... who shall teach man to confine himself to a more innocent and wholesome diet. Whatever my own practice may be, I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other… If one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions of his genius, which are certainly true, he sees not to what extremes, or even insanity, it may lead him; and yet that way, as he grows more resolute and faithful, his road lies. The faintest assured objection which one healthy man feels will at length prevail over the arguments and customs of mankind.”-From “Walden" by Thoreau
Food is now, as it always has been, an integral part of our human lives. In recent history major changes have been experienced in the global production of food and agriculture. One of the most influential driving forces of these changes is the rapid advancement technology (FAO 2008). Food and agricultural related technologies are accelerating at such a pace that it is challenging for the average person to keep current on new developments. Often, not enough information is provided. This makes it difficult to determine how these developments should affect our individual food choices. The process of consumer decision making is arduous, especially at the individual level.
Reasons for the lack of information are plenty. Pertinent information is frequently difficult to locate, and one must cover many sources to acquire a complete picture. Available information is often disorganized and not presented in a format that is user friendly. Most scientific studies have fallen short. More research of better quality is needed than that which is currently available (Williams 2007). This lack of information has resulted in significant consequences. The distance between consumer and producer has widened significantly. Nearly all food is purchased in supermarkets. Consumers have little, if any, contact with the farmers and food producers (Brom 2000). This disconnect has grown so extreme that many children have never visited a farm nor seen food being grown. If asked, most of these children won’t be able to explain where the food at the supermarket comes from.
Consumer concerns with respect to food and agriculture have never been more prevalent. Some people are concerned about certain products because of the wider impact these products have on their society and the world. Others are concerned about the safety and security of the food they consume. Whatever the reasons for concern, it is clear we must evaluate how we grow, produce, and purchase our food. By closely examining the food we eat and how it came to our table, we can initiate discussion about the costs and benefits of our current food production and consumption practices. The solution we propose is one of ethical eating. What is an ecologic diet ? “An ecologic diet, like green living, is not about absolutes. It's about doing the best you're willing and able to do – and nurturing a will to keep doing better.” (Baumel 2007)
Please allow us to explain. We (Zoe Dagan, David Finston, Jessica Rendon, and Chris Stadler) have dedicated our Senior capstone project, at Humboldt State University (HSU), to exploring and finding coherence in the hypernetwork that has become our quest to deliberate what ecological food really is. Conventional? Organic? Local? Processed? We want YOU to decide what's right -- based on a factual understanding of what all these buzzwords really boil down to.
Overview of ecologic diets
Both industrial as well as small-scale meat production also involves high environmental costs such as land degradationW, soil erosion and depletion of natural resources, especially pertaining to water and food. (For more information on the environmental impacts of meat production and consumption, see the Wikipedia article, Wikipedia:Ethics of eating meat.) Reducing meat consumption, perhaps to a few meals a week, or switching to a plant-based diet (ie vegetarian or vegan diet), or using diets that include animal flesh from non-mammalian species (ie fish and other seafood, poultryW, insects, artificial meat, ...) alleviates the demand for environmentally damaging meat production. Buying and consuming organically-raised, free rangeW or grass fed meatW is another alternative towards more sustainable meat consumption.
The reason why most current diets are not ecological is explained in the next section.
Environmental impact of raising livestock for meat
Generally, raising animals for human consumption is less efficient and requires more energy and water inputs than is required to produce other food sources such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. This is due to the fact that these animals need to be fed with crops themselves, which need to be grown and transported (both requiring CO2 emissions). In addition, these crops (which are generally consumable by humans) can also no longer be consumed directly by humans.
Studies performed at Cornell University have shown that the production of animal protein can require as much as eight times the amount of fossil-fuel energy when compared to the production of plant protein. They have also calculated that grain-fed beef production takes 100,000 liters of water for every kilogram of meat produced, and that chicken production takes 3,500 liters of water for every kilogram of meat produced. In comparison, soybean production uses 2,000 liters of water for every kilogram of food produced; rice, 1,912; wheat, 900; and potatoes, 500. Also, they concluded that the U.S. could feed 800 million people with the grain that livestock eat (U.S. could feed 800 million..., 1997). Many other similar studies and lifecycle analyses have been done that reach this same general conclusion: the production of animal protein is generally much less efficient than the production of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes and requires larger inputs of resources. As the human population continues to increase, both energy and water demands are also likely to increase. With the predicted shortage of both these resources becoming more of an increasing concern for the near future, the viability of meat production (at least how it is performed presently) may become more problematic (Brower, 1999).
In 1998 the Worldwatch Institute concluded that each kilo of meat that is produced represents several kilos of grain that could have been directly consumed by people. If the 670 million tons of the world's grain that is used for feed were reduced by just 10 percent, this would free up 67 million tons of grain, enough to sustain 225 million people for the next three years (United States Leads World Meat Stampede, 1998).
It should be noted though that besides switching completely to growing fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, non-mammalian animals can also be used to produce animal flesh. Although this isn't meat, it's relatively close to it, and these animals are far less energy-inefficient.
However, some critics point out that growing crops can still use up large amounts of fossil fuel and water resources. For example, crops that are planted and harvested on a large scale require mechanical machinery that burn fossil fuels, as well as pesticide and fertilizer inputs which are petroleum-based. Also, where water is subsidized, farmers have little incentive to conserve their water usage. In addition, eating overly processed, packaged, and transported vegetables may in fact use more energy than eating a local, organic chicken breast in some cases (Oliver, 2008). This criticism points out that if one wishes that their diet use the least amount of resources, it is not as simple as just cutting out meat consumption. Other factors also play a role such as long-distance transport, packaging, and some horticultural practices (Reijnders, 2003).
Methane emissions from the animals themselves
According to report by FAO in 2006, livestock production generated 37 percent of human-induced methane and 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide emissions. This data is important because methane is 23 times more destructive to the atmosphere than CO2. Nitrous oxide is 296 times more harmful (Oliver, 2008). Some researchers have calculated that simply cutting out meat from one’s diet just one a day a week would be the equivalent of driving 1860 km less a year. Cutting out meat consumption completely would have a much greater impact (Callaway, 2008).
Water: “The world is moving towards increasing problems of freshwater shortage, scarcity and depletion, with 64 percent of the world’s population expected to lie in water-stressed basins by 2050. The livestock sector is a key player in increasing water use…It is probably the largest sector source of water pollution, contributing to eutrophication, ‘dead’ zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reefs, human health problems, emergence of antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feed crops, and sediments from eroded pastures” (Steinfeld, 2006).
Deforestation: The livestock sector plays a major role in deforestation. For example “in Latin America where the greatest amount of deforestation is occurring- 79 percent of previously forested land in the Amazon is occupied by pastures, and feed crops cover a large part of the remainder” (Steinfeld, 2006).
Biodiversity: “The livestock sector may well be the leading player in the reduction of biodiversity, since it is the major driver of deforestation, as well as one of the leading drivers of land degradation, pollution, climate change, over fishing, sedimentation of coastal areas and facilitation of invasions by alien species” (Steinfeld, 2006).
The environmental issues surrounding meat production are complicated and intricate. A more detailed discussion of these impacts, as well as issues that are social and economical in nature, are discussed in further detail in the United Nations Report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”: http://www.virtualcentre.org/en/library/key_pub/longshad/A0701E00.htm
- Destruction of natural habitat to create land for cattle
- Destruction of natural habitat (e.g. rainforest) to grow food for cattle.
- Competition for food with humans - this means that wealthier people eating lots of meat increases the price of agricultural produce, which makes life harder for poorer people. This may not be an issue where:
- The animals live on scraps
- The animals live on other feed which humans do not eat, e.g. grass (cattle), household scraps (pigs, goats, chickens) and insects and seeds found in a garden (chickens, ducks).
Switching to a ecologic diet
- Note: This section makes describes the practices of specific cultures, and is not universally applicable.
What people tend to overlook is that having one person in a family following a special diet affects all members in this family. This, as food is generally prepared in 1 to 4 large pots (these containing the food for upto 4 people. Making 2 separate meals (and thus smaller food quantities in each pot) would still require upto 8 pots and is thus out of the question.
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- Note that emissions ie from the animal itself (animal farts), as well as methane release from the feces (the latter being even worse) hugely depends on the feed given. The best is to give only one type of food (as their stomach then becomes more specialised to digest this)
- 4 pots as : 1 pot for vegetables, 1 for staple crops, 1 for meat, 1 for sauce
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