By George Eisman, RD
Human-induced climate change, most commonly known of as “global warming,” has been getting caring people the world over to contemplate what they can do individually to help stop this trend.
When it comes to diet, there are (at least) three characteristics of foods that you may choose to purchase that have powerful ramifications for climate change.
First, and probably most obvious, is buying locally produced foods rather than items that are transported long distances using fossil fuels. There is much discussion about economies of scale, say bringing huge boatloads of produce across the seas versus a small truck being driven just a few dozen miles, but the efficiency of local transportation could be greatly improved if land vehicles (such as trucks) had higher fuel efficiency standards, and/or were being run with cleaner burning substances. Pure logic dictates that greater shipping distance equals greater waste.
Now, if you want fresh strawberries in the middle of winter, there is a problem in that growing out-of-season foods in a climate like New York’s requires great input of some kind of fuel for the warmth and lighting of the plants. Shipping them in from warmer lands may be no more wasteful. The best solution is to only buy fresh produce that is in season locally. Local produce that is efficiently preserved for future use is an also option, coupled with the use of produce that can be obtained through the winter (root vegetables, some hardy greens, sprouts, etc.).
Second, purchasing organically grown, certified naturally-grown, or veganically-grown produce is a way to reduce negative effects on the environment. Conventionally grown produce generally requires great inputs of fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals produced at a highly pollutive cost. These chemicals also persist in the environment and wind up destroying life forms that are needed to help keep ecosystems in balance.
Third, and most often overlooked, is choosing plant-based foods over animal products. According to “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization Report, November 2006, about 18% of greenhouse gas effects are directly attributable to livestock agriculture. This is a greater percentage than all forms of transportation combined! Compounding this effect is the fuel used transporting the animals to slaughter and transporting their meat, or other “by-products” to markets, none of which is included in the UN’s figure. Those latter effects can, of course, be reduced by consuming local animal products, animals that are slaughtered on-site where they are raised, for instance. However, at the current rate of animal product consumption, the 18% is unchangeable as it reflects the gases emitted by the animals themselves during their (even short) lifetime. Their digestive processes create gases that are emitted through belching and flatulence, as well as the gases from their manure as it decomposes wherever it lies. The solution livestock agriculturists are offering is to try to convert some of that manure-produced gas into fuel. This is being highly subsidized through our tax money. A much cheaper, more efficient, and certainly more pleasant solution, is to reduce demand for animal products by buying and eating less. Fewer animals equals fewer emissions, what could be simpler?
As a Registered Dietitian, I strive to encourage clients to eat less animal products and more unrefined plant products to reduce their risk of chronic diseases like stroke, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and hypertension. The economic cost of treating these diseases is staggering; the fuel costs involved in running all those ambulances, hospital buildings and equipment surely contributes to climate change as well. How elegant it is that the diet that we need to follow for well-being of the planet, benefits our personal health as well?
Residents of the Ithaca area are indeed fortunate to have stores like GreenStar that purposely offer a wide selection of local, organic and plant-based entrée products. GreenStar’s motivations for emphasizing these foods are built out of the Co-op’s support for the local economy, health concerns, environmental stewardship, and compassion for other creatures. That these foods also help stop the climate catastrophe we face ahead of us, just goes to show they were doing the right thing all along.
George Eisman will be giving a class entitled “Global Warming and Food Choices” on April 23 at 7 pm at GreenStar’s West-End Store. See page five for more information.
New in Grocery
As always, we've got you covered for Thanksgiving, from the main course to the sides and everything else.
All right, members, you know the drill. ... It's Thanksgiving time once again! This year, just like every year, we have everything you're looking for to complete your holiday table right here in the Grocery Department. Organize your meal around either a local turkey or a number of main-course vegan options. From there, we've got stuffing boxes or ingredients, tasty, high-quality organic pumpkin and organic cranberry sauce in cans, organic baking ingredients, and every other fixin' you might need! For the record, it's never too early to start thinking about the next round of holidays coming up soon. We'll be rolling out some tasty desserts and treats to keep the holiday celebration going and going and going and going. ... And if you haven't yet, look for our new and improved Co-op Basics list, found at the front of the store. The Grocery Department is full of bargains perfect for pantry-stocking.