Are plant based protein forms really more sustainable than meat? To really answer this question, we need to look at the basic costs for creating forms of protein. First, there is the water consumption. The ability to find freshwater to irrigate crops is a problem for many regions in the world, so finding a food source that doesn’t require large amounts of water is extremely important. When we look at the image below, it is clear to see that at 2,500 gallons per ton it is clear that soy is much more efficient in its use of water in production than other sources. For more information about how a water footprint is assessed, Globalization of Water (2008) and The Water Footprint Assessment Manual (2011) both by Arjen Y. Hoekstra are excellent books.
Then we have to look at how much energy is expended in order to produce that source of protein. The question here is how much energy is returned from that protein source versus how much is spent to produce it. Based on a return of energy use, soy protein at 415 kilocalories is way more efficient than other forms of protein such as beef with 6 kilocalories and chicken at 18 kilocalories, and pork at 4 kilocalories.
How efficient is production of that form of protein? That is the last real question that we have to ask. Many recent developments have driven up production efficiency for soy. A large contributor to driving up efficiency in soy production is biofuel. Based on current trends, soy is far more efficient as a usable protein per acre of farmland than other comparable protein sources.
The bottom line is that the world needs more protein rich food sources, and needs to produce those while using fewer resources than we currently do. Soy is a sustainable, efficient protein source that has a minimal environmental impact and uses the least amount of resources. So for your next protein source, choose soy!!!