show the world how self-righteously green he is? Can anyone calculate how many earths it would take to sustain a planetful of Al Gores?

  • Baloney

    I said CO2 not CO. If you dont know the difference google it!

  • apasolini

    What a silly discussion. All these comparisons between diets and cars are just soundbites. The point is that a vegan diet is greener and it’s a significant step in reducing one’s carbon footprint on the planet, not to mention their contribution to animal suffering.

  • Adam

    Of course it means extinction for meat animals for there to be any greenhouse effect from a vegan diet… yeah! Great way to end “animal suffering”… end the animals totally. Isn’t that how the Nazis ended “Jewish suffering”???

    Beware Vegan self-righteousness. Their “compassion” means “extinction” in real terms for BILLIONS of animals.

  • Patrick

    I wouldn’t automatically say that a vegan diet is greener than my meat based diet. Where did your fruit and vegetables come from? How were they grown? Do you eat raw or manufactured products? How far did you drive to get them?

    My meat was 100% grass fed and finished by a farmer 2 miles from my house. My eggs and chickens came from a farmer just down my urban street. My vegetables came from either my own garden, my CSA, or the urban farmer down my block. I haven’t eaten much of anything from a box (other than ice cream or chips – both locally produced) for a long time.

    Greenhouse gas – belching bovines? Well, those greenhouse gases started here on the surface and were part of the atmosphere, in some form, since the planet formed. The oil it takes to raise, transport, and store non-sustainably raised fruits and vegetables came from carbon previously sequestered under ground. That is the real problem. Pumping carbon molecules from under ground, combusting them with oxygen, then releasing the result into the atmosphere. Sure, CO2 is less heat trapping than methane. But if it comes from outside of the atmosphere it does more damage.

    Bottom line – the various impacts of vegan versus omnivore diets as tough, complex things to ponder.

  • Ronnie Wright

    The environmental impact of the lifecycle and supply chain of animals raised for food has been vastly underestimated, and in fact accounts for at least half of all human-caused greenhouse gases (GHGs), according to Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, co-authors of “Livestock and Climate Change”.

    A widely cited 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Livestock’s Long Shadow, estimates that 18 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, pigs, and poultry. But recent analysis by Goodland and Anhang finds that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.

    Michael Pollan was correct the first time; he just didn’t have all the facts to defend what he had said. The reports he was going on did not take into account all the impacts of animal agriculture.
    To read the article online go here:

    http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf

    Ronnie Wright
    http://www.worldchangecafe.com

  • Gilles Fecteau

    Actually, it’s the other way around. Excessive meat eating is a major cause of premature death.

  • Patrick

    That may or may not be true. And, what is deemed excessive? I grew up on a farm and have eaten meat and vegetables for just about every meal in my 42 year long life. As did my parents and grandparents. All of us who haven’t died of old age are in great health. However, we don’t smoke, drink too much, and rarely eat store bought, amnufactured food.

    Bottom line – there are no hard and fast rules. Depends what kind of meat you eat and where / how it grew. I do think Michael Pollan has it right, however: you need to eat some meat, lots of plants, and stay out of the middle aisles of the grocery store.

  • CRETE 85

    Eating Gods Creatures is the same as Eating Gods vegetation & plants. Their all alive, Therefore I consume both.
    ; Mr. Meaty

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  • RN

    Check studies showing Seventh Day Adventist vegetarians live longer.

  • Common Sense

    That is not extinction nor any relevance to extermination. Simply having fewer cows, which in their present form aren’t natural animals but hybrid creatures maximized for production, is not extinction. And even if the breed were theoretically to die out because we no longer needed them, that is not suffering, for every single cow would live out it’s natural lifespan free from a factory farm environment. It’s no different than if a human decides not to have children. They are not replicating their genes but they themselves are certainly not suffering and being exterminated.

  • Best Hybrid Cars

    Is there any significance on what the drivers eat to the car he is driving?
    http://autoinsurance.siyox.com

  • Elliot

    “Of course it means extinction for meat animals for there to be any greenhouse effect from a vegan diet… yeah! Great way to end “animal suffering”… end the animals totally. Isn’t that how the Nazis ended “Jewish suffering”???

    Beware Vegan self-righteousness. Their “compassion” means “extinction” in real terms for BILLIONS of animals.”

    Adam,

    So, let me get this straight, you are comparing vegans to Nazis? On the one hand you have a group of people h3ll bent on the extermination of the Jews. On the other hand you have a group of people h3ll bent on protecting the rights of animals. Well, that is an obvious comparison.

    WRT the article, why are hybrids and environmentally friendly diets at odds with each other in any way?

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  • mik

    A meat eater with no babies has a smaller carbon footprint than a vegan breeder, Michael….

  • tapra1

    tie between Hummer-driving vegans and burger-chomping Prius owners. Then, there’s the infamous 2006 CNW study that claims PC Talk

  • Rowen Garrow

    Poor Mr.Michael Pollan got caught in his own words.
    Regards,
    Vista College

  • Brandon Tully

    Oh yes I agree with you MR.Rowen. Its feel so embarrasing when you mean to say something and end up badly after some one points out a mistake you made.
    Regards,
    Brandon minneapolis criminal defense

  • Julia Robert

    Even i agree with you at certain point of description made over here.Many a time it happens that we want to say something but others take it in the wrong way or make a fun of that.
    Regards,
    Julia Robert.
    GPSIntel.com

  • james555

    I am not sure what he was thinking when he did this. Unsure what he was thinking when he said this. I hope he does not do this in the future. mytorontorealty.com

  • Andreea

    Definitely prefer the vegan stuff! You can get enough proteins from different vegetables, so, you don’t need to eat only meat to feel strong enough to drive a good car. I, for example, would get a bio frozen yogurt machine in order to feel lighter for this prius, and this way I could loose some weight as well.

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