Earth Hour, the environment, and the food you eat

I have to confess that Earth Hour this year was just as disappointing as last year, despite all the media attention. We went for dinner at a friend’s place and at 8:30 when we turned off our lights, it seemed like we were the only ones around doing so. But there are better things you can do with your time that will have a far greater effect on the environment as well as the quality of your life than eating by candlelight. Far more important is what you choose to eat. In a recent article on the NYT, Mark Bittman summarized well this position:

To eat well, says Michael Pollan, the author of “In Defense of Food,” means avoiding “edible food-like substances” and sticking to real ingredients, increasingly from the plant kingdom. (Americans each consume an average of nearly two pounds a day of animal products.) There’s plenty of evidence that both a person’s health — as well as the environment’s — will improve with a simple shift in eating habits away from animal products and highly processed foods to plant products and what might be called “real food.” (With all due respect to people in the “food movement,” the food need not be “slow,” either.)

From these changes, Americans would reduce the amount of land, water and chemicals used to produce the food we eat, as well as the incidence of lifestyle diseases linked to unhealthy diets, and greenhouse gases from industrial meat production. All without legislation.

And the food would not necessarily have to be organic, which, under the United States Department of Agriculture’s definition, means it is generally free of synthetic substances; contains no antibiotics and hormones; has not been irradiated or fertilized with sewage sludge; was raised without the use of most conventional pesticides; and contains no genetically modified ingredients.

Simply put – eat more plants and less animal products and artificial food (“food-like substances” are all those products that a person living 50 years ago wouldn’t recognize as food). When we talk about the need of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the first thing we all think of is the pollution generated by cars and airplanes. But a recent study has shown that producing 1 kg of beef releases the same amount of CO2 than driving for 3 hours or leaving the lights on for twenty days. And that’s without including emissions of farm equipment or transporting the cattle and meat.

I personally believe that there is no need for everybody to become vegetarian and abdicate from meat and animal products altogether. All we need to do is restore meat to its proper place on our diet – that of the special treat, the garnish, rather than the centre-piece of every. single. meal.  By eating meat less often, you’ll also be able to afford better meat, the meat that is grass-fed, raised humanely, and not pumped with hormones. That way you’d help both the environment and your own health in the process.

Reducing your consumption of meat by at least half will make a much stronger statement than turning off the lights for an hour.