Monday, March 16, 2009
Green On St. Patty's Day!!
Happy St. Patrick's Day!!
A wonderful day to celebrate the little bit of Irish in all of us! I used to love my mom's Corned Beef, Irish Pasties with Grandma in Butte, MT, and I admit that I had the Green McDonald's "Shamrock" Milkshake as a teenager-but those days are far behind me! Now I'd much rather eat leafy greens!! Kale, Spinach, Peas, Beans, Cucumbers, Apples, Lentils, Split Peas Brussel Sprouts-all Green things that I love!
I wish I could have made Whole-Wheat Irish Soda Bread or this Corned Beef Seitan to celebrate- but I have class from 9am-10pm. I am most definitely wearing green though!
But what I'm eating is "green." I'm going to take this opportunity to explain why I believe that Organic Vegan food is much better for the environment than the typical American Diet.
The greatest percentage of energy in America is devoted to raising livestock. It takes 7 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of meat, and deforestation occurs in parts of the world to make room for grazing herds. The production and transportation of meat and dairy, particularly if you include the grains that are fed to livestock, is very energy intensive. Animals also release methane and nitrous oxide that are up to 30 times more damaging than carbon dioxide. According to a 2006 United Nations report, internationally the livestock sector accounts for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions -- more than the transportation sector. Gideon Eshel and Pamela Martin of University of Chicago did a fascinating study on on Diet, Energy and Global Warming (which can be read in full here) The average person consuming a mixed American diet cause the emission of 1,485 kg of CO2 than a person eating the same number of calories, but entirely from plant sources (Eshel 2005). Of course not all meat is created equally. The biggest impact is from large-scale industrial animal farms, and meat can be raised more ethically, and sustainably in smaller-scale ranches. My omni-family buys meat from a local free-range rancher who does not use any antibiotics or hormones. They buy a cow every year, and get it butchered locally. But, that is not fesible for a lot of people (the West has a lot going for it, in terms of land, and wide open spaces)
But, eating only plant-based foods isn't a free ticket to a more sustainable life. Organic Agriculture management promotes healthy eco-systems and prohibits GMO seeds, swage sludge, and commercial pesticides and herbicides. When done correctly it supports a biologically diverse, healthy environment. As Pamala Ronald and Raoul Adamchack write in Tomorrow's Table: the goal of organic farming is the health of soil, crop, farmer, environment and consumer, while the goal of convential farming is high yield and inexpensive food. It takes the energy equivalent of 30 gallons of gasoline to produce the pesticides for 1 acre of convential farm. Each year, 6,000 sq. miles of dead zone at the base of the Mississippi River is due to high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus from upstream farms (16).
But as organic farming becomes corporate (The largest farms are owned by General Mills, Dole, Kraft and Coca-cola- Check out this awesome graphic!) and the demand for exotic "organic" produce increases, some of these idealistic principles can become hazy. organic bananas flown in from Ecuador negate some of the environmental benefits of organic growing. The carbon emissions from transportation are another factor when assessing the environmental impact of the food we are consuming. Conventional Local Food is less damaging than organic food that has traveled across continents.
I'm not sure that I am able to tell the difference in Taste between Organic and Conventional Produce, but Hammy the Hamster sure can!
Obviously, Local Organic farms are ideal, and then each item should be evaluated individually. Personally, I do buy Organic apples from Washington and Oranges from Florida. But I haven't bought avocado, papaya, melon, or pineapple (South American-organic or not) all winter. In the summer I buy from local farmers who may not be USDA certified Organic-due to the cost of certification, but who still practice sustainable agriculture. I definitely support their efforts.
There are so many little nuances to consider when choosing to eat more sustainably, and try to protect our fragile environment. I strongly believe that it's important to enjoy food in the short term but to also think about its impact over the long-term.
Happy St. Patrick's Day!