July 19, 2011

Vegetarians – Eat More Lentils

Environmental, health and diet
The ethical and health benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets have been well covered by Michael Pollen, Jane Goodall (Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating) and Frances Moore Lappe. Jeffrey Smith (Seeds of Deception) has written about the harmful effects of genetically engineered food and of course Rachel Carson drew her target at the harmful impact of pesticides in our ecosystem. We should not forget Bill McKibben’s contribution to our thinking in his early call to action surrounding climate change. The Spirit Level by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson may also be added to this nutritional wake up. Pickett and Wilkinson argue that the United States spends six times that of Finland and Japan, yet Americans life expectancy is six years shorter.

Collectively this oeuvre issues a warning about our consumption and behavior. While not expressly decreeing a vegan diet- the writers question our intake of animal products, how we farm animals and the environmental impact of our protein choices.

A Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change
Yesterday, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) issued a report on our food and pollution that should be added to this reading list. Kari Hamerschlag a senior analyst with EWG yesterday published her report, “A Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health: What You Eat Matters. Eat Less Meat + Cheese and Buy Greener When You Do.”

The EWG engineers and scientists report on consumer goods- from sunscreen to cleaning products and toothpaste. The “Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change” complements EWG’s work on food, obesity, and the use of pesticides and makes some notable assertions about our food system and our diet.

Report highlights
Ideas we should all explore in our own lives:

  • Americans consume 60% more meat than Europeans (but remember from the Spirit Level we have shorter life expectancies and spend more on healthcare.)
  • The report analyzed the cradle-to-grave life-cycle from farm to cooking to disposal of unconsumed food. An astonishing 20% of edible meat is thrown away.
  • If you are going to eat meat, eggs and/or dairy look for “certified organic, humane and or grass fed” as they are “least harmful (to the environment), most ethical” and potentially “more nutritious and carry less risk of bacterial contamination.” For those who balk at the higher prices of organic, eat less protein- men, for example, consume twice the daily recommended intake of protein.
  • Vegetarians are also responsible for methane production. Cheese generates greenhouse gases, only trailing lamb and beef in terms of kg of CO2e emitted vs kg of consumed food. (Cheese is only marginally better in greenhouse gas emissions than pork and farmed turkey).
  • “…Beef has twice the greenhouse gas emissions of pork, four times that of chicken and more than thirteen times that of vegetable proteins such as beans, lentils and tofu”

If you are concerned with your health, the environment and the way we grow our food, read the “Meat Eaters Guide”.

Goodall, Pollan and Frances Moore Lappe espouse eating more plants. Kari Hamerschlag’s furthers this conversation and maps our dietary choices to the failing health of the environment and therefore ourselves. If we continue in our consumptive ways without heeding the warnings of Hamerschlag, then we will suffer higher costs to repair our bodies and our soil.

The Environmental Working Groups 2011 Meat Eaters Guide

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