Tag Archives: food

Is a vegan diet less sustainable than an omnivorous diet?

References to one particular study on diet and land use requirements keep popping up around the web, from various blogs and news organizations.

rude-151093_640Most of them have been quick to jump on this study because it seems to offer them an opportunity to thumb their noses and blow raspberries at the vegan community, for example, “Sorry vegans: Sticking to a meat-free, dairy-free diet is NOT as good for the planet as you might think”. Many of them start with some kind of elbow to the rib, something about how we like to think we’re better than everybody else or some such nonsense. Some are more respectful.

What all of them have in common is a serious lack of understanding of the specific point made by the authors, and even the authors themselves seem to miss the forest for the trees. I’ll explain.

First, here’s a link to the specious article under discussion: Peters et al. 2016. It’s licensed under the CC attribution license and available for everyone to read for free (yay!).

salad-1570673_640The key measure under investigation was the carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land – basically, the annual per capita land requirements vs. amount of land available for food production when that food is in keeping with different diets. More simply, how many people can be fed with the amount of land that we have? The authors look at various levels of omnivorous diets, lacto-ovo and lacto-vegetarian, and vegan, as well as 2 variants of current consumption.

They begin with 2 fundamental assumptions: there is a relationship between diet and sustainability, specifically, “dietary change is essential for meeting future human food needs”. Agreed. Second: “sparing land from conversion to agriculture may be important for protecting biodiversity”, so it’s vitally important to understand how dietary patterns impact land use. So far, so good.

cows-1029077_640The authors caution against simplistic thinking because, though animal agriculture is the most land-intensive, the largest fraction of land it uses is for foraging and grazing, often on non-arable land – land that can’t be used to grow any crops for human consumption, though grasses and other ‘weeds’ will grow which the animals eat. So, as they point out, eliminating animal agriculture does not necessarily mean turning all its land over to cultivation.

So, I can definitely see where they’re coming from. It’s a logical argument. If we want to make the most of our land for food production purposes, then we need to use it for what it’s good for. Attempting to make non-arable land supportive of crops causes environmental devastation (just look at the Aral Sea crisis). And it’s clear from the numbers in Peters et al. (2016) that the most efficient use of land for food would include using non-arable land for animal agriculture.

There are 2 implicit assumptions the authors are making which are simply untrue. First, that there is such a thing as an omnivorous diet that is healthy. Nope. Not only is the ingestion of animal products devastating to human health, but the killing and handling of dead animals causes psychological disorders in the people who do that kind of work, and passes unknown numbers of diseases on to anyone who handles raw meat, producers & consumers alike.

Second, that the most efficient diet in terms of land use is the most sustainable diet. Efficiency does not equal sustainability, and animal agriculture is far too devastating to the environment to be considered as part of the future of a sustainable food supply. The following information and more is available on the Cowspiracy website’s fact sheet.

  • ocean dead zones, water pollution, & habitat destruction are largely driven by animal agricultureclean-1223168_640
  • livestock and their byproducts account for 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions
  • animal agriculture is the leading driver of desertification
  • the U.S. could feed 800 million people with just the grain that is currently fed to livestock (that’s more than double the current U.S. population and slightly more than the total number of starving people in the world, according to United Nations World Food Program statistics)
  • more than 80% of the world’s starving children live in countries who export their grain to feed livestock, which are then consumed by people in wealthier countries – an absolute crime against humanity

What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t actually matter what the most efficient use of land is, because any animal agriculture at all does more harm than good and, if we turn over all the currently arable land to cultivation for human consumption, we could easily feed the global population with room to grow, and if we eventually do outgrow it, we can still work with what we’ve got and use our technology to find better solutions like vertical farming.

Something I often hear vegans say, and see in vegan blog posts is that we don’t need to consume animals and their products to be healthy and happy, but we can make a much stronger statement than that – because it’s true – consuming animals and their products at the rate we currently do is not only antithetical to human health & happiness, but even to our survival as a species.

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Leaving the Land of Nod: a vegan perspective on the Garden of Eden

How do you feel about knowledge?

It’s generally a good thing, right? Important, a worthy pursuit, advances civilization, and all that jazz? Yes, of course.

creation-47473_640That’s why I never really got the Bible story about Adam & Eve & the Garden of Eden. They were cast out of the garden for eating from the Tree of Knowledge. I couldn’t quite connect with the idea that knowledge was somehow a bad thing. I’m apparently not the only one because I’ve seen interpretations of this story saying that the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge had the power to fill man with the desire for both good and evil. But I don’t buy that interpretation. It doesn’t seem to be what was intended by the story, which speaks only of the knowledge of good and evil.

Now that I have a different perspective on the eating habits of humanity, it suddenly dawned on me to look at this story with new eyes, and I found that I have, for the first time, an answer to this riddle that works for me.

Humankind is the only species that, as far as we know, has knowledge of good and evil; in other words – we’re the only non-innocent animal in an ethical sense, meaning that we make decisions based on a thought process including the weighing of our actions against a moral backdrop rather than simply following instinct with no ethical culpability, as the other creatures on this earth.

We’re also the only species to consistently subsist on a diet that is neither natural nor healthy for us because we have the technology to go against nature. Here’s something interesting which, to me, shows that the ethic of veganism is part of our consciousness no matter how deep our culture is trying to bury it: in the Garden of Eden – the perfect paradise – animals simply exist side-by-side with man – they are not used for food or labor. But then, after being cast out of paradise, the first two “jobs” that humans engaged in (according to this story, anyway) were plant and animal agriculture. The sons of Adam & Eve were a shepherd and a farmer.

donkey-534906_640So, as we lost the innocence that goes along with ignorance, our entire relationship with the animal kingdom changed. It was no longer one of harmony, but became one of subjugation when we lost our paradise. That says to me that we have always known, in our heart of hearts, even 3500 years ago when the stories in Genesis were first written, that our relationship with the other animals with whom we share this planet is just not right. It represents a deviation from our original purpose.

book-2869_640Another word about knowledge: you’ve heard the expression “ignorance is bliss”, I’m sure. It’s easy enough to see why this is a truism, especially in this context. But what about “a little learning is a dangerous thing” (Alexander Pope)? Well, just look at us! The path we’re on is clearly destructive to ourselves, to other species, and to the planet as a whole. We’re ruining everything (I know that might sound hyperbolic, but it’s literally true) with our “knowledge” because we don’t have enough of it – you can never have enough of it. Once you’ve entered that rabbit-hole, there’s no coming out. We now have the duty of constantly trying to gain knowledge and understanding because the more we have, the less dangerous our knowledge becomes.

Simple example:

Common knowledge: protein is an essential macronutrient.

Not common knowledge: if we get our protein mostly from animal products, we’re doing ourselves more harm than good.

Not common knowledge: we can get plenty of protein from eating plants (after all, that’s where most other animals get it from).

I do have a caveat – it’s only true based on the assumption that, as humanity advances, we will also continue to grow spiritually & ethically – that personal qualities like empathy and detachment will be cultivated and will continue to spread. I see this in the vegan movement, and I used the two specific examples of empathy and detachment because they are both key qualities of successful (meaning long-term) ethical vegans. These are people who have expanded their circle of empathy, a prerequisite for compassion, as wide as they can. It’s more than that, though – developing the quality of detachment is necessary to let go of all the animal products that our society tells us we should fear being without. I assure you, there was a day when I was afraid to let go of cheese. I expressed that feeling in the following way: “I could never give up cheese!” Sound familiar? It seems silly to me now, because I don’t eat cheese and I don’t feel a sense of deprivation, but it’s normal for people to be afraid of that feeling. And it’s only after letting go that you can come to realize that your life and your food are just as interesting as they ever were. Getting to that point, though, requires detachment. While we still have the fear of letting go, we hold ourselves back from being standard-bearers of the advancement of society, and from participating in a meaningful way in literally saving the planet.

Expand your circle of empathy;

Detach yourself from what’s holding you back;

& Go Vegan. It’s worth it.

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** A note about the title, for those who are curious. I chose the “Land of Nod” for its double entendre. By leaving the land of nod I mean both waking up to the truth, and leaving exile to regain paradise.

 

Every bite counts: Parts 3 & 4.

Part 3. The People.

staples-2752_640Feeding the world is easy, and we don’t need Monsanto to do it. Did you know that there’s enough crop land in the United States alone to feed 10 billion people? One country could potentially feed the entire global population. So, why aren’t we? Because that only works if we’re not wasting our resources on animal agriculture in all its caloric inefficiency.

One acre of land can produce 40,000 lbs of potatoes, but only 250 lbs of meat.

One acre of legumes produces 10 times more protein than an acre devoted to animals raised for their meat.

70% of the grains produced in the U.S. go to feeding animals raised for food, instead of being grown for people. 80% of the world’s hungry children live in countries with food surpluses, but that food is exported to wealthier countries in order to feed animals that will be used for food. It doesn’t get more unjust than that. “Growing grain for feed instead of food may be humanity’s greatest evil yet.”

Artist: Lovis CorinthThose are all issues that you’ll hear every vegan raise. There is, I feel, a missed opportunity in the vegan movement – people that almost never get mentioned in the discussion on the human victims of this system: slaughterhouse employees. I start out with the assumption that most people who work in slaughterhouses do so because it’s the only, or one of the only, options open to them. This will be the topic of another post in the future. For the moment, suffice it to say that one of the first signs of psychopathy in children is harming animals, so why is it considered normal for someone to kill (certain) animals as an adult? Only because we don’t think about it. Society sweeps that bit under the carpet. Many slaughterhouse workers develop serious mental disorders, including PTSD, from the work that they do, and U.S. communities with slaughterhouses have 166% increase in arrests for rape compared to those without them. It is NOT normal.

The next time you buy a piece of meat, just take a moment to wonder who you paid to kill it for you and what kind of effect your demand for that piece of meat might be having on someone else’s mental health.

Part 4. The Animals.

sheep-451981_640To be honest, this is a much more important issue for me now than it was when I first decided to change to a vegan lifestyle. The environmental and health factors were enough. But, since I’m no longer emotionally invested in the ramifications of being a meat, dairy, & egg consumer, I’ve been able to mentally shine a light on those aspects of consuming animal products that were just too disturbing and painful for me to really evaluate while I was still participating in them. For anyone who has shut off that portion of your ability to deal rationally with the consequences of your actions – I get it!

Empathy is a difficult skill to develop and use because it requires that we open ourselves up to feeling pain and sorrow on behalf of others, and most of us have enough trouble dealing with our own suffering without adding to the burden. In this particular case, it also opens us up to feeling guilt, which is an unpleasant but necessary step on this path. Just remember, pain, physical or emotional, exists in order to help us avoid unhealthy behaviors.

It just doesn’t make sense that we love our dogs and cats like members of our own families, and recognize their individual personalities and their rights as living beings, while treating others as products. There’s some massive cognitive dissonance there, and it takes time to be able to confront that. If you haven’t yet watched anything like the documentary Earthlings, then whatever you imagine the treatment of these animals to be like, you can start by multiplying the horror by 10 to even get close. More than 2000 years ago, Pythagoras said,”For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seeds of murder and pain cannot reap the joy of love.”

In the end, I realized that living as a vegan is the only way for me to align my actions with my ethics.

Save yourself. Save the planet. Save the human race. Save the animals. Go vegan.

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Every bite counts: Parts 1 & 2.

apple-151989_1280This is the story of how I became interested in veganism, and an overview of some of the major reasons I decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle. It began, strangely, with smelling meat being roasted in the brand-new butcher/deli section of my local grocery store. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t eaten meat from land animals in so long that it didn’t smell like food to me anymore – it smelled like an animal was on fire, and my first instinct was to get the hell out of there. This got me thinking about using animals as food. Why was I suddenly repulsed by it? I’d been pescetarian for several years, but the smell of meat cooking had always been pleasant to me before. I had just decided to stop eating it because I knew it was pretty bad for both my health and the environment (though I had no idea at the time just how bad!). Somewhere in the back of my mind, something was telling me that I was about to embark on a journey that I had been putting off for years because I knew that, once I had the information, I would have no excuse for not changing my life. And that turned out to be true.

So, I did some research, and then I did some more, and some more…

Part 1. Health.

heart-rate-1375323_640It started with diet, nutrition, and the health of the human body, most especially my own. I watched lectures by, and interviews with, medical researchers and physicians like Dr. Michael Greger, Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Milton Mills, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, and a number of others, as well as documentaries such as Forks Over Knives, Supersize Me (even though I stopped eating fast food like 10 years ago), Vegucated, and others. I also bought and read How Not to Die by Dr. Greger. What I learned was that the most healthy diet, hands-down, is a whole foods vegan diet. Very simply put, if you completely eliminate animal products from your diet and live on fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, you’ll be one healthy sucker.

At least 68% of disease in the U.S. is diet-related. 14 out of the 15 leading causes of death are direct results of eating meat, dairy, and eggs.

A vegan diet (done properly – you can’t just have potato chips and beer) prevents, treats, or reverses atherosclerosis, multiple sclerosis, prostate, breast, ovarian, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, diabetes, asthma, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, obesity, arthritis, impotence, Alzheimer’s disease, and MANY other ailments. But don’t take my word for it. Follow the links to some of the names above, and look up anything you want on nutritionfacts.org.

Humans are the only meat-eating animals that develop heart disease & other diseases as a result of eating meat, dairy & eggs. That’s because it’s not natural for us. If we pay attention to what the human body is telling us, and the massive epidemic of diet-related diseases which continue to spread and effect more and more people as a greater proportion of the global population includes higher quantities of meat into their diets (partially thanks to the global expansion of fast food giants like McDonald’s), it’s obvious that meat, dairy, & eggs are not what the human body is meant to consume.

Part 2. The Planet.

sustainability-1190327_1280Animal agriculture has a staggering impact on environmental destruction and global warming.

Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all, yes – ALL!, global transportation combined.

The vast majority of habitat destruction, including 90% of the deforestation in the Amazon basin (a.k.a. the lungs of the planet) is for the purpose of meeting ever-increasing demands for the products of animal agriculture.

Animal agriculture is also the main cause of ocean dead zones and water pollution.

There are 1.3 million known species, with approximately 15,000 new ones being cataloged each day. Estimates of how many truly exist range from 3 to 100 million. Of these millions of species, only one (that’s us) is causing the extinction of tens of thousands of others. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction.

A diet with high meat intake – beef in particular – produces nearly 2.5 times more greenhouse gas emissions, in tons, than a vegan diet, while buying only locally-grown foods does less to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions than giving up meat for only one day per week (Weber & Matthews 2008, Scarborough et al. 2014).

Click the image to go to shrinkthatfootprint.com

Only with what I’ve described so far, it’s easy to see that animal agriculture is one of the most destructive forces on this planet, having a direct negative effect on the entire system, including on our own health. And we’re not done yet.

Parts 3 & 4

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The “Natural Flavors” Obfuscation

Did you know that MSG and aspartame can be labeled as “natural flavors”? Did you know that they are also the leading causes of central nervous system damage in the United States? They are both neurological toxins called excitotoxins, which essentially cause an extreme level of activity in certain brain cells, causing the cells to become exhausted and then die. The hypothalamus and the temporal lobes are specifically targeted. They control behavior, sleep cycle, emotion, immunity, and onset of puberty, among other things. They are essentially drugs, and damage your brain as such. Really look at the image to the right. This is what happens to brain cells within 2 hours of consumption of MSG.

brain-954821_640The reason they’re in a massive percentage of our food supply is because our food production system, very simply put, makes food that tastes of cardboard without a lot of help from additives like MSG and aspartame. They also ‘excite’ your taste buds along with your brain cells, and are addictive. The more of them you eat, the more you crave them. That’s another reason why they’re in so much processed food. The companies making these products want you to want them. Despite what it sounds like, this isn’t some sort of conspiracy theory. This is run-away laissez-faire capitalism gone mad (with the dubious exception of subsidization, of course).

mmm…gelatin

“Natural flavors” create two more problems for people who want to be more healthy and/or take a sociopolitical stand by taking control of their diet. One is that many of these “natural flavors” are manufactured using a process that begins with soy protein, sugar, glucose, starch, or a fatty acid. These are often derived from genetically modified crops, such as soy, corn, rapeseed, potatoes and sugar beets. The other problem is for vegetarians and vegans – there are many additives that are allowed in supposedly vegetarian and vegan food, which are derived from animals and insects. I like to take garlic supplements, but I recently discovered that the ones I’ve been taking use pig-derived gelatin. So, I’m back to raw organic garlic until I can find an alternative. It’s a veritable minefield out there. But knowledge is power, and as we gain knowledge, we can make changes one at a time.

All those years, I thought spices looked like this. Silly me!

All those years, I thought spices looked like this. Silly me!

The most important thing for you to know is how to recognize these dangerous ingredients, so that you can avoid buying products that contain them. MSG goes by many names. This is an incomplete list:

Glutamic acid, glutamate, monopotassium glutamate, calcium glutamate, calcium caseinate, sodium caseinate, gelatin, anything “hydrolyzed,” soy protein, soy protein concentrate, soy protein isolate, textured protein, whey protein, whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, yeast extract, yeast food, yeast nutrient, autolyzed yeast, caramelized yeast, vegetable extract, plant protein extract, oat flour, malt extract, malt flavoring, bouillon, broth, stock, natural flavoring, natural beef or chicken flavoring, seasoning, spices, carrageenan, enzymes.

For a long time I thought that the term “spices” in ingredients lists was to protect trade secrets, so the company doesn’t have to give away it’s special mixture of dried/dehydrated chives, oregano and parsley. As it turns out, it’s so they don’t have to write MSG on the label, since it’s gotten so much well-deserved bad press.

Aspartame may be a little easier to recognize, as it has fewer names. They include Equal, NutraSweet, NatraTaste, Canderel, Spoonful, and Equal-Measure. Similar artificial sweeteners that should also be avoided are acesulfame K, cyclamate, isomalt, saccharin, sucralose (brand name Splenda), alitame, neohesperidine, salt of aspartame-acesulfame, maltitol, lactitol, sorbitol, mannitol and glycerol.

greens-266560_640Here’s the thing. It’s really a lot easier to think about this in a positive way. In other words, don’t think about what to avoid. Think about what to include. For example, organic honey, actual real maple syrup, and organic raw sugar are fine in moderate quantities. Cook at home using fresh ingredients, and add flavor to your food with real herbs and spices. It’s that simple.

Guerrilla Gardening

Meet Ron Finley – resident of South Central L.A. and guerrilla gardener. Even if you’ve never been near the place, you probably have at least a vague notion that South Central is not really where you want to find yourself. But for the residents, it’s home, and many people couldn’t move if they wanted to (and they probably want to). So, instead of jumping ship, this man decided to do something about it; to try to make a difference that everyone in his community could appreciate and anyone could participate in if they wanted.

Food Deserts

South Central L.A. is considered a food desert. That means that the residents don’t have access to healthy foods within a relatively convenient distance, though they often have plenty of access to fast food, and convenience and liquor stores. Food deserts exist all over the U.S., predominantly effecting lower-income areas, where there are, on average, 3 times fewer grocery stores than in wealthier neighborhoods. This is entirely related to the off-balance obesity rates and incidents of type-2 diabetes in these communities.

Why you should get involved

The purposes of guerrilla gardening are to both beautify and provide healthy food for local communities, no matter what their socio-economic status. As the gap between wealth and poverty widens and the middle class shrinks, it’s not just the food deserts that need help. In suburban neighborhoods, many people are struggling more to make ends meet and, as Ron Finley says, “growing your own food is like printing your own money,” and he tells us that about $1 worth of green beans can generate as much as $75 worth of produce.

The effects are much more far-reaching than that, though. These gardens offer incredible educational opportunities for both children and adults, to learn how to be more self-sufficient and to understand and appreciate the importance of fresh vegetables, for health, yes, but for well-being in general. Kids that are out in the garden aren’t out getting into trouble, or sitting in front of a television. They’re learning how to improve themselves and their communities instead of watching fast food advertisements. Another great benefit is that you can control where your seeds come from and how they’re grown. You can buy non-GMO seeds, and choose not to use pesticides. You generate less waste from trips to the grocery store and all the paper and plastic you come away with in addition to your food. This is something worth getting involved with in some capacity, even if you’re just chucking sunflower seeds down a grate or creating graffiti art with moss (link to instructions below). Make whatever difference you can!

Watch Ron Finley’s TED talk. It’s only about 10 minutes long and worth your time!

Learn more about food deserts at the Food Empowerment Project.

Advice and tips on how to get started

Community pages on guerrillagardening.org and a Facebook page – try to find other guerrilla gardeners in your area to team up with

How to make moss graffiti

One Unsustainable Habit

Change just one unsustainable habit today. I hate to say it, but for a very long time I was one of those people who left the water running while brushing my teeth. I cringe when I think about all the fresh, potable water that I wasted with utter disregard. If you do it too, today’s the day to start turning off that water.

Here are some more unsustainable habits to think about changing:

String_bagPaper or plastic? Neither. Bring your own shopping bags. Added bonus – reusable bags are very inexpensive and you can find pretty ones that suit your style. You can also get reusable produce bags for the grocery store, so you can stop wasting all those little plastic bags. Those things are the bane of my existence. I hate them. You can even up-cycle t-shirts to make your own bags. Here’s a tutorial.

Buy local – You’ll save all kinds of resources by buying local. Farmers who sell their fruits and veggies at farmer’s markets typically use more sustainable practices, and don’t unnecessarily package their produce. If you have a local spice and/or tea merchant you might be able to buy from them and use containers you already have. Local merchants are more willing to work with you to help you be more sustainable, something national grocery chains don’t do.

Appliances & electronics – Even turned off, most electronics and appliances still draw power. Unplug them when you’re done using them, or use a power strip that you can simply switch off. Many large appliances can’t really be unplugged without a huge hassle, but things like toasters and toaster ovens can.

plastic-631625_640Bottled water – I’m not a fan of tap water, but I’m also not keen on all the waste generated by bottled water. The solution – a filter. There are several different kinds you can use in your kitchen to filter your own tap water. Many bottled waters are also owned by major corporations like Pepsi, Coke and Nestle that you may not want to support because of their involvement in the anti GMO-labeling campaign.

Make, don’t buy – There are probably several things that you buy on a regular basis which you can very easily make, reducing the amount of packaging waste that you personally generate. For example, salad dressings are fast & easy. They are also a product that often contain fillers and GMOs and gunk that you can avoid by making them yourself.

Towels – Use cloth instead of paper towels in the kitchen. Like many of these other suggestions, it may require a small initial investment but will save you money over time in addition to being a more sustainable practice.

Go Dutch – By which I mean, of course, ride your bicycle. Do you drive to the corner store that’s half a mile away? At a leisurely pace, that only takes 10 minutes to walk. Go by bicycle to get there in just a few minutes. Most trips that Americans take are less than 3 miles. A 3-mile bicycle ride takes around 10-15 minutes, depending on how fast you go.

Take it step-by-step. If you try to change your whole life at once, you’ll just get frustrated and then nothing will change. To really make a difference, you have to really make a change, so set realistic goals for improving your personal sustainability accountability and meet them one at a time. And don’t be surprised if it takes a few weeks to stop making that return-trip from the supermarket to your car to retrieve your forgotten grocery bags from the back seat. It’s all part of the process.

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