Note to readers: I’ve been incredibly busy with studying and taking the GREs while getting my nutrition certificate. Now that I am finished both, I’m back and even more revved up to share my newfound knowledge. Start checking back regularly. And comment!
New York Times columnist Mark Bittman sung the praises of the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) newest release in his article “More Weight on Less Meat.” Of their Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health, Bittman writes that it is “a comprehensive report that suggests what’s become a common refrain here and elsewhere: we all need to eat fewer animal products – not just meat, but dairy as well.”
Like many vegetarians, I hardly expect those of us who do eat meat to change into tofu/seitan/tempeh guzzlers overnight. Yet it is hard to deny the benefits of eating less meat to both our health and environment, so I am with the EWG here. You don’t have to go vegan to do your body and the earth a solid. Carnivores take heed, eating less meat can still significantly and positively impact your health and the environment.
EWG’s full report is about 20 pages long with 3 1/2 pages of references. If this sounds intimidating, they have a handy at-a-glance brochure that summarizes their report in 7 pages that are approachable, understandable, succinct, and most importantly, compelling. The large print and colorful bubbled facts could put even zealous carnivores in a pensive state.
I encourage you to go through this brochure and take a look at the reported facts and figures. Their “lifecycle assessments” measured by environmental analysis firm CleanMetrics are innovative. I do, however, have a few issues with this brochure. Below are my top three contentions taken from the report that I debate as misleading or incomplete.
Going green gets literal.
You’ve replaced all the bulbs in your house with energy efficient bulbs, started biking and walking places, collected reusable cloth shopping bags, switched to a hybrid car, bought a share in a community garden, use natural soaps and detergents, and recycle down to your last biodegradable straw and spoon. You, like many others, know that going green is better for the environment, and it is.
But it’s not the whole story.
You’ve surely heard of carbon emissions, the front liner and resident bad guy. The dastardly gas that we all blame for making the ozone into swiss cheese. Endless news broadcasts and policy debates revolve around efficient cars and factory emissions. While I applaud the (sortof) effort that several governmental administrations have expended, there is a far bigger pollutant that policy makers have been ignoring. Move over, carbon, there’s a new villain in town, although it’s technically not new, and goes by the name of methane.
Quick science review: each harmful gas is measured by it’s global warming potential (GWP). It measures how much heat gases trap in the atmosphere. The potential of a gas depends on the time span in which its effects are considered. Carbon is the system’s baseline at 1. If we take a look at methane’s GWP over a 20 year span, its GWP is 72. Methane traps 72 times the heat that carbon traps. Methane accounts for just about half of Earth’s manmade warming, yet almost no attention is paid to this massive pollutant. Animal agriculture makes a 40% greater contribution to global warming than all the transportation in the world combined; it is the number one cause of climate change.
Hostess with the leastest.
If you’ve ever hosted dinner, you know that there can be snags. Maybe you’re short on fish filets because someone brought their super-secret-surprise significant other who nobody knew about. You graciously give up your comfy seat and end up on that one spare uncomfortable stool sans fish, now a head higher than the rest of your guests, eating in your lap. They indulge in both your filet and each other’s faces. Or, that cake stuck to the inside of the oven from a baking incident involving a too-small bread pan for that luscious batter? It burned, permeating your subsequent oven project of the night with a heavy, smoky flavor. Which wouldn’t have been unfortunate, if you hadn’t been baking chocolate chip cookies. Which you were.
All these pale in comparison, however to the horror instilled by these three words, “I’m a vegetarian.” (Substitute “vegan,” if desired. Then multiply the following reaction by about three times.)
Hitchcock couldn’t begin to cover this moment
Oh no! What do you do!? Do you run out and get last-minute soy-based imitation meat? Morning Star or Boca brand? Seitan or tempeh? What’s the difference? Do you play it cool and heap extra servings of the side dish onto the vegetarian’s plate and hope they get the hint? How offended is this person by others eating meat? Are you expected to ask about their dietary choice and force smiles and nod while you are regaled with an underhanded holier-than-thou bildungsroman? You make sure to sit in the chair that faces the TV.
It can be awkward to have someone like this in your dinner party. The idea of this person might make you triple check everyone’s dietary preferences before sending out invitations. Maybe you have a friend like this and stash veggie meats in your freezer, just in case. Maybe you don’t, because one dinner with them was enough. Why does the idea or reality of eating in the company of a vegetarian make so many people uncomfortable, even in the absence of verbal controversy?
“It’s always possible to wake someone from sleep, but no amount of noise will wake someone who is pretending to be asleep.”
Jonathan Safran Foer
Jonathan’s point? If you want to know the truth, you have to be willing to listen to it with open arms, rather than with arms crossed. The truth isn’t always what you’re expecting. It may not always be easy to listen to.
I am writing to advocate the truth about our food and to advocate taste, both physical and discerning. My intended reader is someone who, like me, knows something is not quite right with the food industry and feels we’re not being told everything. If you’re here, you’re sincerely interested in understanding the personal, political, cultural, and economic implications of the intimate act that is eating. So am I. My intent is to give shape to the suspicions that our intuitions have grasped in the midst of staggering amounts of misinformation. I’d like to compile a guide that can assist you in separating truth from lies in the food industry.
Results of a government agency doing its job, both regulating and promoting industry.
Two puzzling contradictions
1. Despite our evolving technology, and the safety in food and better healthcare we’d think it would bring, we are getting sicker.
2. More food is available now than at any time in history, yet we are nutritionally malnourished.
One way to characterize these contradictions among us is by invoking the idea of the inverse relationship. Simple enough. Two correlated factors affect each other in such a way that the two are driven to increase or decrease in opposite directions. I am not suggesting that any of these facts causes the other, as correlation does not necessarily indicate causation. The simultaneous coexistences of these contradictions, however, reveal a grim irony that we face every single time we eat or reach for medication. These conflicting relationships are anything but simple, and seem to go against our logic. What is happening? Why is it happening? Where are the regulators?