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Healthy People, Healthy Planet

by John Robbins

Choosing a Wholesome Diet Can Help Save Your Life & Our World

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The financial and health implications of our diets are nearly impossible to overstate. And there are other compelling reasons that we need a food revolution. President Herbert Hoover famously promised "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage." But as bestselling author and health advocate Kathy Freston points out: "With warnings about global warming reaching feverish levels, many are having second thoughts about all those cars. It seems they should instead be worrying about the chickens."

Kathy Freston's comments appeared in her provocatively titled article, "Vegetarian is the New Prius." She wrote it in the wake of a seminal report published in 2007 by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Titled "Livestock's Long Shadow," the report states that meat production is the second or third largest contributor to environmental problems at every level and at every scale, from global to local. It is a primary culprit in land degradation, air pollution, water shortage, water pollution, species extinction, loss of biodiversity and climate change. Henning Steinfeld, a senior author of the report, stated, "Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today's most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is needed to remedy the situation."

Comparing eating little or no animal products with driving a Prius, and likewise comparing eating meat with driving a Hummer, may seem far-fetched. But this comparison, as striking as it is, actually understates the amount of greenhouse gases that stem from meat production. In 2006, a University of Chicago study found that a vegan diet is far more effective than driving a hybrid car in reducing our carbon footprint. The scientists who did the calculations said that a Prius driver who consumes a meat-based diet actually contributes more to global warming than a Hummer driver who eats low on the food chain.

As Ezra Klein wrote in the Washington Post in 2009, "The evidence is strong. It's not simply that meat is a contributor to global warming; it's that it is a huge contributor. Larger, by a significant margin, than the global transportation sector." One of the reasons is methane. Some people find it difficult to take cow burps and flatulence seriously, but livestock emissions are no joke. Methane comes from both ends of the cow, and in such enormous quantities that scientists increasingly view it as one of the greatest threats to our earth's climate. And there's more. The United Nations' FAO report states that livestock production generates fully 65% of the nitrous oxide (another extremely potent greenhouse gas) produced by human activities. The FAO concludes that overall, livestock production is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than all the SUVs, cars, trucks, buses, trains, ships and planes in the world combined.

Similarly, a 2009 report published in Scientific American remarked that "producing beef for the table has a surprising environmental cost: it releases prodigious amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases." The greenhouse gas emissions from producing a pound of beef, the study found, are 58 times greater than those from producing a pound of potatoes. Some people thought the Live Earth concert handbook was exaggerating when it stated that, "Refusing meat is the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint," but it wasn't. This is literally true. Even Environmental Defense, a group hardly known for taking radical stands, calculates that if every meat eater in the U.S. swapped just one meal of chicken per week for a vegetarian meal, the carbon savings would be equivalent to taking half a million cars off the road. Not surprisingly, the U.S. meat industry has claimed that livestock production isn't to blame for global warming, and has tried to persuade the public, opinion leaders, and government officials that the FAO indictment of meat is overstated. But in 2009, the prestigious Worldwatch Institute published a landmark report that made the FAO report seem ultra-conservative in comparison. This thoughtful and meticulously thorough study, written by World Bank agricultural scientists Robert Goodland, who spent 23 years as the Bank's lead environmental advisor, and Jeff Anhang, an environmental specialist for the Bank, came to the staggering conclusion that animals raised for food actually account for more than half of all human-caused greenhouse gases. Eating plants instead of animals, the authors conclude, would be by far the most effective strategy to reverse climate change, because it "would have far more rapid effects on greenhouse gas emissions and their atmospheric concentrations, and thus on the rate the climate is warming, than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy."

A growing and overwhelming body of evidence tells us that there is a tremendous correlation between the food choices that are the healthiest, and those that are the most socially and environmentally responsible. But this information does us little good if we keep right on doing the same thing. While efforts to use government policy for social impact are controversial, there might be a place for it here. Why don't we tax the things that are bad for the world and that cost our society in the long run? What if we were to lower taxes on income, for example, while raising taxes on unhealthy and environmentally destructive activities? This could be a revenue-neutral way of encouraging steps towards a healthier population and healthier world.

Could it be that the time has come for creating fiscal incentives that support people in making lifestyle choices that are healthier for the planet and that reduce the risk of chronic diseases that are imposing an intolerable burden on us financially? What if we taxed agrochemicals, and used the revenue to subsidize organic and other safe forms of growing food? What if we taxed junk food and used the income to subsidize fresh fruits and vegetables? What if we taxed high fructose corn syrup, and used the income to subsidize and thus lower the price people pay for fresh vegetables? What if we taxed products that are responsible for a disproportionate share of greenhouse gases, like meat, and used the money to subsidize vegetable gardens and fruit orchards in every school and neighborhood in the country? And government aside, what if the business community got on board? What if health insurance companies educated their members about the health benefits of a plant based diet, or lobbied for healthier food in such formative places as schools and hospitals? Might they realize payout savings, thus being able to reduce their members' premiums? What if large companies gave their employees bonuses and incentives to take steps towards a healthier lifestyle, and found that this reduces their health insurance costs in the process? And without depending on government, business or anyone else, what would happen if each of us took steps towards a healthier diet and a healthier life? What if we stopped eating the most saturated fat and junk food of any large population in the history of the world, and started on the path to a healthier diet, a healthier life and a healthier world?

The results would be impressive: We'd have genuinely happy meals, because we'd be eating far better and at a far less expense. We'd be so much healthier as people that the amount we'd save on medical bills would go a long way toward solving the crisis in the health care system and toward stabilizing our precarious economy. And we'd dramatically reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases and thus have a more stable climate. What do you say? Food revolution anyone?

Excerpted with permission from The Food Revolution ©2011 by John Robbins, published by Conari Press, San Francisco, CA. Available in stores or visit www.redwheelweiser.com

Read The Share Guide's interview with John Robbins at :



Related Info:
The Fight Against GMOs
Toxins in GM Crops Found in Human Blood
Becoming Raw: Reasons to Switch to a Raw Foods Diet 
Meat-Free Monday
More Vegetables, Please!
The Organic Factor
The Green Home
The Wisdom of Organic Agriculture

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