Monday, 2 March 2009

Sustainable Eating Challenge Part IV: The Final Day

I'm here, I've done It!

Well pretty much anyway! The couple of days I spent at CAT I ate whatever - people have got used to cooking vegetarian or dairy free food, but specifying the country where you want your food to come from would probably be a bit much for most people! I also couldn't take three days worth of food with me - ok so I could, but I didn't ok, stop judging me!

Oh and one day I ate egg sandwiches of unknown origin! Hmm, also brought some bread who main ingredients were from the UK but other ingredients may not of been. And then there were the crisps that were likewise.

But other than that, all was good! It all became second nature in the end, I became used to it. I guess we become creatures of habit and even when a huge range of food is open to us we tend to stick to a few common dishes, so whether you can eat all foods or only a type of foods the amount of variety in your diet still evens out to about the same.

So what have I learnt? Well, that eating locally is the most environmentally sound option all other things being equal. The problem is, all other things are very rarely equal at all! If you get foods that are locally grown but out of season the energy used in storing them might be greater than transportation cost, also if the foods you get locally were grown in a very energy intensive way (non organically and using much machinery) that may be worse for the environment than transporting more naturally grown food. Most importantly, it may be more difficult to get non-animal sources of protein, oils and fats locally - I couldn't get oils to use in cooking from the UK so had to use butter, and I also ended up using milk and cheese that I rarely normally use.

Lets have a look at the case of animal foods: eating meat is responsible for the largest environmental costs in food production, followed by dairy - this is because vast amounts of resources are taken up just keeping the animals alive. The following facts I found cited in the excellent book 'The Prophet's Way' by Thom Hartmann. I haven't included everything but if you are interested the full list can be found here where the proper author is cited and references given.

(The most relevant bits are in bold)

Distribution of food resources & world hunger
  • Amount of soy grown in the United States consumed by livestock: 90%
  • Amount of corn grown in the United States consumed by livestock: 80%
  • How frequently a child on Earth dies as a result of malnutrition and starvation: Every 2.3 seconds.
  • Amount of total US grain production consumed by livestock: 70%
  • Amount of US grain exports consumed by livestock: 66%
  • Number of children who die as a result of malnutrition and starvation every day: 38,000
  • Amount of world grain harvest consumed by livestock throughout the 1980's: Half
  • Number of people who will die this year as a result of malnutrition and starvation: 20,000,000
  • Number of people who can be nourished with the nutritional value of the grain and soy used to produce the meat, poultry and dairy products by the average American each year: 7
  • Number of people who could be fed using the land, water and energy that would be freed up from growing livestock if Americans reduced their intake of meat by 10%: 100,000,000
Resource utilization
  • By 1977, the amount of all raw materials (base products of farming, forestry and mining, including fossil fuels) consumed by the US, devoted to the production of livestock: one-third
  • Pounds of grain and soy used to produce 1 pound of food from: Beef 16, Pork 6, Turkey 4, Chicken/egg 16
  • Amount of nutrient wasted by cycling grain and soy through livestock: Protein 99%, Carbohydrate 99%, Fiber 100%
Land utilization
  • Amount of Earth's land mass grazed by livestock: one-half
  • Amount of US cropland producing livestock feed: 64%
  • Amount of US cropland and producing fruits and vegetables: 2%
  • Pounds of edible product that can be produced on one acre of prime land: Cherries 5000, Green beans 10000, Apples 20000, Carrots 30000, Potatoes 40,000, Tomatoes 50000, Celery 60000, Beef 250
Energy consumption
  • Calories of fossil fuel expended to produce 1 calorie of protein from beef: 78
  • Calories of fossil fuel expended to produce 1 calorie of protein from soybeans: 2
  • Amount of total energy expended in American agriculture devoted to livestock production: almost half
  • Energy expended to produce one pound of grain-fed beef: equivalent to one gallon of gasoline
Water consumption
  • Activity that accounts for more than half of all water consumed for all purposes in the United States: livestock production
  • In California, the number of gallons needed to produce 1 edible pound of: Tomatoes 23, Lettuce 23, Potatoes 24, Wheat 25, Carrots 33, Apples 49, Oranges 65, Grapes 70, Milk 130, Eggs 544, Chicken 815, Pork 1630, Beef 5214
  • How long it takes a person to use 5200 gallons of water showering (at 5 showers per week, 5 minutes per shower, with a flow rate of 4 gallons per minute) : One year
Soil erosion
  • Current annual topsoil loss on agriculture land in the US: Over 5 billion tons
  • Amount of original US cropland permanently removed from production due to excessive soil erosion: one third
  • Pounds of topsoil lost in the production of one pound of feedlot steak: 35
  • Current annual topsoil loss on agriculture land worldwide: 26 billions tons
  • Time required for nature to form one inch of topsoil: 200 to 1000 years
  • Direct and indirect costs of soil erosion and runoff in the US annually: 44 billion
  • Historic cause of demise of many great civilizations: Topsoil depletion
  • Regions most effected by desertification: All cattle-producing areas, including the western half of the United States, Central and South America, Australia and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Amount of Earth's land rendered unproductive by desertification annually: 52 million acres
  • Percentage of Earth land mass suffering desertification: 29%
  • The five leading causes of desertification: Overgrazing of livestock, over-cultivation of land, improper irrigation techniques, deforestation, prevention of reforestation
  • Primary contributing factor in all cases: Cattle production.
  • Estimated area of rainforest destroyed annually: 125,000 square miles.
  • Amount of meat imported in 1987 by US from Central and South America: 300 million pounds
  • Current rate of species extinction due to destruction of tropical rainforests and related habitats: 1,000/year
  • Amount of medicines available today that have been derived from plants: one-quarter
  • Leading cause of rainforest destruction in Central America: Cattle production
  • Amount of Central American rainforests cleared to create pastureland for cattle: 25%
  • Monetary value of 50 years harvest from one hectare of naturally occurring rainforest produce: $6,330
  • Monetary value of 50 years production of cattle ranching from one hectare of cleared and burned rainforest: $2,960
Carbon dioxide
  • Amount of global carbon dioxide emissions created by the burning of fossil fuels: two-thirds
  • Amount of fossil fuels burned to produce the beef currently eaten annually by the average US family of four: 200 gallons
  • Amount of carbon dioxide released in the atmosphere by burning 200 gallons of fossil fuels: 2 tons
  • Amount of carbon dioxide released in the atmosphere by the average American car in six months: 2.5 tons
  • Estimated atmospheric carbon dioxide released in the production of an average steak: The same as a 25-mile drive in a typical American car.
  • Amount of global carbon dioxide emissions created by the burning of biomass: one third
  • Amount of carbon dioxide released since 1970 from rainforest cleared and burned for cattle pasture: 1.4 billion tons
Water pollution
  • Production of excrement by US livestock: 230.000 pounds per second
  • Amount of waste created by 10.000-head feedlot: Equal to a city of 110.000 people
  • Amount of wells and surface streams in the US contaminated by agriculture pollutants: half
  • Water pollution attributable to US agriculture, including runoff of soil, pesticides and manure: greater than all municipal and industrial sources combined
  • Increase in overall pesticide use since 1945 (when petrochemical based agriculture became popular): 3300%
  • Increase in overall crop losses due to insects since 1945: 20%
  • Increase in the amount of pesticides applied per acre of corn since 1945: 100000%
  • Increase in corn crop losses since 1945: 400%
  • Amount of total herbicides used that are applied to corn and soybeans (primarily feed crops): 61%
  • Calcium content in various foods (per 100g): Broccoli 246, Kale 74, Chickpeas 75, Soybeans 131, Sunflower seeds 40, Hazel nuts 60, Cow milk 28, Eggs 27, Cheese 100/350
  • Diseases linked to excess animal protein consumption: Osteoporosis and kidney disease
  • The average measurable bone loss of female meat-eaters at age 65: 35%
  • The average measurable bone loss of female vegetarians at age 65: 18%
  • Major source of pesticide residues in the western diet: meat, poultry and dairy products
  • Food most likely to cause cancer from herbicide residue: Beef
  • Number of slaughtered animals tested for toxic chemical residues: One in every quarter million
  • Amount of US non-vegetarian mother's milk with significant levels of DDT: 99%
  • Amount of US vegetarian mother's milk with significant levels of DDT: 8%
Antibiotics, Hormones and other Drugs
  • Amount of total antibiotics need in US that are fed on livestock: 55%
  • Staphylococci infections resistant to penicillin in 1960: 13%, in 1988 91%
  • Major contributing cause: The breeding of antibiotic resistant bacteria in factory farms due to routine feeding of antibiotics to livestock
  • Amount of US livestock and poultry receiving drugs during their lifetime: 80%
  • Amount of FDA (Federal Drug Administration) that failed to verify the data on the safety of new drugs used on animals to the General Accounting Office (US) : 54%
  • Effectiveness of the FDA data review process: highly questionable as it is made to detect fraud in reports on new drugs
  • Substances found in 63% to 86% of milk samples in 1991: Sulfa drugs, tetracycline and other antibiotics
  • Potential cancer-causing substances detected in recent years in the meat supply: choramphenicol, cabadox, nitrofurazone, dimitridazole, and ipronidazole

Sooooooooooo, it can be be concluded that as I ended up eating more dairy food on this diet that some of the benefits of me eating local food have been offset!

Basically then, the best diet environmentally (and probably also healthwise) is one where meat and dairy are minimised and where local, organic, in season food is consumed and ideally (for health as much as anything) in its least manufactured form.

So where do I go from here? Well, I think I will largely continue with eating UK foods, such as, jacket potatoes and mushy peas, maple peas and barley and homemade apple cake, which are a few of my favorites. But I will use olive oil and oat milk instead of the dairy (which didn't seem to agree with me anyway). I will continue eating organic, local and in season vegetables. Although I will not eat foods from abroad as a major part of my diet I will at times treat myself to some such food, for example, chocolate! In fact, I may just stay up till past midnight tonight to do just that!


  1. Those are an awful lot of scary numbers and facts! The Health part scares me the hell out of me. Unbelievable!

  2. They are not meant to scare, but they are meant to cut through complacency about the environmental and health impacts of diet. But yeah they are quite shocking, facts about the world often can be because we often live in little bubbles!


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