Sunday, October 30, 2011

DAY 303 -- Food and the environment.

When my husband and I first began My Healthy Eating Challenge, and started buying meat from a local farm, we talked about consuming less meat to help balance out the cost of the more expensive meat.  However, I recently realized that I cut the recipes in half since we were eating less, but I was not reducing the amount of meat.  If a recipe called for a pound of ground beef, and I was making half the recipe, I used a half pound of ground beef.  Since our grocery budget never took a hit from buying the more expensive foods, I never gave it much thought that we were technically using the same amount of meat as before.  

Recently we talked about this and decided, to promote even better health, we should cut back on the consumption of meat as we had first decided. In other words, when a recipe calls for one pound of beef and I am cutting the entire recipe in half, as well as cutting the amount of meat in half, then I should only use 1/4 pound of meat. (I know... sad that it took most of the year before realizing this!)

About the time we decided to reduce our consumption of meat, I read a book titled Food Matters by Mark Bittman.  [This is not linked (to my knowledge) to the documentary by the same name.]  In the book the author does a fantastic job of explaining how overconsumption affects our environment.  I feel a little dense because although I knew eating less animal protein would be healthy for us to do, I never took into consideration how eating less meat can actually help the environment!!  I did not realize "global livestock production is responsible for about one-fifth of all greenhouse gases--more than transportation."

I found his book fascinating and easy to understand, since he does a good job of using examples to help the reader visualize the results of various studies.  Here's a section that really hit me:

"Even the most conscientious agriculture has some environmental impact, and though much food production yields greenhouse gases, raising livestock has a much higher potential for global warming than crop farming.  For example: To produce one calorie of corn takes 2.2 calories of fossil fuel.  For beef the number is 40: it requires 40 calories to produce one calorie of beef protein.

In other words, if you grow corn and eat it, you expend 2.2 calories of energy in order to eat one of protein.  But if you process that corn, and feed it to a steer, and take into account all the other needs that steer has through its lifetime--land use, chemical fertilizers (largely petroleum-based), pesticides, machinery, transport, drugs, water, and so on--you're responsible for 40 calories of energy to get the same calorie of protein.  ...

Another way to put it is that eating a typical family-of-four steak dinner is the rough equivalent, energy-wise, of driving around in an SUV for three hours while leaving all the lights on at home. ... If we each ate the equivalent of three fewer cheeseburgers a week, we'd cancel out the effects of all the SUVs in the country.  Not bad."

The author suggests that we cut back on eating animal protein and get our protein from plant-based sources.  "Spinach has more than twice as much protein per calorie as a cheeseburger."  He started what he calls "sane eating" to do his part to help the environment, but the added bonus was weight loss and saving money on groceries. (Same for my husband and me!)  His way of eating is very much like how my husband and I have been eating except for the consumption of animal proteins.  Now, after reading his book, we are more determined to improve in that aspect.  The author does not advocate counting calories, fat grams, carbs, or portions.  (Gee... sound familiar??)

Sane eating by his definition means: eat less meat and junk food, eat more vegetables and whole grains.  It's as simple as that.

Eat sane.  Lose weight.  Save the Planet.

(Quotes and phrases from the book Food Matters by Mark Bittman are written in bold and/or italics.)


  1. I absolutely did not know that spinach had protein. How did I get to be 52 and not know this???? I've been adding beans (garbanzo or black) to my salads and have seriously cut back on meat consumption. This is a very interesting post. My nick name is "earth muffin" and I had not thought about eating less meat being a way of leaving less of a carbon footprint.

    Eat sane. Lose weight. Save the Planet. You gotta know this is going on my fridge!!!

  2. You are not alone in not knowing about the protein in spinach. That was news to me too! I felt dense several times as I read the book. I'm still not sure how I did not connect the dots to how the overconsumption of meat and packaged foods was affecting our planet.

    By the way... I like your nickname... earth muffin!