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Posts Tagged ‘CO2’


Posted by tinako on August 19, 2014

20140417173626-cowspiracy_posterThe movie Cowspiracy has come out.  I was so excited to learn that someone was finally asking these questions – why aren’t environmental organizations talking about livestock’s impact on the environment?  It’s such a glaring omission.  I supported the filmmakers on Indiegogo, so I received my promised DVD a few days ago.  You can look up local screenings at their web site.

The film is very well done, and I think it could have a big impact if it is put before local environmental leaders.  Two local vegan/AR organizations I’m in are going to co-host a showing.  Don’t miss it, and be sure to recommend it to your “environmentalist meat-eater” friends.


Posted in Environment | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Energy Fair Tabling

Posted by tinako on June 22, 2014

Water Beef Infographic

I find that I don’t like the picture of packaged body parts on my blog.

For the 6th year in a row, I tabled at my town’s energy fair on the topic of livestock’s effect on the environment.  Here’s a post about what I say, and it includes a closeup of the main display I made for the first energy fair; this year I removed the rather confusing information about choice of car vs. choice of diet and instead put up a graphic showing how much water is used for beef.  That got some comments.

I had tried to update the pie chart on causes of Amazon deforestation but couldn’t find anything more recent than what I had, 2006.

Really, though, I barely need my display any more at this event.  Of the dozens of people I talked to, almost every one knew about the livestock/environment connection.  I’m kicking myself for not asking them where they found out, although several volunteered that it was covered in a 6-week course they took on plant based diets, offered by our vegetarian society’s co-presidents, one of whom is a doctor.  When I first put up this display at the first energy fair six years ago, not a single person knew.  Some of the people I recognize as repeat visitors, but most are finding this info somewhere else.  Great!

So my display was used as casual reference instead of an informational talk, but I also have a tableful of handouts provided by the veg society and a few I pick up at Farm Sanctuary, which has one of the only fliers on the environment issue.

I want to mention that I am aware of and considering the point made by some that to encourage people to eat less meat because it is bad for the environment is a betrayal of the animals, a betrayal of my values.  That is, I would not tell people not to eat children because their production causes greenhouse gases (or because it’s not healthy for you to eat them).  I keep this in mind.  However, it is a fact that I will not be allowed to come to this fair and talk about animal rights.  They do not allow our local AR group to table there.  I’m allowed there because they know me and while I don’t pull punches, and will talk about whatever my visitors bring up, my materials and talks keep on topic (my original pitch to the committee tied in the livestock/environment issue).  Our vegetarian society is invited to health fairs at schools and so forth to talk about health – if our argument is instead all about animal suffering, we won’t be invited back.  We reach a lot of people this way, and I see the same visitors year after year, making progress both personally and in their families.

I also hope that once people are cutting back on meat for environmental or health reasons, they will have less excuse to ignore the suffering.  I think a lot of people avert their eyes from suffering because they don’t want to change their behavior, but if the behavior is already changed, they are free to express their compassion.

These thoughts are in transition (you may see from my posts that I am thinking about AR a lot), but that’s where I am right now.

Posted in AR, Environment, Social Justice | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Memo to Sierra Club: Stop Promoting Meat

Posted by tinako on April 25, 2012

[I joined the Sierra Club last year and they are asking me to renew.  This is the reply I’m sending.]

To Whom It May Concern:

I’ve been asked to renew my membership, and I’m not going to.  I thought you might like to know why.

While I was disappointed with your earlier national position supportive of the hydro-fracking that is set to cause so much trouble in my state, feeling undermined as I and other local activists worked to keep this industry at bay, I’ve been impressed otherwise with your work on a wide variety of issues.  Overall I like the Sierra Club.  We are on the same side – we recognize how crucial it is to act now to avert disaster.

However, there is one huge environmental issue on which we seem to disagree, and that is meat.  I could live with your simply ignoring this issue, like so many other environmental organizations, and you certainly do that.  I counted two articles in the latest newsletter alone (May/June 2012) on which your silence on animal products was deafening. “Water, Water Everywhere” told readers about the water impact of some items, including several which are probably not discretionary, such as tires and cement, while not mentioning beef’s and milk’s huge waste of water.  Beef and milk are 100% optional purchases, and your readers will probably make these purchasing decisions within hours.  The other article was “Fighting Climate Change With Family Planning.”  The point of the graph is to show that family planning can be as helpful as things like running cars on clean hydrogen, and is an important part of the solution.  But if the U.N. is correct that livestock causes 18% of greenhouse gases, much more than cars, why is it not listed there instead of cars?  Why did it not earn any place in this chart?

In short, I did not see a single mention of diet as any part of a problem or solution to any environmental issue in this magazine, nor do I recall seeing any in the issues I have received over the past year.

Instead, unfortunately, unbelievably, you promote meat.  I usually see meat and dairy praised on your “Enjoy the Green Life” page, and this month, “Enjoy Fast Food,” was no exception.  You didn’t take the hint when Michael Pollan refused to recommend fast food, but instead forged ahead to print “fast-food fare that environmentalists can order with a clear conscience,” as recommended by restaurauteurs with no apparent qualifications to answer this question authoritatively.  So you endorse the “burrito bowl with chicken or steak, beans, veggies, sour cream, cheese, and lettuce”?  Chipotle has terrific vegan options; did your writer calculate the impact of this meal compared to a vegan version?  How can your magazine pass this recommendation on to your readers without comment?  And what about Le Pain Quotidien’s item, consisting apparently entirely of ham, cheese, and egg?  What are you thinking?  These items are an environmental nightmare!  Organic means no pesticides or hormones were used, but says nothing about the greenhouse gases, the manure lagoons, the incredible waste of water and energy, and the breath-taking waste of feeding perfectly good food to animals so they can process it inefficiently through their guts, giving you less than you put in.  These items may be less wasteful and polluting than typical fast food, but that is an incredibly low bar to jump over.  I’m not insisting you should print attacks on these menu items, but you should not be claiming they’re guilt-free or conscience-clearing.

I recall tearing my hair out when the Sept/Oct 2011 issue arrived and I read this same column to find you promoting a single-serve microwaveable beef pot roast, telling readers it’s “Earth-Friendly” because its tray is made partly of calcium carbonate so it uses 40% less plastic and emits 55% less greenhouse gas pollution.  But they could switch their packaging from illegally-harvested mahogany crates to recycled banana leaf envelopes and it still wouldn’t change the fact that beef is the worst thing for the environment you can eat, and a single-serving frozen meal is probably one of the worst ways to eat it.  You concluded, “It’s nice to see a well-established brand make a proactive move toward a more sustainable environment.”  Are you serious?  Put something better in the calcium carbonate box.  I get that you want to reward companies that want to do the right thing, but this product is a total green-wash, and you’re using member donations to help them do it.  I subsidize beef enough through my taxes.

From Sierra Magazine

Back to the current issue, you report in “The Next Big Thing” that perhaps “summer barbeques will solve all our problems.”  After mentioning that readers might enjoy a steak this summer, you tell us, without apparent irony, that bio-scientists have found a new “sustainable fuel source:” beef.  Is there any other environmental organization or independent scientist who has studied these food issues and who believes that beef is sustainable?  I suspect Amtrack wants to use beef tallow not because it’s particularly earth-friendly to produce, but because in these times of high fuel prices it is a cheap, available byproduct, given Americans’ appetite for hamburgers.  Unfortunately, tallow is a cheap, available byproduct of an unsustainable livestock industry which is responsible for a large part of most of the environmental crises we face, from water and air pollution, energy waste, acid rain, greenhouse gases, desertification, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, loss of habitat, food-borne illnesses, and antibiotic resistant bacteria.  Did your writer take these factors into account when trumpeting the hydrocarbon and CO emissions reductions?  Magnifying all these problems by endorsing an increase in the demand for beef tallow is the opposite of what the Sierra Club should be doing.

I have been tabling at environmental and health fairs on these issues for the last five years or so, and I am heartened to see a change: people I talk to are starting to arrive at my table already somewhat aware that their diet has an impact on the environment.  But so far this change is no thanks to the Sierra Club; vegetarian organizations are fighting this battle against ignorance mostly alone.  I hope to someday read that the Sierra Club is joining, even leading the effort of encouraging people to consider how their diet affects the earth.  You don’t have to nag people to be vegan – just be upfront and accurate as you go about discussing issues which diet affects.

A first step would be to stop promoting it.  I can’t support an organization that does that.


Posted in Environment | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

How Green is Our Cuisine?

Posted by tinako on March 20, 2012

I went to the University of Rochester today to participate with R.A.V.S. in the Great American Meatout.  Two of us manned our table.

How Green is Our Cuisine? (Click to Zoom)

I trotted out my old “How Green is Our Cuisine?” display, and that was very useful (again).  I can’t believe I considered dismantling this display after the first time.   I thought this time I’d take a picture and tell you what’s included and what I plan to update.  If anyone wants the Word or Jpg files, I still have everything and am happy to share.

After researching, I had a LOT of info I wanted to include.  It is a very busy display, but I am always there to walk people through it.  It’s more of visual aide for my spiel.  The main focus is on greenhouse gases, and assuming people already knew that global warming is very bad, I wanted to make the point that diet is a big part of it (bigger than many other decisions we make for the environment), and how it plays such a big part.

I wrote the information I researched into an essay, A Disregarded Truth.  But verbally, my catch question is, “Did you know that what we eat has an enormous impact on the environment?” I talk about how many people think animals are still raised on a Charlotte’s Web type farm, and it’s hard to see how a nice farm like that could spoil the environment, but that those farms mostly disappeared decades ago and that the vast majority of farm animals lived on factory farms like those show in these pictures.  I go over the chart showing the numbers of animals on the average American farm, ending with egg-layers = over half a million – I point out the photo of 7 hens crammed in a cage and then the one showing them stacked 3 high and back into the dark distance – there are probably 60,000 hens in that one barn, and about 10 barns on a farm.  I say it’s probably easier now to see that these farms could have big environmental impacts.  I go over the list of environmental disasters that factory farms are a major contributor of, and then hone in on greenhouse gases.  I mention the 18% of greenhouse gas emissions fact, which everyone I talked to at the Meatout already knew – great job getting the word out, everybody!  One vegan did gently dispute that number, saying he’d heard it included transport, so somehow it wasn’t right to compare it to transport separately.  I pointed out to him that this wasn’t a pie chart where each slice was separate and all had to add to 100%.  The breakdowns are too complicated for that, and what these numbers say is that if all transport ended, 15% of current greenhouse gas would be saved, and that, separately, if all livestock ended, 18% would be saved.

Anyway, next I usually say, “You might be wondering how livestock can cause so much greenhouse gas,” at which point I start working down the left side of the display.  Amazon Deforestation is the largest single source of livestock’s contribution, and then Enteric Fermentation is second.  I have a lot of fun with the photos showing mountains and ponds of poop.

Next I usually go over the image from the N.Y. Times which shows Livestock’s High Energy Costs and Carbon Footprint.  The veggies vs. meat comparison is an eye-opener.  Over on the right I have two sections which try to put diet in context with other decisions that we make.  I chose to illustrate that study from the University of Chicago which looked at choice of car.  However, I have found these charts to just be too complicated.  They’re coming off the display.  Down below, however, is a really neat comparison of choice of bag (paper vs. plastic) compared to choice of what goes in the bag (one day’s groceries for a family of four, omnivore vs. vegan).  People really like this graphic.  I try to be sure to make the point that I’m not belittling these other environmental choices, just showing that diet needs to be way up there on the list of things an environmentalist thinks about.

I put my favorite food pyramid down at the bottom in case anyone asks me what you eat when you don’t eat meat (hey, that’s a catchy caption!).

When I updated this display for schoolchildren last year, I wanted to make it about more than global warming, so I removed a page about What Are We Eating (a lot of meat) and replaced it with some things I wanted to say about the broad range of ongoing disasters of which modern livestock farming is a major cause.  I’ll probably put What Are We Eating? back when I take off the car info. One bit of info I plan to add after “Killing Wildlife” is how many animals the Fish and Wildlife Service kills to protect livestock every year – had a question on that today and couldn’t remember.  It’s a lot.

The photos I swiped off the internet.  I deliberately chose mild images that do not show violence, only environmental messes and ordinary crowding.  Nevertheless, people tell me they are shocked.

One last point – notice that I include sources with everything.  I may start with vegan organizations or someone’s blog, but I always follow the sources, make sure they are sources people will trust (like the USDA or UN, not PETA, for instance) and I always print them.  What could be more embarrassing than standing there at an event and having someone tell me, “That’s a myth” or “Why should I believe them?”

All of this said, when I am talking to individuals I seldom yammer blindly on, instead listening for what is important to them.  For instance, someone I talked to today grew up on a farm.  She really wanted to talk, to tell me about her experience, so I listened and asked a lot of questions about how her family related to the animals, how they cared for the environment, and so forth.  After a while I could see that she had strong opinions about caring for animals and was certain that a business that didn’t could not prosper long term.  Every one of the pictures, she said, “I have a problem with that.”   I was able to explain to her how, despite the animals’ poor health, these businesses were able to prosper and even out-compete for the present, but that yes, it put an unsustainable strain on the land and it’s ruining our planet.  I didn’t see any need to argue about whether her small farm practices were a good idea for the planet, health, or peace.  Small steps, low-hanging fruit.  We had a great talk, I learned more about small farmers’ attitudes towards animals and what happens on a small farm, and she went away understanding how most meat in the stores is produced now, and the impact it’s having.   What would have happened if I hadn’t listened first?

I encourage anyone to do outreach like this.  Brush up on the issues, have some visual materials (you can reproduce my display if I send you the files), and get out there.  Earth Day is coming up – what’s going on in your community?  All the environmental events I’ve been to, I alone or with RAVS am the only one talking about diet.  If you’re not there, is anyone talking about it?  My first event I wasn’t even a member of RAVS – I just talked the event organizers into letting me have a table for free!  I’m an introvert by nature, but I walked in with just this display and a smile.  Visitors asked, “Who are you with?”  Me!  Just me!


Posted in Animals, Environment, How to..., Social Justice | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

120 More Children Now Know What a Real Farm Looks Like…

Posted by tinako on May 6, 2011

…and why it matters.

I went back to the zoo again today, to give another presentation with fellow vegan Carol like we did last year. This post might only make sense if you have read last year’s.


Darnit, I forgot to bring my camera.  I walked past the lemurs we stood in front of last time.  They still have their 12″ weed in a pot to remind them of the natural world, but I see that their cage has been updated with a 2 x 4 foot scrap of grassy sod thrown down onto the concrete.  I saw these scraps scattered in all of the concrete-floored cages.  I didn’t see any animals enjoying them during my stay.  I saw an emu staring longingly out the back of her cage into the woods, sod scrap ignored behind her.

I found this photo from our zoo online, so you can see the orangutan’s concrete and steel “habitat.”

We were to be talking to 5th graders today, so I altered a little from last year when we had middle-schoolers.  I varied the talk a bit as class by class had their turn, and the following is what we ended up with, seeming to work very well with this age group.  I had decided these were the main points I wanted to make:

  1. Farm animals do not live on idyllic farms; they live on factory farms.
  2. Factory farms pollute.  Also, eating animals is more wasteful than eating plants.
  3. Cutting back on animal products can make a big difference for the environment, probably bigger than most other choices the kids have.  And it isn’t all or nothing.

So, like last year Carol started out asking the kids why they thought someone might want to be vegetarian, and again the kids all mentioned the “not killing the animals” issue first.  Some kids were able to come up with health, but not a single one of 120 kids thought of the environment.  So Carol talked for a minute about how wasteful eating animals is before turning it over to me.

I had copies of the same books as last year, so showed them the same images from Charlotte’s Web and Minerva Louise.  I said I loved these books and thought they were great for depicting kindness and loyalty, for instance, but they they were not very good at showing today’s farms.  I said most animals had not lived on farms like this for 50 to 60 years, and that it was important to understand that because it was hard to see how Wilbur and Minerva Louise could be threatening the environment.

Then I showed them the same three photos from last year, two of battery cage hens and this one of pigs.  I explained what the pictures showed and read the 2007 national average of animals per farm I had posted on my display board:

Old McDonald Had How Many Chickens?
Average number of animals per U.S. farm site in 2007:
Cattle    3,810
Dairy    1,481
Pigs    5,144
“Broiler” Chickens    168,000
Egg-laying Chickens    614,000
Source: Factory Farm Map

The kids were shocked at the numbers for battery cage hens: 200,000 per barn, several barns per farm, that’s over half a million hens, not the dozen we might imagine living behind the farmhouse.

Next I wanted to give them an overview of the breadth of problems factory farming contributes to, so I read from my display board again:

Modern Livestock Farming is a major cause of:

  • Water Pollution
  • Air Pollution
  • Acid Rain
  • Greenhouse Gases
  • Land Degradation
  • Loss of Biodiversity
  • Loss of Habitat
  • Killing Wildlife
  • Diseases like salmonella, e. coli, and MRSA, swine flu, avian flu
  • Antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Then I started tackling as many of those as I could cover, usually just a few, but I had to be flexible because we often had extra time, except for the group where after the teacher got off her cell phone, in the middle of my talk, she began loudly asking the kids who needed to go to the bathroom; after a minute of sorting out where they would meet when they came back, being seemingly oblivious to the fact that I was trying to give a talk five feet away from her, she walked off to the restrooms with half the class.  This was a teacher.  It just occurred to me that possibly it was not just atrocious manners but sabotage.

Slash and Burn

Moving on, I covered greenhouse gases first, because that is what the display had been originally designed about (“A Disregarded Truth”).  I told them about how livestock causes more greenhouse gases than transportation, then moved onto Amazon deforestation with photos like this, as well as a photo of resulting pastureland and soybean fields.  I said the soybeans were not for tofu but for animal feed.  I told the kids I’d heard sort of a sad joke, that chickens were eating the rainforest, and this is what it referred to, chickens eating rainforest soybeans.

Burning Manure Mountain at Nebraska Feedlot

Then I showed two photos that covered air & water pollution and greenhouse gases all at once.  This is my favorite to show to kids.  I say, “Doesn’t this look like a lovely scene?  I might hang this on my wall.  It seems to be some gentle cattle with the snowy Rocky Mountains behind them.  But this is actually the edge of a feedlot,” and I show them two photos of feedlots.  “Can anyone guess what these mountains really are?”  No one could.  “They’re mountains of poop!  Not only that, they’re on fire!  Mountains of flaming poop!”  Fifth graders found this very interesting.  I went on to explain that there are so many animals in the feedlot that there is no good way to dispose of their manure, so it piles up in this mess.  It washes down to pollute the land and water, it puts out ammonia and hydrogen sulfide to contribute significantly to acid rain, which damages aquatic ecosystems, kills fish, and damages forests, among other things.  Finally the poop mountains, in addition to stench, put out methane, a potent greenhouse gas, which along with cow burps and farts makes them a significant contributor to global warming.

Pig Manure Lagoon

This is the second picture, and I would say, “this looks like any pond you might find on a farm.  You’d expect to see ducks on it.  But there’s a sign posted there and it says, ‘Keep Out, Polluted Water.’  You don’t want to swim in this pond, because it’s a pig manure lagoon.  Now, Kodak can’t run a pipe out the back of its factory and pour raw sewage or other toxic pollution into a pit, but farms do not even need a permit to do it as long as they don’t intend to dump in a stream.  But these lagoons leak all the time, have killed millions of fish, and farm runoff is the main reason why 60% of American streams are polluted.”

Then I would talk about the waste of energy using this graphic from Marc Bittman.  Maybe it was because it was later in the talk, but this did not seem to interest the 5th graders as much as the middle-schoolers last year.  Click to enlarge.

I wanted to make the point that what we eat is a really important environmental decision in comparison with so many of the efforts we hear about all the time, like driving too much and turning off the lights, so I talked about this graphic on my display: its-not-the-bag.  I made sure to say that I wasn’t belittling the other choices we are urged to make for the environment, just pointing out that what we eat, though we hardly ever hear about it, belongs at the top of that list.

Lastly, I made the point that while the two of us are vegan, the kids did not need to be vegan to make a difference, and that any amount of meat they cut down would help the problem.

Carol asked if any of the kids thought they might like to choose less meat after hearing what I had said, and most kids raised their hands.  She handed out some materials, mostly PCRM’s Kids Get Healthy booklet, which looked really nice.

Carol told me a fellow vegan had asked her, “They let you talk about vegetarianism to 5th graders?”  She answered, “So far!”


Posted in Animals, Environment | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »


Posted by tinako on February 28, 2011

Worldwatch Institute (Wikipedia entry) is claiming that the 18% greenhouse-gases-from-livestock figure that the U.N. came up with is too low, and the actual number should be 51%.

Last year the U.N. did urge people to move to veganism.


Posted in Environment | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why I care what other people eat

Posted by tinako on December 15, 2010

I was commenting at a blog the other day in favor of recent proposed legislation meant to nudge people into making better food choices.  A reply to my reply asked me why I care what other people eat.  I had to think this over a bit, but I have an answer, and prefer to give it its own space here on my own blog.

I care what other people eat because of compassion, the food environment my family faces, and concerns about costs and sustainability.

First the background.  People are not making food choices in a vacuum.  They are making those decisions in an environment which is slanted in such a way that they are encouraged to make unhealthy choices.  Unhealthy food is subsidized by the government (through grain which is converted into meat, sugar, and fat) and is more profitable for food companies and retailers.  Unhealthy quantities are pushed on us through ubiquitous placement and marketing by a food system that needs us to buy more, more, more, in order to remain competitive.  The fact that we can only eat so much has been ignored and, actually, disproved; turns out we can eat more calories than we used to, and than we should.

What this means is that the status quo, expecting people to suddenly make better choices, regardless of whether they are children, whether they can afford it, whether it is available in their neighborhood, and whether they are relentlessly marketed unhealthy food, is unrealistic, as has been proven by decades of rising obesity.  Thirty-four percent of the U.S. population is now obese, and an additional 34% are overweight.  Yes, that’s 68% of adults over a healthy weight.   Almost 17% of U.S. children ages 2-19 are obese.  How is a two-year-old responsible for being obese?  How will blaming the child’s parents help the child?  Scroll down at this page from the CDC to see an amazing map showing the population relentlessly getting heavier, state by state, through the years.  Blaming individuals hasn’t worked for the past 30 years, as obesity rates have risen, so what makes us think that it’s going to work in the future?

The U.S. Center for Disease Control introduces their entire obesity section not with an urge to “put down the fries, fatty,” but with this:

American society has become ‘obesogenic,’ characterized by environments that promote increased food intake, nonhealthful foods, and physical inactivity. Policy and environmental change initiatives that make healthy choices in nutrition and physical activity available, affordable, and easy will likely prove most effective in combating obesity.

But to return to the question, so what?  I provide good food for my family and we are healthy.  Why don’t I mind my own business?  Why should I care what my proverbial neighbor eats?

I care because I have compassion.  The same compassion that leads me to forgo eating animal products leads me to support legislation that tries to undo the unfair food environment in which we are immersed, an environment I have been lucky to resist not because I’m a superior human being with stronger character (I’m not) but probably because of a combination of good genes, good socioeconomic status, a mother who ate well during pregnancy and nursing and cared about nutrition and family suppers, and a leaflet someone handed me that led me to become vegan.  I have compassion for the 68% of overweight adults and the real suffering that ensues; the risks for these diseases increases:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides)
  • Stroke
  • Liver and Gallbladder disease
  • Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
  • Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint)
  • Gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility)

People who are overweight also suffer social stigma, employment bias, and low self-esteem, often along with a continual struggle with the unhealthy food that surrounds them.  Overweight people often report that they never stop thinking about food – it controls their lives much like an addictive drug.  For this I have compassion, and if I can speak up to encourage laws to prevent overweight and obesity, I will.  I care.

I have compassion for the 925 million hungry of this world who would like to eat the grain wasted when it is fed to animals.  Thirty-six million people died of malnutrition in 2006.  Of course this is not all our fault, and this is a complex issue, but our country’s food policies, including subsidies which not only encourage our inefficient consumption but also unfair trade, absolutely play a strong role.  I support domestic and international policies and encouragement of personal diets that take world malnutrition into account.  I care.

I also have compassion for the animals suffering in this food system under government-skewed economics that encourage us to eat more of them because their feed is subsidized and their negative environmental and health impacts are not paid for at the checkout counter.  If I can encourage legislation that brings the price of meat in line with the real costs, I will.  If I can lift the veil of secrecy that hides the horrible things done to farm animals in our name, I will.  I care.

My children eat well at home, and I pack lunches for them because the school lunches are not healthy.  Did you know there is currently no limit to the amount of sugar that can be in a USDA-approved school lunch?  And yet there are minimum calorie requirements, and insufficient funding.  Hmm, how can schools put in enough calories with hardly any money?  Sugar and fat are the cheapest calories (remember corn oil and high fructose corn syrup are subsidized by the government?), but the fat actually is restricted to 35% of calories (still a lot), so now you know why school lunches are loaded with fat and sugar.  So I support legislation to improve school lunch standards for other kids, even though I side-step them myself.  Here are some other ways I mentioned in an earlier blog about how the food environment impacts my kids despite my best efforts.  We seldom eat out or watch TV, but my kids have personally encountered these:

Restaurant kids meals are always horrible, commercials on TV encourage kids to eat unhealthy food, teachers have kids visit web sites from candy companies in school, unhealthy snacks are often given to kids in preschool programs, lollypops are handed out on the way out of restaurants, fast food restaurants line the streets near schools, candy and sugary drinks are sold at gas stations and drug stores on the way home from school, schools have vending machines selling sports drinks and candy, weekly birthday or holiday parties include cupcakes with 4″ of icing, classes that behave well earn pizza or doughnut parties; chips, cookies, ice cream, and Little Debbie snack bars are sold daily in the lunchrooms, and on the first day of school my son’s teacher handed out taffy to kids who raised their hands.  Every one of these situations makes parents’ job, to raise healthy kids, harder.

Someday soon my kids will be on their own.  I hope that I, like my mother, can inoculate them against the toxic food environment they will face 24/7.  But if I can speak out to help improve that environment to make healthy decisions easier, I will.  I care.

I’m concerned about our nation’s diet’s effect on health care costs.  The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine makes the connection between this issue and our hair-tearing about the high costs of medical care:

“Even if the steak and cheese produced on American farms foster health problems, our government rallies behind agribusiness all the way to the emergency room.  Sadly, every administration in recent decades has been caught up in a system that not only tolerates ill health, but encourages it.” – Barnard

Almost 10% of total U.S. medical expenditures are attributed to overweight and obesity.  The Congressional Budget Office calculates that if obesity rates continue to rise from 2007’s 28% to 37% in 2020, health care spending will be 7% higher than it would be if obesity rates were to be reversed and drop to 20%.  I support legislation that will lead to a reversal in obesity rates because I care about health care costs that our family pays through insurance premiums and taxes.

I’m very concerned about the environmental unsustainability of Americans’ current eating patterns, and trends in the developing world.  We eat more meat per capita than any other country except Uruguay, so we can hardly ask others to cut back, but the planet cannot, cannot support even the current worldwide population eating like Americans do.  I’m not talking about causing some pollution somewhere, maybe a few frogs die, I mean it’s physically impossible, but on the way to the impossible we will irreparably harm our planet.  Our choice of diet is having an enormous and unsustainable impact on water usage and pollution, acid rain, soil erosion and pollution, air pollution, global warming, wildlife, oceans, antibiotics, and non-renewable energy.  I don’t mean that our unavoidable need to eat causes these problems, I mean we make them magnitudes worse than they need to be because of the discretionary foods we choose to put in our mouths.  The example we set, the culture we export, and our inability to ask others to do what we cannot is setting the stage for a disaster.  The U.N. knows this and is urging the world to adopt a plant-based diet.  One of the suggestions to reduce energy use from a University of Wisconsin researcher who calculated energy use of foods is to “decrease consumption of beef, sugar, and highly processed foods.”  But right now our government is subsidizing exactly these foods through grain subsidies, making them cheaper and therefore increasing sales.  I support ending those subsidies, or if that is politically impractical, counterbalancing them with taxes on unhealthy foods or subsidies on healthy foods.  I care what people eat because our diet is ruining our planet.

All legislation is not equal.  We can debate the merits of particular bills, their costs and effectiveness.  But first we need to care.


Posted in Animals, Cancer, Cardiovascular, Diabetes, Disease, Environment, Nutrition, Osteoporosis, Schools | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

U.N. urges global move to veganism

Posted by tinako on August 23, 2010

According to The Guardian, a report issued by the U.N. in June states that “a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change.”

This is huge, and yet a Google search does not bring up a single U.S. media that picked up the story, only vegan internet sites.

So pass it on.


Posted in Environment, Nutrition | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Standard American Diet’s Effect on our Environment and our Health

Posted by tinako on July 20, 2010

Leo Horrigan

I read this accessible paper, “How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human
Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture
” (by Leo Horrigan, Robert S. Lawrence, and Polly Walker
Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore), which delivers a crushingly broad indictment of the effects of our industrial diet.

Robert S. Lawrence, M.D.

It concisely discusses the unsustainable and often irreversible effects on the environment of intensive use of water, energy, pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, and genetic manipulations, and modern agriculture’s astonishing increases in topsoil loss, water pollution, animal waste, and greenhouse gas emissions.  The paper also makes the point very clearly that eating meat intensifies all these industrial uses and effects by its inefficiencies.  Ruining the environment doesn’t just mean messing up our nest, it also means messing up our food supply – if we don’t take care of the land and water, inevitably there will come a day when we can’t grow enough food – in the past farmers just moved on to new land, but what happens when even the marginal land is useless?

Then the paper moves on to the effect of all these chemicals and the foods themselves on our bodies.

They sum up:

These phenomena are due, in part, to production and processing methods that emphasize economic efficiency but do not give sufficient priority to public health or the environment.

Some things that surprised me:

The average U.S. farm uses 3 kcal of fossil energy in producing 1 kcal of food energy (in feedlot beef  production, this ratio is 35:1), and this does not include the energy used to process and transport the food.

Thirty-five calories of fossil fuel to make one calorie of food energy!

Barnard et al. estimated that meat consumption costs the United States roughly $30–60 billion a year in medical costs. The authors made this calculation (which they considered a conservative one) on the basis of the estimated contribution that eating meat makes to the diseases discussed above, plus other chronic diseases common in affluent countries and foodborne illnesses linked to meat consumption.

The United Nations has estimated that about 2 million poisonings and 10,000 deaths occur each year from pesticides.

One meta-analysis found that in nine comparison studies, vegans had an average cholesterol level of 158 mg/dL, vegetarians 182 mg/dL, and omnivores 193 mg/dL….  Whereas the average cholesterol level among heart attack victims is 244 mg/dL of blood serum, heart attack risk falls to virtually zero when the cholesterol level is less than 150 mg/dL.

The authors make the point that unsustainable farming is nothing new – many civilizations have collapsed because of their farming methods.  Sustainable methods will consider long-term effects on topsoil, biodiversity, and rural communities, instead of just short-term profit.  Sustainable agriculture will change from place to place and over time.  Sustainable methods might include crop rotation and soil conservation, among others.

So why don’t we do this?  Because farm input required by modern agriculture methods (think fertilizer, pesticides, and the kind of seeds farmers can’t save and replant)  is a huge, powerful business that influences government subsidization of large-scale unsustainable farming.

One thing that would help, they say, is to convince farmers that sustainable farming can be just as profitable, and they give a large-scale example in Gallo Wine.  Urban agriculture is good, and this is about the fourth paper I’ve read that says that farm markets and CSAs are a really important way consumers can make an impact.

They conclude:

Coupled with energy- and resource intensive food production methods, rising population and rising per capita consumption are bringing us closer to the limits of the planet’s ability to produce food and fiber for everyone.

These problems are complex and have no single solution, which leaves many people feeling powerless to affect them.  One personal act that can have a profound impact on these issues is reducing meat consumption.

The Center’s book “Putting Meat on the Table” is available for free download.  Lawrence and Walker offered a course, “Food Production, Public Health, and the Environment” through John’s Hopkins which sounds similar to the Yale course I’m auditing (and from the same semester).  Although JH’s course is less user-friendly (you have to synchronize MP3 audio lectures with PDF slides), it does have a list links of readings which seemed different than those required by Yale.


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A Disregarded Truth

Posted by tinako on April 22, 2009

In honor of Earth Day:

Have you noticed that everybody’s talking about Greenhouse Gases and Global Warming?  Many people saw An Inconvenient Truth and feel motivated like never before to prevent the grim future it foretells.  Lots of suggestions are made, everything from switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs to driving less, buying energy efficient appliances, and turning down the heat.  These are all great ideas.  Some have more impact, some have less.  Some changes cost money, some are somewhat inconvenient, and some require you to put on that ill-fitting sweater your Aunt knitted.  What would you say if I told you that you could reduce your greenhouse gas footprint by 6%, reduce pollution, violence and extinctions, save money, improve your health without a sweaty gym membership, and it wouldn’t waste any time at all, beyond the time you’re already wasting reading this post when you’re supposed to be balancing your checkbook?

Wait, wait, I’m not selling the Bass-O-Matic.  Well, maybe I’m suggesting the Veg-O-Matic.  Because, you see, according to the NY Times, a piece of steak uses 16 times more energy to produce than a collection of rice and vegetables with the same number of calories.  And when you compare the emissions of greenhouse gases, the steak is 24 times worse.

According to a 2006 U.N. Report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” worldwide, “the livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent.  This is a higher share than transport.”  So all the planes, trains, ships, and automobiles spewing exhaust all over the world are making less of an impact on global warming than livestock and associated activities such as feed.  Are you wondering how farm animals manage this?  Are you picturing cows in HumVees driving to the mall for Crocs?  Then you and I are kindred spirits, but it turns out that the truth is a lot uglier and smellier than Walmart.

Thirty-four percent of livestock’s 18% share of greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to Amazon deforestation, and this is the largest single source, at 2.4 billion tonnes of CO2 per year.  According to PBS’ “Journey into Amazonia,” “Cattle farming in the rainforest leads to large-scale ‘slash-and-burn’ practices in the Amazon: the rainforest is set on fire to clear away the trees and other plants, and then grass is planted for cows to eat. The meat from these cows often comes to the U.S… Every hamburger patty from the rainforest means 55 square feet of rainforest land has been destroyed.”  I found that last sentence so astonishing I looked further and found it was confirmed at MIT’s “Project Amazonia.”  “Almost one-fifth of Brazil’s Amazon region – an area the size of France – has been deforested to date, mostly in the last 40 years” (“Deforestation in the Amazon,” The Guardian).”  Sixty percent of Amazon deforestation is directly attributed to cattle ranches.   But even eating U.S.-grown beef wreaks havoc on the Amazon, as vast areas are now being converted to soybean production to feed U.S. cattle.  In this article I’m focusing on greenhouse gases, but we both know that Amazon deforestation results in a lot worse than a bunch of smoke.

What else accounts for the enormous greenhouse gas emissions of livestock?  It’s not from chickens standing in front of the open fridge door all the time.  No, the second largest part, at 25%, is politely referred to as “enteric fermentation.”  That phrase always gets a good round of titters at the scientific conferences, but the rest of us will have to settle for “burps and farts.”  Not surprisingly, about the same amount of emissions comes from the steaming mountains of manure created by the 10 billion farm animals we kill every year.  According to David Pimentel of Cornell, your personal share of American livestock’s annual 900 million tons of waste is three tons; UPS has been trying to deliver it to you all week but you’re never home.

Maybe you’ve been at the grocery store.  I was only half surprised to read an offhand comment in a study by Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin of the University of Chicago (“Diet, Energy and Global Warming”).  They had to account for the fact that everybody knows that people need about 2,100 calories per day on average, and yet the U.N. Food & Agriculture Office data they were relying on showed gross average consumption is 3,774 calories.  Now the “gross” means that they were measuring, basically, the end sales of food to consumers; they were not calculating how much actually goes past the lips.  But they explained that the difference of 1,674 calories per person per day, an 80% overage, “is due to overeating and food discarded after being fully processed and distributed.”  Sigh.  Based on those same gross consumption figures, the average American gets 27.7% of his 3,774 calories from animal products (meat, milk and eggs).  Thank goodness we’re able to get enough protein and calories in this country so we can be healthy.  What?  The typical American diet isn’t healthy?  We eat too many calories and too much protein?  Oh.

That NY Times article reported that “Americans eat…about 8 oz. of meat per day, roughly twice the global average.”  Well, I’m not eating any, so someone out there is eating a pound a day.  World per capita meat consumption doubled between 1961 and 2007, and it’s expected to double again by 2050.  A person following the typical American diet causes emissions of about 1½ tons CO2-equivalent above those of a person consuming the same number of calories, but from plant sources.

Numbers, numbers, numbers, billions, percents, who can make sense of them?  Let’s stop and talk about cars.  Well, cars and numbers.  Let’s imagine that our good friend Williamshire Frederickstonsky, a Camry-driver, eats a diet consisting of 20% animal products (which, remember, is well below the average of 27.7%).  Those busy researchers at the University of Chicago calculated that Bill can go out and buy a $20,000 Prius, or he can stop buying animal products – the effect on greenhouse gas emissions will be the same!  As a second example, they said that if our pal Lola drives a Suburban and eats a 35% animal product diet, she can either switch to a Camry or stop eating animal products – they’re equivalent in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.  And the whole vegetable foods, such as grains and beans, that would replace the animal products, are much cheaper.

I saw another comparison that I found interesting.  People agonize over whether they should ask for paper or plastic at the checkout, but they are unaware that, assuming that a day’s food for four is in the bag, the decisions they made in the meat and dairy departments are 186 times more important energy-wise.  “The energy saved by four people choosing a vegetable-based diet for one day equals the energy needed to produce 186 plastic bags, or drive the average U.S passenger car over 15 miles.” (“Paper vs. Plastic – The Final Analysis,” Justin Brant, Sightline Daily)

I’m definitely not trying to diminish the importance of car or bag selection, or any of the other recommended changes; I just want to lift food selection up into its rightful place, and get people talking about it.  This issue is absent from most web sites about global warming.  Look in vain for it on Al Gore’s list of ten things you can do.  The EPA ignores it.  Even people who care deeply about the environment often have no idea of the devastating impact livestock has on almost every issue our precious Earth faces, from acid rain to water pollution, desertification to mass extinctions and, of course, climate change.

So now what?  Well, the U.N. report had lots of suggestions for lowering livestock’s greenhouse gas emissions, such as not burning down the rainforest, and trapping the methane from manure.  I’m not a scientist, but they appeared to know what they were talking about.  The changes they propose might help, some.  We could sit back and wait for the government and industry to improve the greenhouse situation.  How’s that working so far?  Oh, I just heard a faint voice from faraway Washington, D.C., say, “What Greenhouse problem?”  [I wrote this when George W. Bush was in office.]

By now you probably have a pretty good idea of where I’m going with this.  Watch out, I might surprise you now.  I am vegan, but not because of global warming; while there are literally trillions of great reasons to be vegan, this article isn’t one of them, because you don’t have to eliminate every particle of animals from your diet in order to make a difference for our climate.  Don’t do nothing because you won’t do everything.  Each of us has the power to do something.  How much are you willing to do?


Posted in Environment, Musings | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »