Tag Archives: carbon footprint

The Ongoing Debate: Grass-Fed or Corn-Fed Beef?

Here’s a video of Fox Business host John Stossel analyzing the environmental benefits of grass-fed and corn-fed beef. To debunk the “food myth”–as he calls it–that grass-fed beef is better, he interviews Dr. Jude Capper from Washington State University, who claims she has researched this issue and that corn-fed beef is actually better for the environment because feedlot cows live shorter lives and are therefore a more productive commodity. She claims they actually have a smaller carbon footprint, too. (Check out my blog post from January, 2010, supporting the claim that grass-fed cows are actually carbon-negative.)

But the issue isn’t only an environmental one, which makes Stossel look pretty narrow-minded in this video. Healthcare and animal welfare are big pieces of the meat pie that he simply ignores when it comes to choosing grass-fed over corn-fed beef. While emphasizing the high price of grass-fed beef, he never acknowledges the impact of feedlot meat on people’s health–a cost that all of us pay for long-term. Nor does he address the long-term effect of feedlot cesspools on the environment.

Check out the video as well as Animal Welfare Approved Andrew Gunther’s recent blog post in The Huffington Post. Do you think Stossel has a convincing argument?

An Already Bleak Life May Get More Grim for Feedlot Cows

Photo by the Associated Press, via NPR

And what does that mean for those who eat feedlot meat?

The Associated Press (AP) reported via NPR that the market for domestic meat has withered, which could result in a trend toward lesser-quality meat on American dinner tables. The struggle to get a competitive price could put meat producers out of business, pressuring others to sell sicker, weaker cows.

According to the AP, “the cash market for domestic beef has been declining slowly for years. But The Associated Press interviewed cattle producers in the nation’s big ranching states who reported having no choice but to sell the vast majority of their cattle to one buyer.” Without a competitive market, experts say, cattle producers could lose the motivation to raise high-quality meat. Some of them might cut corners on medicine, feed and veterinary care.

The consequences of cost cutting feed directly into the food  system. How do you feel about that when there are already enough problems with feedlot meat, from drug injections to contamination in slaughterhouses to inhumane treatment of cows and an oversized carbon footprint?

It’s another reason to choose grassfed, pastured beef from a local farmer you know and trust, or go vegetarian.

To find a farmer near you, visit EatWild.com.

Virtual Water Consumption: How Much Does Your Food Require?

Have you checked out this month’s National Geographic magazine yet? It’s a special issue on water and they’ve enclosed a beautiful map showing the river systems of the world. On the other side of the map is a display called “Hidden Water” that depicts the “virtual water”–the amount of water used to create a product–for meat, animal products, fruit and vegetables, and common goods. (If you don’t get the magazine, they have a fun interactive version on their website.)

For example, the virtual water used to raise animals for food consists of the water they drink and the water used to grow their food and clean their waste.

Here are the number of gallons needed for cows:

For pigs:

For chickens:

What they don’t tell you on the interactive site is that the statistics for the meat–at least the beef–come from industrial food production, which is revealed in the sidebar at the bottom of the graphic called “Why Meat Takes More”.

Here’s the explanation: “A human diet that regularly includes meat requires 60 percent more water than a diet that’s predominantly vegetarian…this graphic illustrates the water needed to raise a cow or steer in an industrial production system, using the global average of three years from birth to market.”

As in my January blog post (“A Cow’s Carbon Footprint: Why Grassfed Beef is Carbon-Negative“), I am always looking for statistics showing that grassfed beef positively impacts the environment. For sure, it does less damage than feedlot beef. But is there a solid argument confirming that raising grassfed beef actually helps Mother Earth?

I scoured the Web and I like what EatWild.com says about grass farming the best. Still, I couldn’t find the stats I was looking for.

My conclusion, I suppose, is “everything in moderation,” as revealed in my decision to stay a flexitarian. If we all ate less meat, we’d reduce water consumption. If we ate grassfed meat instead of feedlot meat, we’d reduce it even more–not to mention avoiding the other negative impacts of eating feedlot meat: pollution, increased usage of fossil fuels, antibiotics and hormones added to the meat, higher risk of disease, poor working conditions for humans, and animal abuse.

Carnivore, Vegetarian, or Flexitarian?

Where I work, I’ve actually seen some pretty creative menu items coming from the food service staff. For example, recently it was Mediterranean day and, coincidentally, right after I made a Lebanese rice and lentil dish called Moujadarah, it showed up in the cafeteria. Since I didn’t bring my lunch that day, I enjoyed many of the Mediterranean choices, which included falafel, pita, hummus, and Greek salad (as well as the Moujadarah).

As a result, I’ve been scanning the menu each week and this time I saw a word I had never seen before: flexitarian. With all the reading about food and meat and my search for vegetarian dinner recipes, you’d think I’d have come across it by now.

So I looked it up. Wikipedia’s definition for flexitarianism is this: “a semi-vegetarian diet focusing on vegetarian food with occasional meat consumption. A self-described flexitarian seeks to decrease meat consumption without eliminating it entirely from his or her diet.”

I wondered, is that me? As I’ve said numerous times, I am a true carnivore. And I do believe grassfed meat, as a commodity, does not do the carbon footprint damage that feedlot meat does. But grassfed meat is not cheap. One way to balance the cost of good food, such as local grassfed meat, is to balance carnivorous choices with vegetarian choices. Hence, the flexitarian–flexible enough to eat from both the animal world and the plant world! 

Back to Wikipedia: If you scroll down the webpage you’ll see the “criticism” section: “Flexitarianism is often criticized by vegetarians or vegans who assert that one cannot be vegetarian only occasionally.” The Wiki criticism sounds like flexitarians are wishy-washy. I beg to differ. Based on my points above, I think a flexitarian approach is meaningful and deliberate.

Here’s another story on MSNBC’s website about flexitarianism.

What do you think?

From NRDC: Does Your Food Travel More Than You Do?

Here’s an idea: The next time you’re shopping for produce and you come across grapes from Chile, think twice. Is it really necessary to have something from so far away just because you can?

Why not get into the groove of buying locally?

One way I’m doing this is by shopping at the West Michigan Co-op, where local producers offer their goods, including local onions, apples, greens, etc. Many still have a store of produce on hand, even in the winter months.

If you don’t have a co-op, CSA, or farmers’ market that you can tap into, here’s a website from the National Resources Defense Council that might help. According to the site, “most produce grown in the United States travels an average of 1,500 miles before it gets sold.”

And transportation costs–to bring grapes, say, from Chile–take a toll on not only the pocketbook, but also the environment and public health. It just makes sense to eat “lower on the food chain,” meaning local organic produce to avoid toxins, support local farmers, and enjoy real food.

To find out what’s in season where you live, check out the site’s interactive “What’s Fresh Near You” tool.

If you live in the North, I know the pickin’s are slim. Believe me, living in Michigan, I’ve had to get creative about eating fresh produce….such as storing up root vegetables from the fall (I’ve still got butternut squash in my garage and parsnips in my vegetable bin in the fridge). Somewhere under the snow I have some leeks, but I guess they’re buried until spring now. Next year I hope to freeze the bounty of raspberries I snag at the farmers’ market. It just takes some planning and organization if you don’t live in a place where fresh produce is offered year ’round.

Don’t forget to check out localharvest.org. It’s a great resource for tracking down local producers who are willing to sell their surplus. And check with your local farmers, too. Many of them are storing surplus produce that they’re willing to sell. It’s just a matter of connecting to the right people.

(Thanks to Lois for sharing the NRDC website with me!)

A Cow’s Carbon Footprint: Why Grassfed Beef Is Carbon-Negative

Recently, I was talking with a friend about grassfed beef and the conversation moved toward carbon footprints. I found that I didn’t have a secure argument for grassfed beef being good for the environment. I thought it probably was, based on what I’ve read in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. After all, if you feed ruminants (such as cows) grass and they fertilize the grass with their manure and you move them around, just like bison used to do on the Great Plains in our country, everyone would benefit: the cows, the grass, and the air. In essence, it makes sense.

But why do most environmentalists cut back on eating meat? I suspect it’s because they’re focused on feedlot meat, which I haven’t knowingly touched since I saw the movie Food, Inc. last summer. (If you don’t have a chance to see it but want to get a crash course in feedlot meat, watch “Meet Your Meat” or read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. They all have the same effect.)

Thanks to an article in the January 12 issue of Time magazine, I feel justified in my continuing carnivorous behavior (although it’s been somewhat modified toward vegetarian for a number of reasons).

According to Time, the enormous carbon footprint argument is based on the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2006 report, which attributed 18% of the world’s man-made greenhouse-gas emissions to livestock. However, cattleman Ridge Shinn says conventional cattle raising is like mining: “It’s unsustainable, because you’re just taking without putting anything back. But when you rotate cattle on grass, you change the equation. You put back more than you take.”

I knew there was something sustainable in the grassfed beef cycle. I’m just glad to hear a cattleman claim it since I don’t have the expertise of a farmer.

Michael Pollan supports the claim: “Much of the carbon footprint of beef comes from growing grain to feed the animals, which requires fossil-fuel-based fertilizers, pesticides, transportation. Grass-fed beef has a much lighter carbon footprint.”

And, grassfed beef is healthier than feedlot beef because it’s got less saturated fat and more omega-3s.

Wanna know more? Read the article.

Eating Animals: A Carnivore’s Review

I finally finished reading Eating Animals, the new book by Jonathan Safran Foer. As I mentioned in a blog post earlier this month, it took me awhile to plod through because it’s not good bedtime reading, which is when I do most of mine. I thought watching videos such as “Meet Your Meat” about feedlot farms was bad; this is even tougher. (It’s just like they say about books and movies….the book is usually better–or worse in this case, due to the graphic descriptions.)

Since I’m a writer, I’ll cover the nuts and bolts first: Frankly, I find Safran Foer’s style difficult to follow. His language is a bit choppy. I don’t always follow his syntax–or his thoughts, for that matter. But, that’s just me.

As for content, he gives the reader a lot to digest. Maybe that’s why it took me three months to read the book. But, most impressively, he’s done his research. Safran Foer has supplied us with a ton of data about the industrialized world of feedlot farming….research we all need to know about. I admire him for taking on the challenge of interviewing people to hear their stories about maltreatment of animals. (Me, I can hardly look at road kill when I’m driving.) I guess if you want to take baby steps toward Eating Animals, try Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma first; it’ll help prepare you for the graphic depictions described by Safran Foer.

Here’s a basic synopsis of the content, which I snagged from The Huffington Post in October:

Jonathan Safran Foer spent much of his teenage and college years oscillating between omnivore and vegetarian. But on the brink of fatherhood–facing the prospect of having to make dietary choices on a child’s behalf–his casual questioning took on an urgency. His quest for answers ultimately required him to visit factory farms in the middle of the night, dissect the emotional ingredients of meals from his childhood, and probe some of his most primal instincts about right and wrong. Brilliantly synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, memoir and his own detective work, Eating Animals explores the many fictions we use to justify our eating habits–from folklore to pop culture to family traditions and national myth–and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting….

That hits the nail on the head.

So why isn’t this a bedtime story? Let me provide a few excerpts from the book. (Beware: Reader discretion advised.)
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Buying Local at the West Michigan Cooperative

Creswick Farms truck at the loading dock

Bill and I just joined the West Michigan Co-op this month and last night was our first order pick-up. It was loads of fun.

After dinner at one of our favorite Local First eateries, the Electric Cheetah in Grand Rapids, we headed over to a nearby warehouse for the pick-up, which is a designated day and time once a month. To become a member, you sign up online and pay $35 per year. Then you place a monthly order online during the shopping window (first week of the month), print off your invoice, bring it with you to the warehouse, and pay for your goods that night.

Our first-time order included ground beef, ground lamb, and lamb chops from Creswick Farms; fingerling potatoes from Groundswell Community Farm; and yellow onions from Funny Farm Organics.

Inside the Creswick Farms trailer, where the meat is stored

Our meat order from Creswick Farms

Veggies bagged up at Funny Farm Organics

Our fingerling potato order from Funny Farm Organics

Veggies bagged up at Groundswell Community Farm

Our onion order from Groundswell Community Farm

But there’s way more to choose from than meat, onions, and potatoes.
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Eating Fish: Fresh Versus Frozen?

Photo via The New York Times

Two ecological economists and one food system researcher teamed up to tackle the problem of sustainable food systems and reported on it in The New York Times this past week.

The team chose salmon for their study because it’s an important source of protein around the world and a food that is available nearly anywhere at any time, regardless of season or local supply. While they didn’t focus so much on what the fish consumed, they did bring to light the environmental impact of shipping salmon.

The results?
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Back to Basics with Edible Walls

When you have 3,000 miles of walls, like New York City does, it makes a lot more sense to use them instead of the ground or rooftops to grow gardens.

All over the U.S., city walls are becoming edible. They’re called edible walls because they’re filled with soil and seeds that yield produce from a vertical garden. With a thick layer of vegetation on the outside of buildings, they also provide insulation and reduce heating and electricity costs. Edible walls are helping urban farmers lower food costs, increase nutritional quality, cut fuel consumption, and reduce carbon emissions.

The leader in this niche area is Green Living Technologies. Founder George Irwin says, “Instead of bringing food to the city, we’re bringing the whole farm. What we’re implementing is back to basics.”

A novel idea. Read more about it in The New York Times.