Eating As Though the Earth Matters Ideas and Recipes for a Changing Diet

“What did you do while the world was burning?” — Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope

“We don’t want to eat foods where environmental destruction is built into the business model.  We don’t want to eat foods that require animal suffering, require insane kinds of modifications to animals’ bodies.  These are not liberal or conservative values.  Nobody wants this.” — Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals

“Physics has set an immutable bottom line on life as we know it on this planet.  Any value for carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere greater than 350 parts per million is not compatible ‘with the planet on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted,’ according to NASA scientist, James Hansen.  …  The current level of CO2 in the atmosphere is already at 390 parts per million, even as the amount of methane in the atmosphere has been spiking in the last two years.  ..  We’re no longer capable of ‘preventing’ global warming; only (maybe) preventing it on such a large scale that it takes down all our civilizations.” — Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and author of Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

We are living at a time of intense environmental destruction, and each of us is being called to take responsibility for how we choose to live our lives.  We cannot wait for our government to fix global warming, for profit-seeking, polluting industries to get a conscience, or for other countries to be the first to act.  The beautiful, nurturing planet we love is dying with our every breath.  We can throw up our hands in despair, or we can step up to the plate and make conscious choices about what we consume that are congruent with our concern for the future of life on our planet.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is the animal agriculture industry that is most responsible for human-induced pollution, profligate consumption of the world’s nonrenewable resources, and the escalating destruction of our environment.  In the U.S. alone, more than 10 billion farm animals are raised and slaughtered every year in unspeakably painful ways to feed the desires of a meat-ravenous culture.  And those numbers are increasing.

The number one most impactful action we can take on behalf of the environment is to switch to a healthy, plant-based diet, and replace, as fully as possible, the animal meat, milk and eggs in our meals.  Studies have shown that a complete vegetarian (vegan) diet uses a good ten times less precious resources than a carnivore — and is significantly more climate friendly than driving a Prius.

The landmark UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report concluded that animal agriculture is “one of the …  most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global,” including “problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.”  A more recent World Watch report by leading environmental researchers, “Livestock and Climate Change: What if the Key Actors in Climate Change are…Cows, Pigs, and Chickens?,” found an even more significant contribution to global warming than that reported by the FAO.  In their analysis, they concluded that “livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 51 percent of annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.”  Now, researchers are hypothesizing that even that calculation is underestimated.

As Peter Singer, co-author of The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, explains: “When it comes to climate change, the UN FAO report actually underestimates the adverse environmental impact of meat production.  The report shows that the livestock sector is responsible for about 18% of greenhouse gas emissions.  This is 40% more than the entire transport sector, including planes.  Bad as this may seem, over the next 20 years, livestock will be responsible for a much larger contribution to global warming than that.  The FAO calculation is based on an assessment of methane as 23 times as potent in warming the planet as carbon dioxide.  That ratio applies to the global warming potential of methane over the next century.  But methane breaks down more quickly than carbon dioxide, so if we take a shorter timeframe – like 20 years – methane is 72 times as potent as carbon dioxide.  This shorter timeframe is the relevant one to use, because if we fail to slow global warming within the next 20 years, we are likely to pass a point of no return, beyond which we will have virtually no environmental control.”

METHANE IS OFTEN OVERLOOKED

It is CO2 that has been getting all the press, and lowering it has been the focus of environmental and regulatory organizations.  While that’s important, the far more potent greenhouse gases — methane with more than 20 times the global warming potential (GWP) and nitrous oxide, with nearly 300 times the GWP of CO2 have been largely ignored.

Animal agriculture accounts for nine percent of human-induced CO2 emissions, but it accounts for 37 percent of methane and 65 percent of nitrous oxide emissions.  Carbon dioxide is responsible for nearly half of all human-induced GHG warming since the Industrial Revolution, while methane and nitrous oxide are responsible for another third.

According to NASA scientist, Drew Shindell, “Methane is much more complicated once it gets into the atmosphere than carbon dioxide is, and that’s because it reacts with a lot of different important chemicals….  Methane has gone up by 150 percent since the pre-industrial period.  So that’s an enormous increase.  CO2, by contrast, has gone up by something like 30 percent.” Shindell recently totaled up all the effects of methane emissions and realized that the heating effect is more than 60 percent that of carbon dioxide’s.  “So that tells you that methane is a pretty big player,” he said.

Farm animals, particularly cows, sheep and goats, produce methane as they digest grass or grain through a process called enteric fermentation.  A study by ecological economist, Susan Subak, found that, depending on the production method, cows emit between 2.5 and 4.7 ounces of methane for each pound of beef they produce.  Because methane has roughly 23 times the GWP of CO2, those emissions are the equivalent of releas­ing between 3.6 and 6.8 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere for each pound of beef produced.  With 100 million cows in the U.S. alone, that’s a lot of gas.

Even more methane gas is released from animal manure as it decomposes.  According to data from the USDA and the EPA, confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) produce approximately 500 million tons of manure every year.  In the U.S. alone, cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and other animals raised on factory farms generate approximately 500 million tons of solid and liquid waste annually.  Domestically, cows raised for beef and milk production emit approximately six million tons of methane per year, which amounts to 71 percent of all agricultural methane emissions and 19 percent of the nation’s total methane emissions.  Worldwide, methane released from farmed animal manure totals nearly 20 million tons annually.

Methane gas emissions are drastically increasing as a result of confining more and more animals in large factory-like confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that use liquid manure management systems that produce massive open-air lagoons or holding tank systems of untreated, unaerated animal waste.  In fact, between 1990 and 2006, methane emissions from pig and dairy cow manure in the U.S. increased by 34 percent and 49 percent, respectively.

All of this animal waste has severe environmental consequences.  As Peter Singer explains: “Farmed animals in the U.S. produce 130 times as much ‘waste’ as the human population, and a single factory farm can produce more waste than an entire city.  Handling so much waste properly is costly, and the consequences of mishandling are many: when laid onto fields too thickly to be absorbed, it runs off into rivers, polluting, killing fish and making people sick.”

GRASS-FED ANIMALS CREATE MORE GHG THAN GRAIN-FED

“As far as climate change is concerned, the emphasis on factory-farmed animal products is a mistake.  While raising animals on pasture is much more animal-welfare friendly than confining them indoors, ruminants (cattle and sheep) produce more methane when they eat grass than when they are fed grain, because it takes more digesting to break down the cellulose in grass.” — Peter Singer, co-author of The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter

“Many environmentalists have argued that finishing up the fattening of beef cattle on corn is worse for the environment than cattle that are raised solely on pasture grass.  [Ecological economist, Nathan] Pelletier, says his team’s analysis finds that at least from a climate perspective, the opposite is true.  ‘We do see significant differences in the GHG intensities [of grass vs. grain finishing].  It’s roughly on the order of 50 percent higher in grass-finished systems.’ The reason: ‘It’s related to the much higher volumes of feed throughput and associated methane and nitrous-oxide [GHG] emissions.’…  With grass-fed cattle ‘there is also a high [grass] trampling rate.  So the actual land area that you need to maintain magnifies that [GHG] difference,’ Pelletier said.” — Janet Raloff, “The Carbon Footprint of Raising Animals for Food,” Science News

Contrary to popular “locavore” philosophy, eating or drinking the milk of grass-fed animals does not lower your carbon footprint.  Factory farmed, grain-fed animal operations have a horrific effect on the environment — everything from GHGs, to destruction of the rainforest, to ocean acidification, to depletion of nonrenewable fossil fuels and raw materials, to the loss of biodiversity, to species extinction, to polluting our air, water and land, destroying our health, and confining billions of sensitive animals in spaces so small that they cannot engage in any natural behaviors, then slaughtering them at a fraction of their natural lifespan.

Grass-fed farmed animals emit more gas than grain-fed animals reared in CAFOs because they have a higher amount of roughage in their diet, which comes from grasses, and less starch.  The lignin in grass is a hard to digest substance in the plant cell wall, and it must be converted to energy in the cow’s gut.  As the lignin degrades, methane is released.  Grain-fed animals have a higher percentage of starch, since much of their feed comes from corn (the production of which is also responsible for a large amount of GHG), so the natural fermentation process is unnaturally suppressed.

A NEW CONSCIOUSNESS

“Schoolchildren everywhere are learning that their everyday behavior — the food they eat, the electricity they use, the family car they drive in, and myriad other consumer habits intimately affect the wellbeing of every other human being and every other creature on Earth.  This is the emergence of biosphere consciousness and the beginning of the next stage of our evolutionary journey as an empathic being.” — Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis

“Deep in our intuitive gut, we can sense a dismantling of our most familiar myths – …  even the myths of the inevitability of the future of the planet.  Whereas we once took the future of this planet for granted, we can no longer do that.  None of us grew up with the idea that water might be scarce or that the air might become toxic.  We had the threat of nuclear war but that was a manmade threat, not an environmental catastrophe that signaled an illness in Mother Nature herself….  The new myths are ones that are solar based, global and environmentally interactive, ones that integrate life as opposed to dominating and destroying life as a result of an absence of moral or ethical conscience.” — Caroline Myss, author of Defy Gravity

Though methane has more than 20 times the GWP of CO2, it leaves the atmosphere in a decade, as opposed to the century it takes CO2 to disperse.  That’s very good news for those of us looking for a powerful way to help protect the planet we love.  By replacing animal-based foods with readily available plant-based proteins, nondairy milk products, and egg substitutes, we will “put our money where our mouth is.”  Finding delicious and healthy meatless alternatives has never been easier with the variety of options that are now available in supermarkets, health food stores and restaurants.  Every time we sit down to eat, we have the opportunity to “think green” and do our part in creating a world in which our planet can support life for all its inhabitants.

You’ll find a multitude of delicious Earth- and animal-friendly vegan recipes online and in cookbooks in your local bookstore.  Here are a few great recipe websites: www.chooseveg.com, www.compassionatecooks.com, www.theppk.com, www.globalvegankitchen.com, and www.vegcooking.com.  For a vegetarian starter kit, go to www.tryveg.com, www.goveg.com, www.pcrm.org, www.mercyforanimals.org, or www.veganoutreach.org.

EARTH- AND ANIMAL-FRIENDLY RECIPES

Those of us who live near Kansas City are fortunate to have Eden Alley Café and Catering close by.  A favorite of our family and friends, Eden Alley offers delicious vegan and vegetarian dishes, an abundant selection of homemade desserts, and organic ingredients from local farmers.  For details about their daily specials, menu, catering, hours and location, visit www.edenalley.com.  The following recipes are used by permission from the Eden Alley cookbook, Stir Well to Heaven.

SPINACH MUSHROOM LOAF (vegan)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 pound fresh, cleaned, de-stemmed spinach (set aside in a large mixing bowl)

1 large yellow onion, diced

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons oregano

1 1/2 teaspoons thyme

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon chili flakes

Sauté all ingredients in a saucepan on medium heat until onions are translucent.  Take off heat and pour mix onto your spinach immediately, the hot onion mix will slightly wilt the spinach.

ADD

2 cups cooked, cold organic brown rice

3 cups bread crumbs

1/2 pound shredded tofu

1/2 pound sautéed mushrooms

Mix very well with hands.  Form into a loaf, making sure that it is even in length, height, and width, on a sheet pan sprayed with non-stick spray.  Bake for 50 minutes at 350 degrees.  Let cool for at least 20 minutes to set.  Top with coulee.

Yield: 6 to 8 portions

COULEE — TOMATO BASIL SAUCE or MARINARA (vegan/soy-free/gluten-free)

Makes 4 cups

We use this sauce in so many ways, calling it several things … always calling it delicious.  It’s great for pasta, topping a spinach and mushroom loaf, or over roasted vegetables.

INGREDIENTS

1 medium sized yellow onion, diced

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 1/2 tablespoons of both, olive and sunflower oil

1 tablespoon organic granulated sugar

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

a pinch of chili flakes

FOR LATER

2 14-oz cans of your favorite diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon of fresh chopped basil

In a large stock pot, begin sautéing the above ingredients, with the exception of your tomatoes and basil, on medium heat.  Once onions begin to look translucent, add your two 14 oz cans of diced tomatoes.  Stir well.  Let your sauce simmer on low heat for a 1/2 hour, stir every 10 minutes.  Pull your sauce from the heat and add 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped basil.  Stir well.  Transfer your sauce into desired storage container.  Only cover once the sauce is COMPLETELY cool.  

By Beth Lily Redwood

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