How Your Food Choices Can Save The Planet

With global warming looming, Amazonian rain forests being felled, and the world’s rivers and oceans choked with pollution, it’s easy to feel a little despondent. Is there anything we can really do to change the situation? And what role do we play in contributing to these problems? These thoughts weighed heavily on my mind and I was determined to find some answers. Oddly enough, it was my stomach that led the way.

I met chef Chad Sarno, who prepared the first meal I had ever had that was entirely made up of plants. Not a drop of butter or milk, and definitely no beef, duck, or chicken. He cooked lasagna, with cheese made from cashew nuts and pasta made from thinly sliced courgettes. Being half-Chinese, with roast duck and char siu my all- time favorite dishes, this was foreign territory for me. But I was instantly hooked. I had no idea that a plant-based meal could taste so good or be so satisfying, especially since I’d always believed a meal wasn’t a meal without a big portion of meat. So I started to investigate what impact it would have on the planet if we all adopted a plant-based diet, and this was the start of the research that led to our feature documentary film, Planeat.

Through the power of Google, I discovered the work of US environmental scientist Professor Gidon Eshel, one of the main characters in our film. He conducted a pioneering study to investigate the impact of an average diet, made up of meat, fish, dairy and plants, on the environment. He made the surprising discovery that if you want to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions it is more important to give up red meat than to buy a hybrid car. Last year, he completed further investigations, which showed how eating a diet heavy in meat and dairy is one of the main causes of ocean “dead zones,” pockets of the ocean where no fish or creature can live. This is due to the run off of nitrogen and phosphates into the sea from livestock-supporting agriculture. Eshel also discovered how eating a plant-based diet uses up half the amount of land than eating an average diet based on animal products. With 70 per cent of the world’s total agricultural land used to support the production of animals for food, shifting towards a plant-based diet can help prevent deforestation and promote biodiversity. At the same time there is a huge amount of food wasted in the process of raising animals for food. More than half the world’s crops are used to feed
livestock, and after feeding grains or soybeans to cows, for example, we only get 10 per cent back of the food value we feed to them. If we just ate the plants directly, rather than feeding the crops to animals, we would have much more food for the world’s population.

Further investigation revealed that Eshel is not alone in his thinking. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has urged people to observe one meat-free day a week to curb carbon emissions. And as the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management has said that diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable and a global shift towards plant-based diets is needed in order to reduce the pressures on the environment.

But I had one other worry. While moving towards a plant-based diet may be good for the environment, would this be at the detriment of our own health? This led me to look into how a plant-based diet would affect our health, and I discovered the other characters in our film, Professor Colin Campbell and Dr Caldwell Esselstyn. Campbell, a nutritional biochemist at Cornell University, led a ground-breaking study that revealed that populations with a heavy animal-based diet were more likely to suffer from cancer than those with a plant-based diet. Esselstyn, surgeon and medical advisor to former US president Bill Clinton, used a plant-based diet to treat patients suffering severe heart disease. And over the course of 20 years, he showed how a plant-based diet could help prevent and even reverse coronary artery disease.

So it seems that what’s good for the environment is also good for our health, too. And it turns out we can make a difference. It’s as simple as breakfast, lunch and dinner. All we need to do is eat less meat and dairy.

Shelley Lee Davies is co-director and producer of award-winning feature documentary film ‘PLANEAT‘. Although the film was made independently and with no funding, ‘PLANEAT’ ended up being released in cinemas across the US and UK. ‘PLANEAT’ was was thought to be so important, that it was shown in London’s Parliament by the Shadow Minister for Food & Environment, to galvanise support over changes in UK food policy. It has gained far-reaching support from individuals like Sir Paul McCartney, food businesses like Whole Foods Market and critical acclaim from press: ‘Earth-shattering’ (The Times), ‘Compelling scientific evidence’ (Time Out), ‘Should be compulsory viewing’ (The Herald).

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  • anoncanadamoose

    Gayest article i’ve read on here in some time.  Vegetarianism won’t save the planet you naive clowns, nor can any ‘ism’.  The only way to curb consumption is to curb population growth, and they only way to do that is by curbing food production, and the best (but not the only) way to do that is by enacting a system not dependent on economic expansion.  Local food, whether meat or veg, is a great first step in disengaging from corporate expansionist paradigms.  Damned vegans drive me up the wall with their self righteous bullshit.  That goes for you too Aaron Diaz you pussy.

    • JoiquimCouteau

      Raising domesticated animals for meat requires an immense amount of water, an immense amount of vegetation (which is grown instead of food), an immense amount of land (which is typically deforested), and an immense amount of government subsidies (essentially money collected at gunpoint from the public to fund meat production) and produces an immense amount of pollution, and an immense amount of chronic disease. Nothing else comes close in terms of destruction to the environment. You probably think of meat as something that a guy behind the counter sells you for a buck.

      • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

        the problem isn’t the food
        it’s the way the food is grown & produced
        which you accurately described
        but it doesn’t have to be that way
        there are better, sustainable ways to grow food than by methods used today

        • Simiantongue

           Would you eat genetically altered meat grown in a vat instead of animals being raised and slaughtered on a factory farm?

          • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

            today’s meat is genetically altered
            the factory farm is a test tube factory
            would I eat that?
            well I do,
            but I am in the process of growing my own
            so eventually I won’t

          • Simiantongue

             Well yeah, animals today are not only genetically altered but they eat genetically altered feed and injected with veritable cocktails of antibiotics, hormones and what not.

            What I’m talking about is maybe fat and muscle material grown from, say, genetically altered bovine stem cells. I’d imagine that it would be nourished during growth by something with nutrients similar to blood.

            Besides the elimination of veritable concentration camps of misery for animals, I’m wondering how that would effect the ecological cost of creating meat. Intuition tells me it would be more efficient. Though I can see many problems. I guess I’ll just  add it to the “think about it” list.

          • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

            there is more than enough protein in beans
            to be able to manufacture synthetic meat
            without resorting to Big Pharma
            Asia has been doing this for thousands of years already

            to assume that the meat you eat
            has not been GMOed is naive
            all processed foods and most mass crops
            if they are not GMO created
            have GMO content

          • Simiantongue

             It’s very likely that the beans I make bean burgers with are genetically modified. Roundup ready enhancements or whatnot. I understand that. Given that I live in the US and they do not require foods to be labelled as GMO here, I have not a clue what is or isn’t. (takes some practice to make a bean burger with the exact consistency needed to keep it together but not sloppy, eh?)

            I buy a greater portion of my food from local farms. We have a decent size farmers market here. But not 100% of my food comes from there. I’ve asked some of the local farmers about having GMO crops and what not and they just look perplexed. So either they don’t like to talk of it or don’t know.

            I used to buy chickens from a farm a few miles away but as of last year I have chickens and rabbits that I breed. (Bought from them) My  garden provides maybe 10% of my fruits and vegetables. I jar a lot. I have no idea if the original seeds were genetically modified.

            But still I think GMO meat farms, as described, will be an inevitability. So I’m just wondering what others thought about them. Would you eat it?

          • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

            it could be that the GMO revolution
            is a evolutionary shift
            as cyborg-sapiens begin to be
            the dominant species
            or begin to go extinct

            there’s no question that
            Monsanto et al
            have pissed in the gene pool
            hopefully I’ll be dead
            before they kill me

          • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

            correct me if i’m wrong but isn’t there evidence that eating GM crops epigenetically effects the consumer? If this is true, in one form or another the cow is genetically different at least at the epigenetic level.

            And this is a lamarckian baseless assumption, but don’t epigenetic changes effect the spawn of these animals permanently? In that sense could it not simply be defined as a genetically modified? (even if it is unintentional)

          • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

            breeding is several orders of magnitude removed
            from DNA manipulation at the DNA level
            it’s very dull witted
            to connect the two as being the same

            if I breed a human with a pig
            I don’t get a cop baby
            because nothing happens like that at the breeding level
            but if I do it at the DNA level
            I could get a human/pig with enough effort
            and in fact
            growing human organs from GM pigs is next

            as to the consequences of DNA GM manipulation
            time will tell
            we have no clue right now

          • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

            Oh I agree with you completely, i was just muddying the waters with random musings.

          • Heath

            Just curious, but could you point to the genetically altered meat and not one that’s just a common misconception for a cross bred animal? 

          • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

             Trout with double the usual amount of muscle, pork loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, and beef from cattle resistant to mad-cow disease are just a few products from genetically engineered animals under development in labs around the world.

            A little over a year ago, the FDA issued its final guidance on genetically engineered animals, laying out the process GE animals will have to go through before they can be brought to market.

            The only animal the FDA has approved so far is a goat engineered to produce a protein in its milk that’s used in a drug for people with a blood-clotting disorder.

            http://www.culinate.com/articles/features/genetically_engineered_meat_and_fish

          • Heath

            “First of all, to be crystal clear, no GE animals have been approved for human consumption, and the FDA says it is not aware of any that might have circumvented its review process and gone straight to market.”
            I was under the assumption we were talking in the here and now in reference to these Animals we eat. I grow a cornish X Rock chicken which many refer to be GE, which is nothing more than selective breeding. Maybe I’m being picky, I just like the lines clearly defined when discussions about GE and food we eat cross paths.

          • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

            first of all
            it’s crystal clear that breeding is not GM
            and GM is DNA manipulation
            at the DNA level

            Do I think the FDA might be uniformed?
            Do I think corporations would do something illegal for a profit?
            Do I think the present commercial supply is tainted?
            Waddya think?

        • JoiquimCouteau

           No doubt, but the production of domesticated meat on the scale required to feed billions of fat shiftless slobs is inherently unsustainable. Fruit trees, on the other hand…

          • Jin The Ninja

            i think the qualifier of ‘fat shiftless slobs’ is completely unnecessary when the correlation between economic growth and meat consumption is demonstrable. meaning: most poor people don’t eat large quantities of meat (outside of the US/Canada/Aus/EU). the production of large quantities of meat is largely for the benefit of economies that can sustain a moderate amount of a wealthy socio-economic class and relative proportion of middle class.

          • Simiantongue

             Can’t disagree with any of that assessment.

            But at the same time it costs someone like me much more to raise my own chickens, rabbits and to grow my own meager garden than to just buy that stuff from the supermarket. I live in the Northeast US.

            The average Joe here can’t afford to do what I do. Like buying food from the local farmers market when they can get it cheaper at Walmart. When you’re talking about stretching the food budget so everyone gets a few squares a day that’s what you’re forced to do. (Relating to that anarchist article recently posted. They may shop at places like walmart “voluntarily” but not “consentually”. Voluntaryism at its finest lol.)

            Society is set up in such a way as to disenfranchise people from being self sufficient here. If a guy/gal gets an extra buck what are they going to do, put it away in hopes of investing in their first rabbit while their kid is yelping they’re hungry, or buy a dollar menu burger for their kid because it fills them up? These are every day choices in the US for a real big portion of the population.

            Certain meat is cheap here. Because corporations have groomed government to subsidize them to make it cheap. I don’t think a lot of people could afford to stop eating meat in countries like the US. Here fresh fruits and vegetables are often times more expensive than steak. In fact there are nutrition deserts here in the US, where there is nothing but shit junkfood to eat spanning whole communities.

            So yeah I agree with your assessment but at the same time, I dunno, seems like there is this large segment of the population that has little choice in the matter in those countries you mentioned. Is everyone a fat slob because they live the high life, sit around filling up on steak, killing the environment while other countries go without?

            It could be that many people are as stuck with the paradigm in the US/Can/Aus/EU as people are stuck with theirs in other countries. Could be that those fat countries are fat because that’s the food that’s cheapest. Healthy food cost more, especially if you wanted to grow or raise it on your own. Which is fine if you’re above a certain income level then you can afford the healthy shit.

            I bring up that idea because a few years ago a cousin of mine was diagnosed with diabeetus. He brings back a report from the doctor that says he’s suffering from malnutrition too. But the guy is at least 100 pounds overweight. So I do some reading and yeah, sure enough, you can be overweight and be malnourished. So the doc prescribes some vitamins. But I tell him for fucks sake just eat some fruit now and then. He says “Too expensive”. So the guy is filling his gob with whatever he thinks he can afford. Which makes him fat, but it’s not nutritious food either. So he’s fat and malnourished. I’m wondering just how prevalent is that sort of thing in countries like the US/Can/Aus/EU? Especially among the lower income parts of the population.

            Final thought is that meat isn’t just for large economies that can sustain it, but it’s heavily subsidized and it’s all many poor people can afford in those countries. A good portion of meat products don’t come in the form of big red marbled steaks from the meat section that fat rich Americans gorge themselves on. I can’t really say with any certainty but my intuition tells me maybe a lot of meat products come in the form of subsistence food items that aren’t really any good for people and are not really that nutritious, but they’re cheap. Hell I loved those frozen salisbury steaks with rice in college. Can ‘t get much cheaper than that either.

          • Simiantongue

             Oh shit it’s late and I’m getting all tired and verbose. Sorry bout that. Just ignore this shit I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about lol.

          • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

            I hate it when I post after the Ambien has kicked in…

    • Andrew

      Gays don’t contribute to population growth, son.

  • Sonnenritter

    “How Your Food Choices Can Save the Planet” Classic false reasoning the based on bad liberal (ie capitalist/consumerist) logic. Your lifestyle/consumer choices will have NO effect on what happens to the planet, the environmental movement has pursued this avenue of trying to change individuals’ lifestyle choices for decades and it has proved to be a complete dead end. YOU may change what you buy and how you live for moral reason, but it has been and will always be the case that the vast majority of people will not! We have only steadily increased our rape of the planet as of late and this will continue until changes are IMPOSED from the TOP DOWN on EVERYONE. 

    • Andrew

      The only aspect of the world one has near complete control over is one’s own actions.

      • Calypso_1

        Near complete? 

        • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

          Dark spirits and weakened wills. brb I’m going to go have a cigarette.

          • Calypso_1

            I like my dark spirit single malt.

    • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

      The only effective top-down styles of action are Force, and Education. The latter is used to foster effective bottom-up change, and is a long term solution as opposed to the former spending a majority of its energy on fighting resistance to the change.

  • ahem

    What will it take to address overpopulation being the core of our problems?  Eventually we’ll run out of ideas on how to survive, this planet is only so big. 

    • Andrew

      Overpopulation isn’t the core of our problems, because the small minority of the richest consume most of the resources and cause the most pollution.

      • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

        The real problem of overpopulation that noone talks about is that we are growing outside the capability of having each person streamlined and pigeonholed. We’re getting to the point now where the fate of humanity is completely unclear and obscured, because its not so simple as a bunch of monolithic giants fighting over land like it was in colonial times.

        • Andrew

          That would make an interesting article.

          • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

            Yea i probably have a lot of those hidden away in the back of my mind.

          • MoralDrift

            amen to that brother

  • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

    The problem with this “Go Vegan and Save the World” scheme is that up until this point in history a population has always expanded to overwhelm the available food supply. Then finally coming into balance with food supply and predators.

    Humans are not alone in this. In fact, humans stand the best chance of breaking this trend in any meaningful way.

    Ironically, the cultures that are blamed the most for resource over-consumption (highly developed Western countries and Japan) are actually the nations which have been able to successfully manage population growth. The U.S., Western Europe, and Japan all have negative growth rates when factoring out immigration.

    Without the ability to control population growth, any “gains” made in our ability to feed and care for ourselves without depleting our natural resources and degrading our environment will be overwhelmed by the very next generation of people.

    Right now, because we’re not using the most intensive agricultural methods everywhere, we have something of a buffer. But, if we ever see population growth get to the point where all of our food production is done using the most intensive and productive agricultural methods, then there will be no safety margin.

    Worldwide famine will just be the start of the horror.

    • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

      These kinds of ideas are not exactly new, but they are dangerous to the point where they do not compute in newspeak. It comes out to, even if 90%(which is beyond possible) come together and realize that they can and should limit their own breeding, it will be all for naught because that 10% will  ”overbreed” and take up the space left by the 90%. The only “viable” option is for that hypothetical 90% to “teach” that that 10% needs to stop breeding so much(See World War 2).

      But, speaking in our current realities, unfortunately, while we’re successfully limiting our population, we’re simultaneously making our knowledge base larger than our (almost) stagnant population size. I think the much stranger disasters are when we rely on our computers to remember more than we as humans do(has that already happened? who knows?)

  • Archer

    Once again aming for the individual and not for the systemic. Good. By the time your damn hipster trends manage to be widespread enough to actually mean something, there will probably be nothing of the environement left to be saved; not to mention you will come up with another useless groundbreaking idea every 10 days or so, feeding the tidal wave of alternative absurdity already strong enough not to allow people to agree on the real problems/solutions. Its not about being original, we all know what the real problem is. You people only feed what you supposedly fight against with your bullshit.

  • Trevor Smith

    Shelley,

    Regarding the affects of a plant-based diet on human health (and human evolution in the larger context). I HIGHLY recommend this groundbreaking work by Tony Wright. You’d find his book “left in the dark” facsinating

    Heres a disinfo article that links a .pdf to it, and explains the general idea: http://disinfo.com/2012/04/planthuman-symbiosis-and-the-fall-of-humanity-interview-with-tony-wright/

    Have you looked into this yet?

  • Jeffmorgano

    Pesticides. Poor farming methods. Poorly planned subsidies of grains/soy. People who will feed cows phone books if it saves some $$.. This of course plays no part in the problems of industrial farming.

    No it’s meat and meat eaters. Welcome to the church of vegetarianism. The believers who made this film were just blinded by their personal choices.

    Want to save the planet. Support actual farmers. Grass finished beef, pastured chickens and pigs, can by their very existence help stop the destruction of the planet. This article belonged in the you are being lied to book.