Improve Health with a Carbon Diet
April 2, 2009 by Jennifer Brandt
Few of us realize it, but the food we put in our mouths each day dramatically affects the global climate. The typical American diet requires the staggering equivalent of 400 gallons of oil each year. That, in turn, generates, nearly as much planet-warming carbon dioxide as the average U.S. car creates.
In this modern food transportation system, wasted energy reaches absurd levels. For example, a lettuce farmer near Atlanta, Georgia who wants to sell lettuce to a Safeway in Atlanta, must first ship the lettuce 621 miles to Upper Marlboro, MD for inspection, then ship it back down to Georgia. This transportation not only consumes fossil fuel but takes up extra road space and leaves the lettuce less fresh!
These diet-related impacts on our climate and natural environment could be dramatically and painlessly reduced if Americans took three easy steps. These are 1) buy locally raised foods whenever possible; 2) buy organic foods; and 3) reduce meat and dairy consumption.
Thankfully, buying local food that has not been trucked thousands of miles gets easier every year. According to the US Department of Agriculture, regionally based farmers markets with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables have grown from 300 in the mid 1970s to 3100 in America today. Such markets simultaneously decrease transportation inputs while increasing community interconnectedness. One study estimates that people have 10 times as many conversations at farmers’ markets than at supermarkets. Visit www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/map.htm for a farmers market nearest you.
People across America can also buy directly from a specific farm nearest their home thanks to a practice called “community-supported agriculture (CSA).” For a set annual price, you essentially “subscribe” to a farm, receiving a standard weekly share of whatever the farm produces during the growing season. Visit www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/csa/csastate.htm for a CSA nearest you.
A second important step, beyond buying locally, is to buy organically raised food. On average, organic farms use 37 percent less energy than conventional farms. Also, unlike soils rendered nearly biologically lifeless from petroleum inputs, organic soils are full of plant matter and various biological processes that naturally absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. According to a 23-year study by the prestigious Rodale Institute, one acre of organic crops “sequester” as much as 3,700 pounds per year of CO2, the world’s leading greenhouse gas. So organic food consumers fight climate change with every meal they eat.
Meat, eggs, and dairy products are high-energy, high-impact foods. It takes 40 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. Simply put, America could feed most of Africa with the grains we feed to livestock, while Americans are consuming twice the government’s daily recommended allowance of protein.
A vegetarian diet also dramatically reduces your risk of heart disease, the nation’s number one cause of death.
17 percent of U.S. energy use now devoted to food, it’s clear we’ll never solve the climate crisis with wind farms and hybrid cars alone. We must – and obviously can – cultivate and consume “clean-energy” food, grown close to home for the benefit of the whole world.
Author: Mike Tidwell