Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Does Healthy Eating = Healthy Environment?

Whenever I order the vegetarian option on a menu or say "no thanks" to a steak from the grill, I end up in a discussion about the evolution of farming methods, meat-eating, and the health of the average American diet.

The truth is, I occasionally eat meat. We are, after all, omnivores and have the capacity and desire to eat meat. What I cannot, in good conscious, eat is factory farmed meat. It is the opposite of what nature intended and - consumed the way it is today - is undeniably bad for the planet and bad for human health. 
A few years ago, the United Food and Agriculture Organization published findings that current production levels of meat contribute between 14 and 22 percent of the 36 billion tons of "CO2-equivalent" greenhouse gases the world produces every year. On top of that, consider how much farmland is dedicated to growing that feed instead of bio-diverse crops. 

On the same token, I will not purchase an organic apple from New Zealand over a conventionally grown American apple just because one is organic and the other may not be. Pesticides and herbicides are under a lot more scrutiny and regulation than many of the items deemed 'natural' by a label and I like to believe, however idealistic and blindly optimistic, that buying American is almost always a good choice. 

So how about canned veggies? And a lot of the things that we pick up at the grocer because Dr. Oz tells us they are healthy choices? Does the saying 'good for you, good for the environment' really hold true? 
Brian Palmer, for Slate's Green Lantern, answers this question in this week's Q&A

Too often, environmentalists slip half-knowingly between human health and environmental health. Ask a stranger in the grocery store why he buys organic, and he’ll almost certainly conflate the two issues. We’re all one, after all… Unfortunately, there’s no natural law saying that planet health and human health are unitary. Consider the potato. According to a 20-year study involving more than 120,000 people, potatoes correlate more closely with obesity than any other food (including soda). And yet, potatoes aren’t exactly giving Mother Earth diabetes, so to speak."

Read Palmer's articulate response to the question: is eating healthy better for the environment too? 
HERE. He examines transportation, farming methods, storage methods and compares fresh vs frozen foods. It turns out that there are many circumstances in which limp, salty canned food - which may not be better for your taste-buds or fit the idea of 'fresh' - is better for the environment. 


Meade said...

Dear Deborah,

Have you seen the documentary called "Fathead?" If so, please direct me to any blogs you have done on it. OR if you have not, I recommend it. I completely agree with how you weigh exports over local even if local is not organic (same with the beef).

Fathead deals with the old fat versus sugar debate that has been going on since 1970 when government pretty much decided fat was evil and sugar was just bad. This doc brings some of the critique of that research together in an accessible way.

peace, Meade

Deborah said...

Hey Meade!

I need to check my comments more often. Yikes. Sorry. I have not seen 'Fathead' but have heard it mentioned before and hope to watch it soon.