How green is your fork?
Can we – can I – have a positive effect on the earth? How?
More and more people are beginning to believe that the biggest positive impact we can have is absolutely basic: through our food choices.
In 2008, inspired by “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” a UN report on the impact of livestock farming on the environment, I wrote “How green is your fork?” for L’Inconnu magazine in Senegal. The article was recently mentioned in a book, Living in Tune with Your Heart – so I searched it out and decided to post it here.
How green is your fork?
We have all heard about the oil crisis. We read that fossil fuel energy is a dead end. We know first hand about the high price of petrol, or gas. And not many of us would deny that cars, airplanes, trucks and trains all contribute significantly to global warming… But the food we eat? What possible connection can that have with greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and the ozone layer?
Livestock’s long shadow
Before assuming that transportation and other industries are the only bad act on the planet, consider the following facts – based on a recent UN Food and Agriculture Organization report.
Fact: There are now ten times more food animals than people in the world – 60 billion cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, sheep, etc. 60,000,000,000 of them.
Fact: Food animals consume a lot of water. A vegan (someone who does not eat any animal products) could run their shower or their bath all day and all night, every day of the week for a year, and they would still consume less water than anyone whose diet is based on meat and dairy products.
Fact: Food animals need a lot of land, both for grazing and for the crops that feed them. That means clearing vast acreages of forested areas.
Fact: When forests are cleared on a large scale (as in 60 billion animals), it radically disturbs the health of soil, water and air, with a worldwide negative impact. Deforestation and overgrazing result in erosion – a loss of topsoil and fertility that leads to desertification. They also lead to a lessening of rainfall (trees attract rain), a lowering of the water table, a heating up of exposed soil (loss of fertility), a disappearance of year-round streams, lakes and rivers, and the decline or demise of multiple plant systems and animal species.
Fact: 70% of the Amazon rainforest clearing is for the animal grazing industry, not to mention the clearing of forested lands all across Africa, Asia, Europe and other parts of America. Much of this activity is to provide meat for the world market.
Fact: The animal food industry generates 18% of the world’s total carbon dioxide – almost half as much again as all forms of transportation combined.
Fact: 60 billion food animals (injected or fed with drugs – growth hormones, fattening agents and antibiotics) produce a large amount of excrement and urine, which seriously contaminates rivers, groundwater, wells, reservoirs, lakes and oceans. Meanwhile, it generates 37% of all human-induced methane (23 times worse impact than carbon dioxide or CO₂), 65% of the world’s nitrous oxide (296 times the global warming potential of CO₂), and 64% of all ammonia emissions (causing acid rain that destroys vast ecosystems).
Conclusion: The animal food industry is a leading contributor to global warming, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions – even more detrimental than the entire transportation industry.
OK, so these facts are unexpected, even shocking, but what can we as individuals do about it? What effect can one person possibly have, reducing their animal food intake? By committing to eating less animal foods, are we really contributing towards the tipping point needed for reducing global warming?
Fact: Our collective food choices reduce or maintain the worldwide pollution of water, soil and air. Those food choices reduce or maintain deforestation worldwide, and they preserve or diminish our precious reserves of water in underground aquifers, surface reservoirs, lakes and rivers.
Environmental and humanitarian considerations apart, is it possible to remain healthy if you stop eating animal products? Aren’t those foods essential for human health?
Fact: People in the USA consume the most meat and animal products in the world (meat, fish, eggs, milk and milk products); they also have a high standard of living. Yet the USA is high on the list of countries with the largest numbers of people suffering from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and numerous other diseases.
Fact: Multiple health studies from round the world during the last seven decades and more, published in respected medical journals in the US, Britain, Canada and elsewhere, have shown conclusively that one group of people, of all ages and all occupations (including children, the elderly, and world-class athletes) are far more healthy than people anywhere in the world who eat meat, fish, eggs and milk products. That group is vegans – people from all countries and climates whose diet is based exclusively on vegetables, along with fruits, grains, nuts and seeds.
Food for thought, indeed! Most of us are addicted to the way we eat, love the food we eat, and may react with outrage at the idea of being encouraged to eat differently. So let’s take a pause here – no one is forcing you to do anything! The basic questions are simply:
1. Do you care about your own health?
2. Do you care about the health and survival of the Earth?
3. Do you wish there were something highly significant, transformative and healing that you personally could do every day that would contribute to both?
If your answer to any of these questions is Yes, then do the maths! It may well be that the most powerful contribution you can make to your own health and the health of the planet is to reduce the amount of animal foods you eat and gradually (or immediately) go vegan.
As you reflect on the impact of your personal food choices in a world endangered by climate change, consider this: In a hologram, when you change one minute part, you immediately change the whole. However insignificant your individual actions may seem to be, on a subtle but all-pervasive level they have an immediate effect – on yourself, your family, your friends and relations, your community, your country, and on the rest of the world – because we are all part of the world hologram.
Quantum change by definition is tiny, but because we are what new physics calls a non-linear system, it takes only a tiny input of energy at the right time and place to have a huge system-wide effect.
Quantum change is an unexpected leap from one state to another, with no transition in between. So nobody, least of all yourself, can predict the extent of the positive effect your quantum changes will have.
In choosing to avoid animal foods and eating instead a nourishing plant-based diet, your food choices contribute to global balance. You might even be the final straw that creates enough mass for a tipping point! The fact is: our food choices around the world have the power to turn the tide on greed and global warming.
Sources Google the UN Food and Agriculture Organization report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow” – acknowledgements to Richard Schulze, Creating Powerful Health Naturally (2008) at www.herbdoc.com; also the vegan video, A Life Connected, at http://www.nonviolenceunited.org/veganvideo.html
- The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine at http://www.pcrm.org and http://www.NutritionMD.org for up-to-date vegetarian and vegan nutritional information from MDs on a range of health conditions (including cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes), as well as low-fat recipes and other practical support to help you transition healthily to a non-animal diet.
- Victoria Boutenko’s Green for Life is an easy way to transition to a better dietstyle, whether you are vegetarian, vegan or omnivore.
- John Robbins’s Diet for a New America is a classic on animal foods and the animal food industry.
- T. Colin Campbell, The China Study, tracks thousands of people over a 20-year period in a study involving experts in China, England and the US – and provides evidence that those on a plant-based diet are healthier, whereas the more animal foods consumed, the unhealthier people become.
- Christopher Vasey, The Acid-Alkaline Diet for Optimum Health tells you things about the acid-alkaline balance that no other study does. Excellent.