Saturday, April 24, 2010


The specter of the estimated 1 billion hungry people on the planet has haunted me since Earth Day. Yet another reason to choose a plant-based diet - to feed an increasing world population. When will we (those with enough food) get serious about eating a more efficient diet? Will it take two billion people starving? Three billion? Us?

Preparing for Earth Day at Arizona Western College gave me a chance to review population statistics. At the time of the first Earth Day in 1970, we had just reached a population of 3.5 billion (science believes homo sapiens appeared on the scene between 250,000 and 400,000 years ago). We have added almost another 3.5 billion people since that first Earth Day forty years ago.

Many current veganvironmentalists (term coined this morning to describe someone who is vegan for environmental reasons) began their quest to help the world after reading Frances Moore Lappé's 1971 book, Diet for a Small Planet. (Jean began decreasing our family's meat consumption after she read this book as well.) For many others, the first big influence was John Robbins' Diet for a New America.

What has happened to the world's meat consumption since 1970 when Diet for a Small Planet described the environmental damage and inefficiency of animal agriculture? It has risen a whopping 440% - from under 65 million metric tons then to over 285 MMT's of meat now. The damage to the world's ecosystem at this level is unsustainable, yet meat consumption is predicted to double again in the next 40 years.

Despite the increase in production, meat still only supplies 17% of the world's calories. However animal agriculture uses over 50% of the world's arable land and causes over 50% of the land degradation. If the production of meat doubles as predicted, and even without arable land loss - which is inevitable - meat will take 100% of the land and produce 34% of the current calories. Do the math - it just isn't possible!

The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization's 2006 Livestock's Long Shadow report and the subsequent 2009 revision of that report by World Bank researchers found that somewhere between 17% - 51% of man-made greenhouse gases are caused by animal agriculture. The UN report also documents that animal agriculture is both the largest water polluter and the biggest cause of deforestation.

Environmentalists have begun to adjust to this new data on the environmental impact of animal agriculture. I applaud their adoption of Meatless Mondays and other efforts to choose more sustainable food.

However, the passion of most environmentalists is clearly a 24/7 commitment. Meatless Mondays will spawn Tofu Tuesdays (just checked, it has been on-line at least since January 2010) and soon many environmentalists will see as much sense in becoming vegans as they see in the ritual of recycling.

For me, my patients' health was enough stimulus for me to begin promoting a plant based diet. For others, it will become the environment or pictures of starving children.

Not everyone will be changing their dietary perspective anytime soon. One doesn't have to look far on the internet to find the beliefs of those who find the above reasoning both illogical and arrogant.

Meat is an integral part of American culture and, as the world develops, is becoming an increasing part of the world's meals. At Nature's Express, however, we will continue to happily serve everyone - whatever their culinary or philosophical perspectives - tasty, meatless, and affordable meals.

Expressly Yours,