Practical Issues > Health - Index > Planet
Sustainable Living

[excerpt from Times Herald-Record]

Picture in your mind the food ladder. Starting at the bottom rung, we have the most abundant and free source of energy on the planet; solar, which is consumed by plants (next rung) to make plant energy, which is consumed by animals (next rung) to make protein, which is consumed by man. Except in a few rare cases -- involving bears, lions, sharks, wild dingoes or cannibals -- the food ladder ends with us humans.

Each rung on the ladder represents about a 90 percent loss of resources; in other words, it takes 9 calories of resources to produce 1 calorie of food (according to Michael Pollan in "The Omnivore's Dilemma"). Plants waste 90 percent of the sun growing things the animals won't eat, like stalks or roots. The animals waste 90 percent of the plant energy by growing things like feathers, fur and bones that we won't eat. You get the picture.

When we eat lower on the food ladder, we save more resources, as well as that animal. Let's look at this in terms of dinner. To produce a pound of wheat, it takes about 25 gallons of water, a lot of sun and less than an acre of land. Yet it takes 16 pounds of wheat and soy, along with 2,500 gallons of water, to make one tiny pound of beef. More than half our farmland and half our water consumption is currently tied up by the meat industry.

A 10-acre farm could feed 60 people eating soybeans, or 24 people eating wheat, or 10 people eating corn, but only two beef eaters, according to the British group Vegfam. Americans eat most of our grain in the form of meat; 90 percent, actually, which translates into 2,000 pounds of grain a year. "Imagine sitting down to an eight-ounce steak dinner," author Frances Moore Lappé writes in "Diet for a Small Planet," and "then imagine the room filled with 45 to 50 people with empty bowls in front of them. For the 'feed cost' of your steak, each of their bowls could be filled with a full cup of cooked cereal grains."
Environmental costs of eating meat

* "Ranching-induced deforestation is one of the main causes of loss of some unique plant and animal species in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America as well as (25 percent) carbon release in the atmosphere," according to the United Nations.

* Because of deforestation to create grazing land, each vegetarian saves an acre of trees per year.
* Beef production alone uses more water than is consumed in growing the nation's entire fruit and vegetable crop.
* "You'd save more water by not eating a pound of California beef than you would by not showering for an entire year," according to "Diet for a New America" author John Robbins.

* It takes more water to feed a meat eater for one month than a vegetarian for one year.

Facts from "Ecological Cooking" by Joanne Stepaniak and Kathy Hecker unless otherwise noted.

full story:

Fair Use Notice and Disclaimer
Send questions or comments about this web site to Ann Berlin,