Tag Archives: nutrition

Is veganism an eating disorder?

comic-characters-1297866_640My friend went vegan and now her hair’s falling out and her period stopped.

I don’t know how many times I’ve read something similar in the comment section of a blog post or a video on youtube. I want to talk about this because it’s a topic that touches on serious mental health issues, but also a sadly mistaken view of the vegan community as a whole. If you know someone who fits that description they may be using veganism to mask an eating disorder.

This is a challenging discussion as there’s very little to be said that can be applied to everyone, and each person can only know the truth about their own motivations for choosing a vegan lifestyle, and not everyone is honest with themselves, which muddies the waters. If you know someone who is vegan and you’re legitimately concerned about their mental health vis-a-vis their diet, you may want to put some extra time into really trying to understand the difference between an eating disorder and being passionate about vegan advocacy & caring deeply about maintaining a vegan lifestyle.

Orthorexia: the vegan eating disorder?

The main eating disorder that I want to discuss is orthorexia nervosa. The reason I’m limiting my discussion to this particular eating disorder is because it offers the most opportunity for confusion, and for people to mistakenly pinpoint vegans as having an eating disorder.

I have a real problem with the official definition of orthorexia.

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no-smoking-907087_640It seems impossible not to include vegans within this definition. No wonder people are confused! I systematically avoid foods that cause irreparable harm to myself, the planet, and trillions of animals – meat, dairy & eggs. And I also almost never eat very sugary things, like candy and chocolate. Does that make me orthorexic? Certainly not – I’m just a vegan who has never had much of a sweet tooth, even when I was a kid. Anyone who systematically avoids cigarettes and cigarette smoke or someone who is lactose intolerant systematically avoiding dairy products doesn’t have mental health problems any more than vegans do.

Veganism can be an attractive lifestyle to young girls and boys with a penchant for eating disorders and who want to be super skinny because it naturally eliminates many of the sources of dietary fat – animal products. A good sign to look for if you’re worried about someone who’s vegan having an eating disorder is the avoidance of ANY fat at all, even healthy fats like those found in avocado and nuts. But be sure that you’re aware of what actually constitutes a healthy fat. If someone is avoiding no oiloils (olive oil, canola oil, coconut oil, etc.) and products made with them (such as potato chips, margarine, etc.), that is not necessarily a warning sign! Plant-based doctors, such as Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. McDougall warn against consuming any oil at all because it clogs arteries and can lead to heart attacks. Nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, soybeans & soy products are all healthy whole-food sources of fat.

To omnivores, my diet sounds very restrictive, but in fact I eat bountifully as a vegan, so keep in mind there is a matter of perspective to account for. Having said that, if a person only eats 5 different foods, that’s objectively extreme and a clear warning sign.

Another warning sign, as mentioned at the start of this post, is hair & period loss (on any diet, by the way). Anyone experiencing this should look at the calorie density of their food. If you consistently eat food with low calorie density, then it will be difficult to eat enough calories in any given day and, if your weight falls below a healthy level, then bye-bye hair and period. It’s a natural consequence of being underweight, and an important warning sign.

Another by-product of a failure to consume a sufficient amount of calories is being nutritionally deficient. If you’re worried, get a blood test to find out if you’re getting enough vitamins & minerals.

The Bratman test for orthorexia

I believe that it’s important to look at each individual person within their own context when it comes to figuring out if they might have orthorexia. I’m going to use the Bratman test for orthorexia to show you why. It’s a series of questions to assist in self-diagnosis.

  1. Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about your diet?
  2. Do you plan your meals several days ahead?
  3. Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure of eating it?
  4. Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet has increased?
  5. Have you become stricter with yourself lately?
  6. Does your self-esteem get a boost from eating healthily?
  7. Have you given up foods you used to enjoy in order to eat the ‘right’ foods?
  8. Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat out, distancing you from family and friends?
  9. Do you feel guilty when you stray from your diet?
  10. Do you feel at peace with yourself and in total control when you eat healthily?

“Yes to 4 or 5 of the above questions means it is time to relax more about food. Yes to all of them means a full-blown obsession with eating healthy food.” (source).

I answered yes to 1,2,3,5,7,8,10. That’s a shocking 7 out of 10! And yes to 4 or 5 means that I’m supposed to “relax more about food”? Why on God’s green earth should I “relax” about food when animal agriculture is literally destroying the planet and human health? For each question to which I answered yes, I’m going to explain why, so that you know how I can feel so certain about not having orthorexia myself, and so you can see why new, more pointed, questions are needed to test for this eating disorder.

brainstorming-413156_6401. Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about your diet? YES. Not only am I  a vegan who prepares virtually all the meals in my household, but I also love to cook, and am always searching for new and interesting ways to substitute for things like cream (my latest discovery is onion cream, which I now use in pasta dishes). In addition, I have 2 blogs which both focus on veganism. The other one is specifically about healthy meal planning in accordance with Dr. Greger’s recommended daily dozen. I also have a large garden, and I devote time to thinking about what I can grow that will offer the most nutritional yield for my hard work, and will also be the most cost- and space-efficient. When I’m harvesting, I like to think about meals that I can make with the food I’m gathering. This all comes back to veganism, and so, yes, I’m sure I spend far more than 3 hours each day thinking about my ‘diet’.

2. Do you plan your meals several days ahead? YES. We go grocery shopping once a week. I go with a prepared list of what I need for the week’s meals. I like trying new things, so I don’t just buy the same things every week, which means I need to plan meals and prepare a list in advance or I’ll never remember everything I need. 

horizontal-1155878_6403. Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure of eating it? YES. Though I really enjoy cooking and love love love good food, I always start by finding something that is nutritious. If I go to a dinner party and the extent of the effort that the hosts went to to accommodate me was to cut up a few raw vegetables, well, then, that’s what I’m eating even though I’m certainly not going to get all that much pleasure out of it. It’s definitely a bummer when that happens, but I won’t compromise my health & principles just because someone doesn’t know how to use Google. But, to be fair, it’s not just about nutrition for me. I’m an ethical vegan as well, so I guess I can sort of give this a semi-yes. I’ve always made sure that I maintained healthy eating habits, and not fallen into a rut of eating lots of fatty or sugary foods. In that sense, even before I was vegan, my first priority was health & nutrition.

5. Have you become stricter with yourself lately? YES. It’s very recently that I found out that refined oil is as bad for your body as animal products, so I’ve been working to eliminate oil from my diet. I use aquafaba to replace oil in hummus and pesto and salad dressings, etc. I don’t like water-sauteed onions, though, so if anyone has suggestions for me about that, I’d be happy to hear them. 

7. Have you given up foods you used to enjoy in order to eat the ‘right’ foods? Uh. Hello. Cheese. Bacon. I even had to give up my favorite dish detergent because it has whey in it.

gossip-1385797_6408. Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat out, distancing you from family and friends? YES. I don’t let it prevent me from going where I’m invited, but I think some people don’t invite me over for dinner because it’s scary for them to try to cook vegan. When it definitely distances me from people is when they behave like asses and make fun of me, or ignorantly declare total disapproval of my ‘sissy’ ethics, ‘sickly’ diet, and ‘high-horse’ lifestyle. Yeah, whatever. Sometimes I cry a little, but then I get over it. It’s their problem, not mine. And, no matter how rude people have been, I’ve never regretted my decision to be vegan for a single second.

10. Do you feel at peace with yourself and in total control when you eat healthily? YES. Of course I feel at peace and in control of myself when I healthily. Not only am I living my ethics, but I know I’m doing as much to be in control of my own future health, well-being and healthcare costs as I know how to do, which is a good feeling. And that’s NORMAL! 

While orthorexia is as serious as any other eating disorder, and there are some orthorexic vegans out there who do need the people in their lives to lovingly and compassionately try to get them help, most vegans are not orthorexic. They are individuals who have opened their eyes to the truth of the damage that is caused by consuming animal products – the damage to the planet, to the animals, and to our own bodies, and they are acting completely rationally in the face of that information. I would argue MORE rationally than people who flatly refuse to consider veganism.

If a vegan is orthorexic, they can recover from their eating disorder while still being vegan. Here is a good discussion of that possibility.

Lastly, mainstream media sometimes uses the idea of orthorexia to try to scare people out of becoming vegan (I’m looking at you, BBC). It’s utterly ridiculous, and it needs to stop because they are doing actual harm. Don’t be afraid to:

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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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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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A Fresh Start

snowdrop-147871_1280It’s been a long time since I’ve published a new blog post. More than 2.5 years, in fact! During that time, I’ve done loads of research and learning, all of which has led me back to one particular change that anyone and everyone can make in order to substantially reduce your carbon footprint as well as your personal contributions to environmental degradation & species extinction, while significantly improving your odds against nearly all of the leading causes of death. It’s an idea whose time has come. And, when you realize the incredible extent of the ramifications of this issue, you begin to see that it presents just as much of a social justice issue as equality of the sexes and eliminating racism.

So, I’ve decided not only to start posting again (now that I finally have some time on my hands!), but also to make a change in the trajectory. The foundation remains very much focused on sustainability, but I will begin to hone in on this one change that has the largest impact on the earth and all its inhabitants – including us humans.

Last October (2015), I went from being pescetarian to vegan – in other words, I adopted a completely plant-based lifestyle. The motivations for making this change are many, and part of what I want to do here is to share them, for those who are not yet aware of the health and environmental benefits. For many people, even if you’re already convinced that it’s the right thing to do, actually making the shift can be an overwhelming proposition, so I also aim to share my experiences, the challenges I face living in a community in which veganism is almost unheard of, what I learn as I go, and anything that might be helpful in transitioning towards the vegan lifestyle. I also welcome questions, concerns, and requests.

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Why GMOs Don’t & Won’t Help the Hungry

Let’s ask a question that no one asks. Why are we looking for a technological fix to the problem of hunger and nutrition deficiency?

Is it because it’s the best way to solve the problem, or is it because it’s the best way for companies that engage in genetic engineering to make money off rich and poor alike?

Dangers

click to enlarge

I know what you’ve been told, but it’s simply not true. It’s propaganda. GE crops aren’t really meant to save the world from hunger. They’re meant to make money for Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, et al. The seeds have to be purchased anew each year – a ridiculous thing to ask of a small rural farmer in a poor country (or any other farmer, for that matter), so that’s making life harder for them, not better. They have to increase the amount of pesticides they use on the crop, which is both more expensive and leads to exposure to toxic chemicals, causing health problems of all sorts, including lymphatic cancers and leukemia, not to mention the environmental damage caused by the same chemicals. And let’s not forget that GMOs also attack from the inside out, causing intestinal and digestive problems, neurological disorders in children who ingest them or whose mothers ingest them while pregnant, DNA damage and cancers, and the list goes on.

GMO crops often need more water than their non-GMO counterparts, largely because they’re meant to be high-yield, leading to wasteful water usage which contributes to the severity of droughts and pollutes more water. Since they’re high-yield, they also rapidly deplete the nutrients in the ground, and there’s no crop rotation to let the soil renew itself – you can’t plant anything else in the same spot because of the herbicides that are now in the soil. Malnutrition is, in fact, increased by using GE crops because of the way it causes massive declines in biodiversity, which is important not just for nature, but for our own diets and health.

Take the example of ‘Golden Rice,’ which was genetically modified to include more vitamin A, as well as to be high-yield and pesticide resistant. They said it was going to be the savior of southeast Asia, where there’s high incidence of blindness due to a common lack of vitamin A in the diets of many of the region’s poor, who eat a lot of rice because, well, that’s what they grow a lot of since it’s so cheap. There are a few problems with that plan. For starters, all the problems described in the previous paragraph apply, and there’s an important health risk to consider: if you eat a lot of rice, and not enough of other things, vitamin A isn’t the only thing you’re deficient in, so your problem isn’t really solved. Also, eating large quantities of vitamin A over a long period of time has been shown to lead to vitamin A toxicity.

Now step back and ask yourself how this is saving the world form hunger. Right. It’s not. It’s just not a great solution, to go from eating lots of regular rice to eating lots of vitamin A-fortified, pesticide-laden, environmentally destructive rice.

Alternatives

How about educating communities about nutrition and getting farmers to set aside more land for growing things other than rice, such as dark green leafy vegetables, carrots, pumpkin, mango – these all contain beta-carotene which the body processes into vitamin A, and contain other nutrients as well. Now we can have crop rotation, far less water usage, a balanced diet, more fertile soil, no negative effects on health, and it’s not costing the farmers anything because they don’t need all the toxic chemicals and they can save their seeds, use them for the next growing season, and share them with other farmers. There’s just one major problem with this plan – Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta won’t make any money.

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

An Unsustainable Food Supply

Fur trappers and traders who came to North America in the 1600s and 1700s had to eat what they could forage and catch. Rabbits were plentiful in many regions at that time, and so they formed the bulk of some trappers’ diets. Those trappers who relied too heavily on rabbit meat often died of malnutrition. Rabbit meat takes more calories to procure than you get back from eating it. That balance is unsustainable, and yet it is exactly how the U.S. food system works.

A little bit of math

It takes approximately 10 calories worth of fossil fuels to produce and transport 1 calorie of food. That means, for a family of four with a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet, 930 gallons of gas per year will be required to produce and transport their food, not including that family driving to and from the grocery store. Since the average household in the U.S. consumes somewhere around 1,000 gallons of gas per year, the way we manage our food supply nearly doubles the already ridiculous amount of fuel each person is responsible for consuming. That kind of imbalance on a personal level will eventually kill you, and what we’re seeing on a national level is no different.

Approximately 15% of the energy supply in the United States goes into crop production, livestock production, food processing, and packaging. A Cornell University professor of ecology and agricultural science did the math for what that means for the big picture: if all of humanity were to go about food production the way the U.S. does, we would exhaust all known fossil fuel reserves in seven years. Wow, that’s wasteful!

Agricultural practices contribute greatly to global warming. Because of the complexity of the problem and the multitude of factors, it’s difficult to arrive at an accurate number, but it’s thought that approximately 33% of contributions to climate change are a direct result of the food supply system. Some of the factors are farm machinery, petroleum-based chemicals used in synthetic fertilizers, the manufacturing processes for agro-chemicals and fertilizers, the processing of major crops like corn and soy into a vast array of derived products, and the distribution over long distances of everything, including the final output. Animal agriculture itself accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions (18%) than all transportation in the globe (14%). (Others argue that the figure of 18% allows a large number of unallocated emissions that are really due to animal agriculture, bringing the figure up to 51% – read more here.)

Let’s take school lunches as an example, if only because a) they need to change anyway as they’re incredibly unhealthy for our children, and b) I can quote directly from an article by Tom Starrs, VP and COO of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation:

“According to 2005 USDA National School Lunch Program participation figures, 29.6 million American school children were served nearly five billion meals at school last year. Typically these meals are highly processed, filled with conditioners, preservatives, dyes, salts, artificial flavors, and sweeteners. Usually they’re individually portioned and packaged, and travel thousands of miles to the school cafeteria.

School meals are commonly delivered frozen, wrapped and sealed in energy-consumptive packaging, and in need of some interval in a warming oven to thaw before being served to students. Studies of packaging and plate waste in school cafeterias indicate that, every day, as much as half, by weight, of these hasty, unappetizing, low-nutrient, highly processed and packaged meals is tossed by students — unopened, un”appreciated”, untasted, unrecycled and uncomposted. The energy needed to collect and transport the waste generated by school lunch must also be added to the net energy embedded in the meal.”

This is no different from food in the grocery store, which travels hundreds if not thousands of miles to get there, and is wastefully packaged to boot.

It’s the Monsanto monster again

A huge amount of agriculture and food supply mismanagement can be traced back to Monsanto & friends. The federal government has been convinced by lobbyists and money to subsidize over-production of monoculture crops such as corn and soy. They are genetically modified crops, grown in petroleum-based synthetic fertilizer, drenched in herbicides and insecticides, then either fed to cattle who can’t digest them or highly processed before going into your own food. Monsanto & friends get extremely-well paid, while you and I foot the bill, twice – once in our tax dollars funding their subsidies and once for increasingly expensive health care to treat our inevitable diet-related illnesses.

Farmers growing fruits and vegetables that are fit for human consumption don’t receive subsidies. It’s really an upside-down system. We should be able to offer farmers subsidies to protect them from a year of drought, blight, etc., but not for purposeful overproduction of nutritionally useless and environmentally damaging crops that serve no purpose but to line the pockets of those in charge of unethical corporations.

Tipping point

With a rising global population, increases in droughts and flooding, and a beautiful planet that can’t take much more of what we’re throwing at her, we absolutely have to make our system more sustainable and energy-efficient if we’re going to survive. None of us can implement that change alone, but we can each make choices in our daily lives that will contribute, and we can urge others to do the same. If enough of us care and get involved, we can and will reach a tipping point where the system will have to change. It’s a top-down problem that we need to try to solve from the bottom-up. We all have to get involved. Buy local as much as possible. Go to farmer’s markets. Grow your own vegetables at home. Start to think about the net energy that goes into your food and the waste that results. Start or get involved in a local community garden, farm-to-school program, or food forest project. Above all, teach your children!

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