Eating green food means to eat sustainable food that will protect our planet. Grass-fed beef or pasture raised livestock are not the answer - they may even worsen the problem
Healthy eating has huge benefits for your own health, but did you know that eating healthy green food is also very important for the health of our planet?
We usually attribute global warming to our immense use of fossil fuels in transportation, manufacturing, heating, cooling, etc. All these are responsible for large greenhouse gas emissions that lead our climate change, but the single largest contributor is actually our food - or better said, our animal food.
Surprised? So was I not too long ago, until I started digging deeper and found some alarming facts about the real main reason for our climate change and loss of natural resources: it happens mainly because we choose to eat the not so green food: animal products!
Livestock raised by the meat, egg, and dairy industries is now responsible for 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions - that is 3 times more than all transportation of cars, planes, trains, ships, etc combined worldwide (17)!
Eating a plant-based diet without any animal ingredients is the most efficient green food to protect our planet: it prevents the equivalent of 1.5 tons CO2 emissions every year - more than the 1 ton CO2 emissions prevented by switching to a hybrid car (1)
Here are some staggering facts to highlight how our food choices contribute to greenhouse gas emissions:
- More than 99% of all farm animals are now raised on factory farms in the United States(6). Virtually all our seafood originates from industrial fishing or factory fish farms.
- Eating one pound of meat emits the same greenhouse gas as driving an SUV for 40 miles (12). No matter where the animal was raised - it is not green food!
- The annual cost of environmental damage and global depletion caused by industrial farming in the US is estimated at $34.7 billion (13).
- The U.N. reports that the meat, egg, and dairy industries account for 65% of worldwide nitrous oxide greenhouse gases, which are 296 times as warming as CO2 (16).
- The livestock industry alone is responsible for 37% of methane gas, which are 26 times more warming than CO2 (17). Of that, belching and flatulence from farm animals alone already contribute to 16% of the world's annual methane emission (3).
Meat also travels much longer distances from the farm to the table nowadays.
Since US communities have started to protest against the pollution of their soil, water, and air by farm animal manure that creates devastating toxic pollution, big agribusinesses have started moving their operations to countries where the environmental controls are less stringent. This means the meat has to be shipped back from the farm to the end consumers, mostly in Western countries. As the natural shelf-life of meat would not survive such long journeys, food manufacturers now "nuke" the meat by irradiating it. Not only is the transportation cost of meat further increased, it is also the bearer of more toxins, chemicals, and disease than ever before. Meat is the least green food and sustainable food choice on the planet!
Amazon rainforest deforested for soy fields - green food used as cattle feed, not humans, and with high environmental toll
How our animal food choices contribute to global depletion of our natural resources:
- In the US, more than 50% of the overall water use goes into animal agriculture (2).
- It takes between 2,500 - 4,000 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat, while growing 1 pound of soy needs 250 gallons and a pound of wheat only requires 25 gallons of water (8). Eating green would be eating the green food (crops) directly, rather than feeding them to animals first.
- One-third of all the raw materials and fossil fuels used in the US go to raising food animals. (11)
- 30% of the entire earth land surface is now used by livestock, mostly as permanent pasture. This includes 33% of the global arable land used to produce feed crops (7).
- Of all the agricultural land in the US, nearly 80% is used in some way to raise animals - that's roughly half of the total land mass of the US (14).
- 20% of pasture land is considered degraded through overgrazing, compaction and erosion. Even if we wanted to cultivate green food for humans on this land, it would take years and decades for the land to recover (7).
- 80% of the deforested areas in the Amazon rainforest are occupied by cattle pastures and soy fields. 70-80 % of that soy is used to feed livestock -not humans (7).
- Factory farming is responsible for 37% of pesticide contamination, 50% of antibiotic contamination, and one-third of the nitrogen and phosphorus loads found in freshwater (7).
- Farmed animals produce 130 times more excrement than the human US population and the run-off from their waste is contaminating the waterways (15). Even organic green food that is fertilized with animal manure is at risk to contamine and soil and sicken consumers.
- Large US companies have been linked to deforestation, land theft, and slavery in the Amazon region in Brazil (4).
More facts on global depletion through animal farming and what you can do to green your food: Going green with food
True green food choices that are sustainable can only be defined in one way: choose the foods that are in the best interest of our planet.
If Factory Farming is so bad for the Environment, isn't the Sustainable Food Solution to return to Grass-Fed and Pasture Raised Animals?
It is not! When the supporters of pasture raised livestock and grass-fed beef cite environmental benefits from moving animals from factory farms to green pastures, they only compare the net gain between these two options. They may look at the fossil fuel savings no longer required for transport, which is only a small portion of the overall fossil fuel need for raising and slaughtering animals, which remains the same wherever they are raised.
Pasture raised animals may live a life that is more natural to them, but a grass-fed cow emits even more methane gas than a corn-fed cow in factory farms. The excrements from livestock will remain the same or even increase, as animals' lifespans increase on pastured land and it takes longer for them to get to slaughter-ready weight. Cows fed on grass don't automatically become green food!
Moving our entire livestock from factory farms to green pastures is impossible, given our current demand for animal products, which is estimated to grow even further. There is not enough land on the entire planet for grass-fed cows and pasture raised livestock to feed the demand of the human population.
No matter how and where they are grown - animal foods are NOT green foods. They are NOT sustainable for our planet or our health.
How do we eat sustainable for our own health and that of our planet?
To make a true difference, we have to start eating real green food - a fully plant-based diet based on organically grown whole foods. This would allow our top soils to recover, our water resources and air to clean up, and it would protect the biodiversity of our unique planet.
Eating low on the food chain and using the most efficient and beneficial foods for our health and that of our planet - that's what is truly sustainable eating.
Along with saving the planet and its resources, we would also be able to feed many more people with much less land and resource use. Here is a comparison:
- The world's cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people - that is more than the current human population on earth.
- 20% of the world's population - 1.4 billion people - could be fed with the grain and soybeans fed to US cattle alone (9).
- 80% of all the grains we grow in the US and 80% of the total world's soy crop are consumed by farm animals - not humans (10).
- One pound of beef requires up to 16 pounds of grain; a pound of pork requires 7 pounds, and a pound of poultry needs 2-6 pounds of grain - not really green food (5).
- Animal feed requires almost 10 times the crops that it would take to feed vegetarians. If we eat green food, the world population could be fed comfortably for many years to come.
- All animals require many times more calories in the form of grains than they will return in form of animal flesh for human eaters.
- The grass-fed beef operations in California alone use 1-2 million gallons of water on one acre of pasture land they call sustainable. Only 400-480 pounds of meat can be produced by one acre of land, compared to 20,000 pounds of plant foods that could be grown on the same slot.
Millions of people still hear that farming animals is sustainable and that we just have to take them out of the factory farms. It is not!
Why don't the Official Environmental Organizations tell us that our Food Choices are the Real Cause of Global Depletion?
Experts called upon by governments to evaluate our climate change and global depletion problem and to suggest solutions are consistently omitting the fact that our food production is a mayor contributor to global warming and loss of our global resources.
Why are they not telling us the truth?
The answer to this can have multiple facets, and the underlying reasons are complex. Here are a few scenarios:
- They get a mandate from their government to devise a solution that will not disrupt the country's economy. The economics of food are complex and inseparable from most countries' largest industries: food production, pharma, chemical, banking, and medical. Any call by climate experts to forgo animal food products for the sake of the environment will have an immediate impact on the returns of ALL these industries. This is not a desirable outcome for profit-oriented corporations and the governments that depend on them.
- The climate experts are completely (and comfortably) unaware of the fact that livestock has such a high impact on global depletion. While enough research and facts hereto exist, almost all of the conversation about climate change has revolved around fossil fuel and clean energy. Huge amounts of money and effort are spent on finding a clean fuel for our cars. This blind-sided approach is also fueled by the fact that new energy can create new jobs and provide an additional economic boost, which is not seen in sustainable, green food production yet.
- They truly still believe that animal foods are essential for human health and since, cannot be touched to ensure public health. This is largely also the reason why we see the "locavore" movement on the rise, which supports grass-fed beef and pasture raised livestock close to home. These people have a sense of the environmental impact of animal foods, but have not thought it through in terms of feeding an entire population. They are looking for an easier way out.
- The climate experts are fully aware of the food industry's environmental impact but they choose the path of least resistance. After all, it is easier to play with algae for potential "greener fuels" than to tell people to change the food they eat to "green food". Changing a lifestyle and cultural behavior is taboo when devising solutions for our climate pains. The belief is that the population will largely reject such suggestions. As sad as it is, most of us simply don't want to hear the truth yet. It requires tireless grass-roots activities and a drastic wake-up call for the general public to start demanding real "green food" - food that is healthy for us and for our planet.
Solutions for green food that is sustainable long-term and healthy for us and our planet
Dr. Richard Oppenlander tells us that the food we choose to eat is killing our planet - and he proves it with a staggering amount of research and facts in his environmental must-read book "Comfortably Unaware". I interviewed Rick Oppenlander about his insights: they are eye-opening for everyone who believes that they can save the plant by switching to a hybrid car - or to grass-fed beef. Click here for the interview.
Going green with food - find out how you can eat more sustainable and healthy for our planet - one meal at a time.
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(1) NewScientist.com, "It's better to green your diet than your car"; 17 Dec. 2005 - about going green by avoiding meat
(2) John Robbins, "The Food Revolution" - a great source for healthier living and going green through avoiding animal products
(3) WorldWatch Institute - "Good Stuff" - shows why meat is not green food
(4) GreenPeace - Eating up the Amazon April 06, 2006
(5) BritishMeat.com about factor farming facts and going green with vegetarian diets
(6) Farm Forward calculation based on U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2002 Census of Agriculture, June 2004
(7) Livestock's Long Shadow - Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nation's 2006 report concludes that going green with food means cutting down meat.
(8) John Robbins' article "2,500 gallons all wet?" to address questions around water use in the beef industry based on his book "Diet for a New America". Going green is more efficient through avoiding meat than saving energy and water.
(9) Mark Gold and Jonathon Porritt, "The Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat"; 2004, p. 22 - explains going green solutions with reduction of animal products
(10) Greenpeace, "Eating up the Amazon", 2006 - describes global warming causes and other impact of deforestation in Brazil
(11) Environmental magazine "E" in 2002 - about the global warming causes of factory farming and meat production.
(12) Environmental Protection Agency - about greenhouse gases emissions and pollution caused by factory farming
(13) Sustainable Table on Research from the Department of Economics at the University of Essex
(14) Earth Talk, "The Environmental Beef With Meat"; The Bay Weekly 6 Jan. 2005
(15) Worldwatch Institute, "Fire Up the Grill for a Mouthwatering Red, White and Green July 4th"; 2 Jul. 2003
(16) Steinfeld et al. - on global warming causes and going green disasters of factory farming
(17) 2009 Worldwatch Institute's study "Livestock and Climate Change" - about global warming causes and greenhouse gases produced by factory farming operations