Monday, 25 February 2008

green ham and eggs

I'm no vegetarian. Sometimes, though, like Melinda from Inkling,
with a belly full of beef, I get a nagging feeling. I’ve heard that meat is one of the most energy and land-use intensive foods a person can eat, so perhaps my winter eating habits aren’t ideal – for neither waist nor environment. Should I replace steaks with salads for the greater good of the planet? What is the most ecologically friendly meal, anyway?
Ecological friendliness is far from my first dietary priority (ease, nutrition, and price all rank higher, for example). But on a full stomach, I sometimes wonder. It's not an idle question, especially when we read in the NYT that fresh and local isn't always greener (as I've suggested before). But back to the inkling piece:
If we left food production entirely to nature, we wouldn’t have enough to sustain ourselves – so we turn to agriculture, which uses various tactics like irrigation, fertilization and pesticides to maximize the amount of solar energy that is captured, harvested and assimilated in our foods.
The problem is that these tactics are very energy intensive – fertilizers are essentially fossil fuels, for example – so while agriculture may maximize yield, it also maximizes energy and water use and leaves behind a trail of chemicals and nutritionally depleted soil.
None of this is new or surprising. But it's often difficult to put these ideas into perspective. Turns out, "half of America’s land, 80 percent of its fresh water, and 17 percent of the fossil fuels Americans use go toward producing food." The article concludes with a number of comparison charts well worth examining. I'll reproduce just one:
ENERGY: Eleven times more energy is required to make a calorie of beef protein than a calorie of grain protein.
WATER: When compared pound for pound, animal production requires at least 100 times more water than grain.
LAND USE: Beef requires 31 times more land area than the equivalent quantity of grain.

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