The abstract (in full below) of the paper, Diet and the environment: does what you eat matter? published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concludes that it does matter what you eat.
Food demand influences agricultural production. Modern agricultural practices have resulted in polluted soil, air, and water; eroded soil; dependence on imported oil; and loss of biodiversity. The goal of this research was to compare the environmental effect of a vegetarian and nonvegetarian diet in California in terms of agricultural production inputs, including pesticides and fertilizers, water, and energy used to produce commodities. The working assumption was that a greater number and amount of inputs were associated with a greater environmental effect. The literature supported this notion. To accomplish this goal, dietary preferences were quantified with the Adventist Health Study, and California state agricultural data were collected and applied to state commodity production statistics. These data were used to calculate different dietary consumption patterns and indexes to compare the environmental effect associated with dietary preference. Results show that, for the combined differential production of 11 food items for which consumption differs among vegetarians and nonvegetarians, the nonvegetarian diet required 2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more primary energy, 13 times more fertilizer, and 1.4 times more pesticides than did the nonvegetarian diet. The greatest contribution to the differences came from the consumption of beef in the diet. We found that a nonvegetarian diet exacts a higher cost on the environment relative to a vegetarian diet. From an environmental perspective, what a person chooses to eat makes a difference. (emphasis added)