Category Archives: Environment

Big changes in the food industry

Almond trees

Almond tree farm

For years, the dairy and meat industries have been producing staple foods that they thought every person needed to eat in order to be healthy.  In many countries, especially in the United States, these industries are subsidized by the government to encourage production, support the farmers and keep the costs for consumers down.  But gradually the winds of change are sweeping through the food industry.  People are recognizing that these products are costly and inefficient, damaging to the environment and very hard on the animals. In addition they’re not good for our health as people liked to think. More and more people want to buy alternatives. Read more

Beans can save us!

Beans for beef

Beans alone can make the big difference in the global warming crisis.  Recently, a team of scientists from Oregon State University, Bard College, and Loma Linda University calculated just what would happen if every American made one dietary change: substituting beans for beef. They found that if everyone were willing and able to do that America could still come close to meeting its 2020 greenhouse-gas emission goals. Read more

Raising beef is killing the Amazon!

Rainforest firesRaising beef is killing the Amazon. The Amazon is the largest rainforest on the planet but it’s being attacked by fire. One of Brazil’s scientific agencies, recorded 72,843 fires in the Amazon this year alone, marking an 83 percent surge compared to the same period in 2018. The rainforest is considered vital in slowing global warming.  It’s also home to uncountable species of fauna and flora and, just as important, clearing and burning it creates massive soil erosion and without soil the plants can’t grow.

The ecological devastation is done in the service of the surging demand for beef, says Nathalie Walker, the director of the tropical forest and agriculture program at the National Wildlife Federation.

Cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation in every Amazon country, accounting for 80 percent of current deforestation rates. Amazon Brazil is home to approximately 200 million head of cattle, and while Brazil’s own consumption of beef is high, it’s the largest exporter in the world, supplying about one-quarter of the global market. Hong Kong is the biggest global importer of Brazilian beef products, bringing in about $1.5 billion worth in 2017, according to the Brazilian Beef Exporters Association. China is second, at nearly $1 billion, followed by Iran.

While the Amazon may seem far away, its destruction is affecting the whole planet. As long as there’s a high demand for beef, Brazil will continue to profit from it by cutting down the rainforest to clear space for raising beef cattle and the crops to feed them. We can all play a part in showing that we care about the health of the Amazon, by adopting a healthy, compassionate, delicious, and environmentally conscious plant-based diet.

Land use and climate change

Land use - grass and trees

A major UN report, Creating a Sustainable Food Future, addressing land use and climate change, states that the high consumption of meat and dairy produce is fueling global warming. It’s also making it hard to grow enough food for an expanding population.

The document, prepared by 107 scientists, says that if land were used more effectively, it could store more of the carbon emitted by humans. They also said that more people could be fed using less land if individuals cut down on eating meat. It’s estimated that 12 people could be fed a plant-based diet using the equivalent land for one person’s diet centered on meat. This equates to fewer trees cut or burned down to provide land to produce food.

The Earth’s land surface, and the way it is used, forms one of the foundations of human society and the global economy, but we are reshaping it in dramatic ways. Soil is sometimes neglected as part of the climate system, but it’s the second largest store of carbon after the oceans.

In order to feed the predicted 9.8 billion people on Earth in 2050, the world will need to produce 56 per cent more food compared to 2010. If the level of meat and dairy consumption rises in line with current food habits, six million square kilometers (2.3 million square miles) of forests would need to be converted to agriculture – an area twice the size of India. Two thirds would be changed to pastureland, with the final third being used for crops most of which would be used for animal feed, according to the report. The loss of carbon-dioxide-absorbing trees that are being cut down, further adds to climate change.

Johan Rockstrom, former director of the Potsdam Institute of Climate Change Impact Research, said: ‘To have any chance of feeding ten billion people in 2050 within planetary boundaries, we must adopt a healthy, plant-based diet, cut food waste, and invest in technologies that reduce environmental impacts.’

Let’s hope this report provides a wake-up call to farmers and policy makers worldwide.

Methane emissions are a big deal!

Cows eating

Rising methane levels may be thwarting climate change efforts. A 2017 study attributes about half of the increase to cows and other ruminant livestock which produce methane as they digest food.

Methane from cattle pie chartThese animals host microbes in their stomachs, gut filling hitchhikers that help them break down and absorb the nutrients from tough-to-digest grasses. Those microbes produce methane as their waste, which wafts out of both ends of cows. The manure that cattle and other grazers produce is also a site for microbes to do their business, producing even more methane. Now consider that there are 1.4 billion cattle in the world. You can see why so much of the methane being produced is from livestock.

“Methane emissions are a big deal. About a sixth of the warming that we’ve had since the start of the Industrial Revolution has been caused by methane,” said  Stanford University professor Rob Jackson, who chairs the international emission tracking organization known as the Global Carbon Project.

Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a molecule of methane will cause 28-36 times more warming than a molecule of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. Recent data shows that methane concentrations in the atmosphere have risen from about 1,775 parts per billion in 2006 to 1,850 parts per billion in 2017.

So, one way to reduce that is to just stop eating beef, right? That’s what researchers near and far believe, including Paul West at the University of Minnesota.

“As an individual, one of the biggest effects that we can have [to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture] is changing what we’re eating to eating a smaller amount of beef,” said West.

Why stop there? we ask.  To have the greatest impact, we all need to cut out animal products from our diets as quickly as possible. We can’t afford to only take small steps anymore.

To learn more, see our article: Cows Gas the Planet.

Fly the Vegan Skies

airline vegan meal

A vegan airline meal

Vegan options are showing up in a wide variety of places these days, from prisons to hospitals to public schools. Now a new initiative by the Vegan Society and Humane Society International seeks to make sure airlines have vegan meals available in commercial airliners.

While air travel is blamed for significant greenhouse gas emissions, meat is actually much worse. It’s also a culprit in other environmental problems. “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, at Oxford University, England.  “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.”

Airlines serve an estimated one billion inflight meals every year, so actively encouraging passengers to choose plant-based options could help reduce the industry’s carbon emissions, while at the same addressing a number of other environmental problems caused by meat and other animal-derived foods.

If you fly long distance, be sure to order a vegan meal when you book your flight.  While you’re waiting for your flight at Seatac airport, why not check out the new restaurant “Floret” by Café Flora? The sister restaurant of our much beloved vegetarian restaurant Café Flora offers both sit down and grab-and-go food.

Don’t blame the lettuce!

Romaine lettuceDon’t blame the lettuce! According to the Food and Drug Administration, the large E. coli outbreak which has just happened, caused by contaminated romaine lettuce, may have been caused by a factory farm.

A factory farm is a farm where the animals are crowded together in large numbers. Conditions are often abusive, and as we’ve seen from shocking videos, sometimes deliberately cruel.

E. coli bacteria live in the environment, animals’ intestines and in fecal matter, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dangerous strains of E. coli, as well as salmonella and other foodborne pathogens, are derived from animal (and occasionally human) feces, and can end up in the ground water, streams and rivers. “The bacteria in animal waste could make their way into water one of two ways,” explained University of Florida food safety expert Keith Schneider. “Water can run downhill, especially after rain, and make it into an irrigation ditch, or water can seep into an underground aquifer.”

A likely reason for why romaine lettuce is susceptible to E. coli contamination is that the runoff from cattle reaches the irrigation water for fields where romaine lettuce grows, said Benjamin Chapman, an associate professor and a food safety specialist at N.C. State University in Raleigh. In similar outbreaks in the past, contaminated produce was traced back to neighboring livestock operations. In this case, the FDA surmises that the contaminated water was either used to irrigate the lettuce or mixed with pesticides (a common method of dilution) before being sprayed on the plants.

These kinds of outbreaks have been happening again and again. Not all the harm from animal agriculture is done by meat itself. Sometimes it’s right next door!

 

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