EWG Report: Assessment of Different Foods’ Life Cycles and Carbon Emissions

This thorough report by the Environmental Working Group looks at a range of foods’ carbon emissions across different stages of their lifecycle, from production to disposal http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/ I really value the information presented in this report because of its approach. It isn’t raw numbers; it’s all comparative and evaluative. It’s holistic and takes into account every part of the process, detailing how every step contributes to the over-all environmental impact of a food. The pie charts and bar graphs give simple visuals, but there are also in-depth explanations. The study brings to light that just wasting food contributes a large percentage of emissions to a food’s total. It has always made sense to me to eat everything that you take and I think it is part of valuing and enjoying a food to its fullest. Food has to mean something to us. It is not something to just throw away. And now I know there is scientific evidence to back that up, as this contributes to the large percentage of a food’s emission that comes from avoidable waste. The report also backs up that composting can help reduce carbon emissions; less food waste going into land fills, more going back into the garden. It is therefore not only important what food you buy, but what you do with the product after you buy it: how much you’ll eat, how you will dispose of it, etc.

The page on nutrition speaks to me because I am always trying to convince people they can get more than enough protein without meat, as well as plenty of other nutrients. You don’t need to look far to see the health benefits of cutting down meat intake. And if there is a meat you’re going to cut down on, I think the study makes it clear that ruminants are the worst polluters and red meat the worst for your health. At the same time, pasture-raised and organic beef seems like a good alternative. And while decreased inputs and no chemicals or antibiotics makes for a less harmful practice, I think that beef farming inherently involves a big environmental impact, as is true with pretty much all agriculture on a larger scale. It really depends on the place and I think this study is very strong in it’s specificity and lack of generalizations. Organic might mean a lot in certain cases, and nothing in others, which is what I’ll talk about next post.

-Simon

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2 responses to “EWG Report: Assessment of Different Foods’ Life Cycles and Carbon Emissions

  1. Great post, Simon! Personally, I think people mistakenly think they won’t get enough protein from a vegetarian diet because they don’t know very much about nutrition in general. A lot of people still think being a vegetarian means eating tofu for supper every night. We don’t really learn or teach much about it in school, and at home in our families, people tend to cook and eat the way they were raised — eating meat. It’s a cultural thing, and it’s what’s for dinner! *smirk* Good for you for putting your knowledge out there, (well, here, actually), and doing so with an articulate but balanced perspective.

    You might be interested by this article from CNN about an Austrian artist named Klaus Pichler whose recent photographs address some of the issues you’ve brought up. Here’s the address:
    http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/27/world/europe/food-waste-emissions-pichler/index.html

    Stunning photos and message, both. Keep up the interesting posts, Simon!

    • I totally agree. There are so many amazing dishes that just need vegetables and plant products, whole ingredients. I think some people feel they need to substitute meat with some meat-like product which is also extremely processed. It seems like a simple matter of education. But like that article says and like you were saying, it’s all culture and it’s a pretty different culture now. People used to be more resourceful and used to know enough about their food to get the right stuff and use it all. 1/3: that is a shocking statistic. I love what the article has to say about the different mindset as a product of how food is advertised and sold, as well as the easy things to do to change. I don’t really think it’s that easy to change a mindset, but there’s always a starting point. The photos are awesome. Like the article said, they are almost transformed into something unrecognizable and newly attractive. It’s a really dramatic take on both the unnecessary wasting of food and the effort of advertisers to make a product look appealing. Thanks for the link. I’m always interested in how art and environmentalism overlap. I think that the article has a lot of important things to say so it might show up in a future post. Always enjoy getting inspiration.

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