#3 Eat lower on the food chain, increase fruits, vegetables and grains, reduce meat and dairy products.
When something is a good idea, there are usually many reasons that is true. You may have an idea or make a decision based on one set of facts, only to find out that there are many other supporting factors. Eating lower on the food chain is such an idea and a decision that will bring many benefits for you, your family, the earth and your goal of decreasing energy use.
First, avoiding animal products saves money and energy. Buying organic meat and dairy is expensive, often two to three times more expensive than products offered by agribusiness farms and feedlots. Either choice, however, exposes you to toxins that accumulate in the tissues and milk of animals that eat almost as high on the food chain as we do. To produce the same number of calories of animal product consumes 3 – 10 times more energy than eating vegetables, fruits and grains. In industrial production, all the animals eat has to be grown using oil for fertilizer, gasoline for tractors and transport, and some additional energy for antibiotics an hormones. All farmers use energy for baling hay or building silos. On both the organic farm and industrial one, the animals are transported to slaughter then to market. Wet dairy (e.g., milk, yogurt, cottage cheese) uses plastic containers. While some reuse is possible, recycling or simply trashing containers is the most common end. There is great energy expended in pasteurizing, homogenizing and further processing for cheeses. All these products have to be stored in refrigeration, shipped in refrigeration, marketed in refrigeration.
Second, if we ate less meat and dairy, there would be fewer animals. Those animals would require less feed and oxygen. As important, the waste products from those animals, especially the CO2, would be reduced. World population has doubled and redoubled in the last half century. Our western love of meat has spread to many other countries that were essentially vegetarian before. Every living thing requires food. We can reduce the number of large animals by reducing our appetite for them. The earth can simply not produce enough food to feed both animals and people.
Finally, perhaps your health is the most compelling reason for reducing animal products in your diet. Recent studies have shown that consuming as little as 20% of your calories from animal products can increase your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and stroke. Meat and dairy increase the acidity of your tissues, opening you to the risk of osteoporosis and kidney stones. Countries with plant based diets have consistently lower rates of broken hips, urinary calculi, osteoporosis and colon cancer.
In the early 1970’s, Diet for a Small Planet was published. It made a very strong case for avoiding meat and explained how to prepare meals that would give you all the essential amino acids (complete protein). We know today that complete proteins are present in some vegetables. Mixing legumes (beans) and grains provide all the essential amino acids and they do not need to be eaten at the same time for your body to use them. Contrary to advertizing, you can be very healthy on a vegetarian or vegan diet. There is nothing we need nutritionally that we cannot get from plants, cheaper, easier, safer and with less energy expended.
As we count down the top ten ideas to save fossil fuel, these last three ideas are more difficult to implement . We have to change the our buying habits and eating patterns. We will have to give up food we enjoy. While that may be difficult and even stressful, there is great potential to experience new flavors and feel fantastic.