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Environment & Locavore: Food to Heal the Planet


“A substantial reduction of [environmental] impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

...2010 United Nations Environmental Programme report, p. 82.


There's a saying, 'We haven't inherited this planet from our parents, we've borrowed it from our children.' When you borrow, you plan to pay back. We've been stealing ... it's about time we got together and started paying back. —Jane Goodall

Many of the same pseudo-scientific tricks used to fool the public on the health aspects of various foods are also used to fool us on environmental impacts, so you may wish to visit the Myth or Science page to gain the skills you need to defend yourself against such deception.

The science is clear on this one, too: we can no longer afford, environmentally speaking, to eat meat. Eating local doesn't help much if you're still eating animals, even your own backyard chickens, because most of the environmental impacts are in the production and energy inputs for animal parts and products, not in their transportation. (See Locavore and Organic Meats sections, below.)

"In vitro" meat appears to be the one type that is both environmentally sustainable in terms of energy inputs and in terms of transportation, as it can be "grown" (cultured) in local laboratories with the right technology. "In vitro" meat is an animal tissue product that has never been part of a living, whole animal. It's expensive now, but costs will likely come down. However, the same damage to human health is almost certain to occur.

Insects may be another "meat" option. About 80% of the world's people eat insects; human health studies are incomplete, but my guess is that they are not at all harmful to human health. I sometimes wonder whether science will discover that they are beneficial to humans in small quantities. Termites, for example, are said to be a good source of vitamin B-12 bacteria.

Resources and References

Locavore and Organic Meats citations appear after the general environmental reports and articles.

General Resources

Climate-Friendly Dining ... Meats: The Carbon Footprints of Raising Livestock for Food” (Article), by Janet Raloff. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Web edition: Sunday, Feb. 15, 2009.
     "No longer a surprise is the relative energy intensity associated with meat, especially beef. For instance, roughly half of the GHG emissions due to human diets come from meat even though beef, pork and chicken together account for only about 14 percent of what people eat. …Fattening of beef cattle on corn is 50% better for the environment than cattle that are raised solely on pasture grass.”(!)
     Substituting all beef production for chicken would cut meat’s projected carbon footprint by 70%. Or perhaps per capita intake of meat could drop from a current average of 90 kilograms per year in the developed world to the 53 kg per person per year that's been advocated as sufficient for human health by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Under this scenario, Pelletier said, “I estimate that...we could reduce associated [carbon] emissions by roughly 44%.”
     Swap half of that protein now supplied by meat with soy by 2050, and “you could expect [projected] emissions to decrease on the order of 70%,” he said. Take the next big step — eliminating all meat in favor of soy — should drop the protein-associated carbon footprint of Western diets a whopping 96%.

Comfortably Unaware: Global Depletion and Food Responsibility: What You Choose to Eat is Killing Our Planet (Book), by Richard A. Oppenlander. Minneapolis: Langdon Street Press, 2011. 180 pp.
     See his related free online clip, Your Role in Global Depletion: New Perspectives from Comfortably Unaware (Video, 59 mins.)

Diet, Energy, and Global Warming” (Article), by Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin, Earth Interactions, Vol. 10 (2006), Paper # 9. 17 pp.
     “Vegan and vegetarian diets emit 72% and 42% less than the typical American diet, respectively. A heavy meat diet emits 24% more than the average.” Great charts, including one comparing diets to cars.

Eating Green by the Numbers” online quiz from the Center for Science in the Public Interest and “Eating Green Calculator” (scroll to bottom of webpage).

Factory Farming? It’s Not a Factory Farm Issue, It’s a Raising Animals to Eat Issue (Video, 1 min.), Richard Oppenlander.

Fish: “I Love Fish;” Say What You Really Mean (Video, 8 mins.), by Richard Oppenlander.
     Dr. Oppenlander shows how eating fish is not sustainable and discusses the importance of saying what you mean, while demonstrating how eating fish (open water captured or farm-raised) is contributing to radical global depletion.

Green Living Guide” (Webpage), GreenPeace.

Healthy Body, Healthy Planet” (Podcast, 30 mins.), by National Public Radio (NPR).

Livestock and Climate Change” (Article), by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, WorldWatch Institute. World Watch Magazine, Nov./Dec. 2009, Vol. 22, No. 6, pp 10-19.
     Agriculture is 51% of greenhouse gases.

Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options (Report), by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2006.
     Livestock contribute 18% of total greenhouse gases (GHG), larger than all transportation sectors. Compare this report, which was authored by agricultural researchers, to the 2009 review and analysis of it by Goodland and Anhang, environmental scientists who accounted for additional missing considerations and revised the livestock damage to 51%, not 18%, of greenhouse gases.

Meat; Now It’s Not Personal! But Like It or Not, Meat-Eating is Becoming a Problem for Everyone on the Planet” (Article), by the Editors. World Watch Magazine, July/Aug. 2004, pp. 12-20.

Position of the American Dietetic Association: Food and Nutrition Professionals Can Implement Practices to Conserve Natural Resources and Support Ecological Sustainability” (Article), Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Vol. 107: 1033-43, 2007.
     Recommends that dietitians "encourage consumption of protein from plant sources" for environmental reasons; it encourages plant proteins for health reasons in a separate statement on health.

Rearing Cattle Produces More Greenhouse Gases Than Driving Cars, UN Report Warns" (Report), UN News Centre, Nov. 29, 2006.
     “The environmental costs per unit of livestock production must be cut by one half, just to avoid the level of damage worsening beyond its present level,” it warns. When emissions from land use and land use change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9% of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65% of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.
     And it accounts for respectively 37% of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64% of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.

Shrimp's Dirty Secrets: Why America's Favorite Seafood Is a Health and Environmental Nightmare” (Article), from All-Creatures.org, by Jill Richardson on Alternet.org.

Six Arguments for a Greener Diet, by Michael Jacobson, Center for Science in the Public Interest. Download the entire book (donations accepted but not required).
     CSPI offers these 6 summarized arguments:
     (1) less chronic disease and better overall health;
     (2) less foodborne illness;
     (3) better soil;
     (4) more and cleaner water;
     (5) cleaner air; and
     (6) less animal suffering.

Sustainability of Meat-Based and Plant-Based Diets and the Environment” (Article), by David Pimentel And Marcia Pimentel, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 78, No. 3, 660S-663S, Sept. 2003.
     Both the meat-based average American diet and the lactoovovegetarian diet require significant quantities of nonrenewable fossil energy to produce. Thus, both food systems are not sustainable. However, the meat-based diet requires more energy, land, and water resources than the lactoovovegetarian diet.… The lactoovovegetarian diet is more sustainable than the average American meat-based diet.

UNEP (2010) Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials” (Report), by Hertwich, E., van der Voet, et al. International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management des United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), 112 pp.
     “A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.” [p. 82]

Locavore Meat Myth

“Blood and Soil”: Lierre Keith, Michael Pollan, and the Trouble with Locavore Politics” (Article), by John Sanbonmatsu, ZNet, Aug. 16, 2011.
     Long article, but great. Caution: I wouldn't make this piece your first read unless you are already familiar with the writings of Lierre Keith and Michael Pollan. This is a more detailed, heady critique of Michael Pollan and pro-meat, anti-vegetarian, self-described "radical feminist" Lierre Keith.

Climate-Friendly Dining ... Meats: The Carbon Footprints of Raising Livestock for Food” (Article), by Janet Raloff. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Web edition: Sunday, Feb. 15, 2009.
     "No longer a surprise is the relative energy intensity associated with meat, especially beef. For instance, roughly half of the GHG emissions due to human diets come from meat even though beef, pork and chicken together account for only about 14 percent of what people eat. …Fattening of beef cattle on corn is 50% better for the environment than cattle that are raised solely on pasture grass.”(!)

"An Ethical Blind Spot of the Locavores" (Article), by John Sanbonmatsu, Providence Journal, Dec. 17, 2012.
     Sanbonmatsu uses the story of two campus oxen at Green Mountain College, in Poultney, Vermont to illustrate that "locavores have failed to dissolve the troubling ethical questions at the heart of animal agriculture, organic or not. Locavore critics assure us that it is morally acceptable to raise and kill other animals for food, provided that the latter have had a 'good enough' life before being sent to slaughter. But they have not told us why."

Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States” (Article) by Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews, Carnegie Mellon University, Environmental Science & Technology, 2008 42 (10), 3508-3513; DOI 10.1021/es702969f.
     Won ES&T's top policy paper of 2008 award. Giving up meat one day a week does more for the environment than eating locally all week long or by trading in your gas guzzling SUV for a Prius.

Free-Range Is Not the Answer” (Article), The Vegan Solution, May 6, 2009.

Is Local Food Better?” (Article), by Sarah DeWeerdt. World Watch Magazine, May/June 2009, Vol. 22, No. 3.
     READ THIS FIRST for a fairly brief yet clear and complete explanation of why local is not a major environmental consideration. Production is the biggest sector: 83% to 90% of emissions occur before food even leaves the farm gate, especially for animal parts and products. Accurate impact assessments require tracking greenhouse gas emissions through all phases of a food's production, transport, and consumption, which is called life-cycle analysis. And LCA "reveals that food miles represent a relatively small slice of the greenhouse-gas pie."

Is Local Meat a Solution? The Meat of the Problem” (Article), by Ezra Klein, Washington Post, July 29, 2009, Food Section, p. 1.      Viewing may require a Washington Post online subscription, which is free. If you have problems, contact me, foodtoheal(at)gmail.com

The Low-Carbon Diet: Change Your Lightbulbs? Or Your Car? If You Want to Fight Global Warming, It’s Time to Consider a Different Diet” (Article), by Mike Tidwell. Audobon Magazine, Jan.-Feb. 2009.

The Myth About Grass-Fed Beef: Is It Sustainable? (Video, 9 mins.), by Richard Oppenlander.
     About 2 mins., 15 seconds in, he talks about heart disease being the #2 cause of death in the US (after tuberculosis): these were grass-fed cows, free-range chickens, etc., and the quantity of meat eaten was much less than now. Dr. Oppenlander expounds on the myth that grass-fed beef is a sustainable food choice, while pointing out how we have become comfortable with simply accepting what other authors and experts have deemed true without knowing all the facts.

Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler” (Article), by Mark Bittman. The New York Times, Jan. 27, 2008.

Understanding Neo-Carnism: How Vegan Advocates Can Appreciate and Respond to ‘Happy Meat,’ Locavorism, and Paleo Dieting” (Article), by Melanie Joy, One Green Planet, July 29, 2011.
     The new wave of pro-meat arguments is in part an attempt to defend the weakened meat-eating establishment against the very real threat posed by an increasingly powerful vegan movement. “Happy meat,” locavorism, and “paleo dieting” are signs of society’s willingness to examine the ethics of eating meat, eggs, and dairy, and they reflect people’s genuine concern for animals (and the environment and health). But they also reflect the resistance of the dominant, meat-eating culture to truly embracing a vegan ethic. The new pro-meat arguments are part of a carnistic backlash against the growing popularity of veganism.

Where’s the Beef? Diet Choices Can Help the Environment (Report), by Carnegie Mellon University, Winter 2009.

Organic Meats

Dr. Campbell Responds to Dr. Mercola” (Article), by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., VegSource.com, Sept. 11, 2009.
     The China Study shows, among other things, that buying free-range, small-farm, organic, grass-fed,unpasteurized, unhomogenized, pesticide- and hormone-free meat/dairy does not eliminate the health concerns of a meat/dairy-based diet. For info on the study, see "The China Study.”

Organic: A Climate Saviour? (Report) The FoodWatch report on the greenhouse effect of conventional and organic farming in Germany based on the study, “The Impact of German Agriculture on the Climate” by the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW), May 2009.

Organic Meats Are Not Health Foods (Article), by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Jan. 23, 2009, 3 pp.


   • Wake up from the advertisers’ disinformation campaigns!
   • Liberate yourself from dietary habits that harm your health!
   • Align your dietary habits with your environmental and animal-loving values.


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