Welcome to Veggie Day (Donderdag) on Denman Island! Reducing animal product consumption is an easy and important, pro-active step in addressing global climate change, peak oil, and a host of other ecological and health-related concerns…starting on any day of the week is a step in the right direction!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Local Food or Less Meat?


Local Food or Less Meat? Data Tells The Real Story - by Andrew Winston

In recent years, one part of the food business has rivaled organics as the hot growth area: "local" food (defined vaguely as coming from the same state or from less than 100 miles away, for example). It's a market segment that has just about doubled in sales and number of outlets over the last decade. The world's biggest food buyer, Wal-Mart, jumped on the bandwagon last fall and announced that it would double the amount of local food it sells (to 9 percent of all its food sales).
The idea of buying locally is not new, and farmers' markets have been big for years. It's become almost gospel that the food on our plates has traveled about 1500 miles to get to us.

So it would seem logical that the best way to shrink your food-related carbon footprint associated would be to buy from near by. But it turns out that this assumption is wrong.

Thankfully, a couple scientists took a harder look at the data and published an analysis in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology. The abstract for this article is a prime example of clear writing and good lifecycle analysis — which don't usually go together — so check it out. But here's the essence:

  • Food is transported a long way, going about 1,000 miles in delivery and over 4,000 miles across the supply chain.
  • But 83% of the average U.S. household's carbon footprint for food comes from growing and producing it. Transportation is only 11%.
  • Different foods have vastly different greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity, with meat requiring far more energy to produce, and red meat being particularly egregious, requiring 150% more energy than even chicken.

So the journal article adds this up to an obvious conclusion: if you want to reduce your food's carbon footprint, eat less meat. In short, "Shifting less than one day per week's worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food."

As a numbers geek, I love this kind of analysis. Now for the caveats: none of this data should dissuade anyone from eating locally also. The footprint benefits are real, even if dwarfed by food choice. And the benefits to local economies and smaller farms are very important.

But let me repeat: just moving away from meat for one day a week is more effective than buyingeverything you eat locally. This number will be surprising to most people, but it's partly why the global call for "Meatless Mondays" is gaining steam, with school systems and universities adopting the approach in cities around the world, from Baltimore to Tel Aviv.

As companies keep discovering, it really helps to run the numbers. As I've written about before,Pepsi discovered that the largest chunk of the footprint of its Tropicana orange juice was not in production (squeezing oranges) or in distribution (shipping heavy liquids is fuel-intensive), but in growing the oranges with natural-gas-based fertilizer.

Smart, knowledgeable execs are consistently surprised when good lifecycle data trumps seemingly solid assumptions. So we shouldn't expect consumers to figure out the right choices themselves. Buying local food seems like the obvious choice — until you run the numbers.

We have a lot of work to do, both in companies and in our homes, to tackle climate change. Good data and analysis will let us focus on the quickest paybacks and get the most out of our efforts.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Is Meat killing the Planet? UN says diet change will slow climate change

  • March 6th, 2011 10:29 pm PT

The pink elephant in the room of global warming discussions is the link between animal agriculture and accelerating climate change. To put it frankly – if we stop eating meat, we will quickly slow down global warming. According to a new study by the UN Environment Programme this week, the quickest way to slow down the pace of climate change is to focus efforts on reducing shorter lived greenhouse gases such as black carbon (soot), methane and ground level ozone rather than only carbon dioxide. Everyone who cares about the environment wants to stop burning of the Amazon rainforest, but few are aware that in Brazil, over 75% of methane and over half of deforestation come from livestock. A reduction in the source of these harmful gases would, therefore, have an immediate effect on climate change.

Worldwide meat consumption has passed the point of sustainability

There are more than 55 BILLION animals killed for food every year around the world and the amount of resources they consume is simply unsustainable. According to Gerard Wedderburn-Bisshop, Senior Scientist for the World Preservation Foundation, ”This report shows that the Cancun climate change agreement (to limit human warming by 2 degrees) is not achievable without action on shorter-term emissions. The power to change this dangerous situation is in our hands - if we change our diet, we can immediately slash methane, black carbon and lower atmosphere ozone. “

UN Suggests worldwide dietary change away from animal products

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “A substantial reduction of [climate/environmental] impacts wouldonly be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.” This claim is supported as well by a substantial body of work produced by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. According to IPCC chairman and nobel laureate Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, “ In my view, one of the most urgent, and perhaps the easiest and most beneficial, means by which we can reduce emissions through lifestyle changes is to change our dietary habits. I believe the world today is consuming far too much meat protein and therefore what we really need to do is cut down on meat consumption.” (see video)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Recycling Isn't the Answer: To Save the Planet, Eat Plants

by Helene York

The Atlantic Magazine April 14, 2011

Landfills contain 10 times more food than plastic. It's time to think about what we eat (and waste) in a new way.

Lincolnshire, England, is populated with few townspeople and many livestock ranches on land that's flat as far as the eye can see. It was there, in the middle of nowhere and more than five years ago, that I attended my first seminar connecting the dots between the food system and climate change. Back then, before An Inconvenient Truth, climate change wasn't on most Americans' radar, and even fewer were thinking about whether food production was contributing to it.

So much has changed since then. And yet, so little.

What's become clear is that one-third of the world's greenhouse gas emissions are food-related. And study after study shows that some food products-meat and dairy products from ruminant animals (primarily cattle and lamb), highly processed foods derived from industrially grown grains, and air-freighted specialty foods-use a far greater percentage of resources than plant-based foods and whole grains, regardless of where those plant-based foods come from or who produces them. Another way of putting this is that the calories of energy expended to produce meat, processed foods, and specialty foods far outweigh the caloric energy those foods provide. (And they use a heck of a lot more water, too.) It's the very definition of "unsustainable." The American diet is dependent on this greenhouse gas-intensive food, and we waste (by eating too much or simply tossing) more than 25 percent of it.

But the public is still focused on the symbols of waste dating from the earliest Earth Days-plastic bottles, fast food packaging, whether and what to recycle (as opposed to doing anything meaningful with reclaimed materials). How much of landfill waste is composed of consumer plastics? Just 1 percent, and none of it degrades into methane, which has 25 times more warming potential than carbon dioxide. How much landfill waste does food contribute? About 10 percent, according to The Garbage Project. And food waste does produce methane in a landfill.

In addition to being distracted by the plastic versus paper question, we've engaged in many sideline fights: whether pasture-finished beef is better than grain-fed from a climate change perspective; whether methane digester technology is good or bad; and whether local, conventional food or organic food shipped long distances gets the halo of being a "lower-carbon" food.

In sum, few people think about food from a climate-change perspective, and many that do are arguing over nuances. To really chip away at climate change, we need to change our diets in a very fundamental way, and that doesn't mean vegan is the only way to go.

Back to Lincolnshire. I was there to learn about emerging science, available only in Europe at the time. By signing the Kyoto Protocol, European countries had to develop greenhouse gas inventories, which led them down a path of studying food a decade before we in the U.S. even considered those questions. In 2007, after more than a year of research, the company I work for, Bon Appetit Management Company, announced its Low Carbon Diet program. The cornerstone of the program was a commitment to reducing the amount of beef and cheese we serve, radically reducing food waste and air-freighted foods in all of our kitchens, and to auditing equipment and changing how much energy and water we use to prepare the 120 million meals a year we serve.

We haven't banned burgers from the grill or cheese from pizzas. Yet in the first two years of the program, we reduced beef by a full third and cheese by more than 10 percent. Standard lower ranges of meat and cheese are now written into the companywide quality assessments that all of our managers and chefs follow, guaranteeing that we're on a Low Carbon Diet every day. From an impact perspective, it's kind of like Meatless Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday combined.

Today, on April 14, we're celebrating our fourth annual Low Carbon Diet Day, the one day a year when we talk about these principles in a very public way. (Had "Low Methane Day" sounded as catchy as a riff on the Atkins craze, that's probably what we would've called it.) The key to the program's ongoing success has been culinary: If the alternative to beef curries had been cardboard, it would have failed. If we had pressed recipes on our chefs instead of letting them develop options tailored to their guests, it would have failed.

And yet for all the satisfaction I feel about helping change a corporate culture, and galvanizing hundreds of chefs who make day-to-day purchasing decisions, I know we've just scratched the surface of what needs to be done. How many delis exist-in our world or beyond-offering four different kinds of meat sandwiches and only one "vegetarian" offering as opposed to multiple vegetable combinations with meat as a tasty topping option? Aside from personal flavor preferences, why do we persist in our belief that it is "normal" not only to have protein at every meal, but a minimum of four ounces of it each time?

The debates about pasture-raised versus intensively produced meats, or local versus global foods, are important demonstrations of our values-maintaining rural ways of life, knowing how our food is grown, improving animal and social welfare, even preserving flavor. They're all important. But to have any sort of impact on climate change-and a host of other environmental and social concerns-we have to commit to some major changes in our diets. And none of those seems to be on the table yet.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Denman Donderdag picked Thursday as a day of the week to encourage meatless meals here in our community, in concert with Ghent, Belgium (scroll down to the previous post all about that country's initiative).

Other places have picked different days and Monday is perhaps among the most popular. Of course, encouraging people to forego meat ONLY one day of the week is not the end goal of any meat-free campaign; but starting with just one day of the week does make a huge difference collectively, so it's definitely worth doing, even if you don't currently see yourself ever becoming a full-fledged vegetarian or vegan.

Here's an article that looks at the successful growth of the one day a week meatless campaign strategy. Check out some of the links on the right hand side of this page for recipe ideas!


How popular is Meatless Monday?

Meatless Monday is a health-and-environment initiative that asks consumers to avoid eating meat on Mondays. The nonprofit initiative, which has its own website at MeatlessMonday.com, comes from adman Sid Lerner of The Monday Campaigns in partnership with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The Meatless Monday campaign aims to mimic the voluntary meat-free meals that presidents Wilson, Roosevelt and Truman encouraged during WWI and WWII. Since we last covered Meatless Monday in 2009, schools in Baltimore and New York Cityadopted the initiative, and food-service provider Sodexo rolled out Meatless Mondays in its 900 hospital accounts. Harpo, Oprah Winfrey’s production company,instituted Meatless Mondays in its company cafeteria. Even celebrity chefs like Mario Batali and Wolfgang Puck have gotten into the act, adding Meatless Monday menu items in their restaurants.

Not everyone’s on board with Meatless Monday, however. Bowdoin College students staged a barbecue to protest the school’s choice to institute Meatless Monday at its dining facilities. Vegan Gary L. Francione spoke out against the initiative in an op-ed column, writing that it “reinforces the idea that animal flesh is morally distinguishable from other animal foods.” Francione would prefer a Vegan Day instead — one with an ultimate goal of going completely vegan.

Meatless Monday’s Online Popularity

From an adoption standpoint, Meatless Monday is doing pretty well. From a buzz standpoint, however, it’s exploded, especially over the past year. Consider the following Google Insights for Search graph, which tracks interest in Meatless Monday over time:

Google Insights for Search
Gadgets powered by Google

Meatless Monday Semantics

The Meatless Monday initiative began in 2003, but it wasn’t until the third quarter of 2005 that Meatless Monday registered a blip on Google’s search tracking. Fast forward to 2009, and the initiative gained some steam. Note, however, the steep rise in Meatless Monday search popularity between December 2010 and the first three months of 2011. In the interest of being thorough: While the term “Meatless Mondays” was initially more popular than “Meatless Monday,” 2011 search trends dropped the plural and formally adopted the singular form of the phrase:

Google Insights for Search
Gadgets powered by Google

Meatless Monday on Twitter

On Twitter, interest in Meatless Monday has also grown over the past year. Users tweet recipes of meat-free meals, share photos and swap strategies for getting kids involved. It’s even got its own hashtag, #meatlessmonday.

The following graphs from ReSearch.ly highlight tweets surrounding Meatless Monday and #meatlessmonday:

While Meatless Monday may never be universally adopted at the dining room table, Internet users and social media devotees are increasingly choosing to talk about Meatless Monday to their fans and followers. Have you embraced Meatless Monday in your own home?

(By Marissa Brassfield for CalorieLab)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Here's the Story of Ghent's Donderdag...

Denman Island, BC, Canada is one of many communities around the world inspired by the progressive actions of Ghent, Belgium.

The small city is 30 miles west of Brussels, with a population of around 200,000. In May, 2009, Ghent committed to taking a major step forward in environmental responsibility, setting an example for the rest of the world to follow.

City officials have declared that meat intake is a major contributor to pollution, and say that making one day a week meat-free "is good for the climate, your health and your taste buds." Tom Balthazar, a Ghent city councilor who is backing the initiative, quotes the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), when he says that meat production is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gases.

Ghent's officials have teamed up with Belgium's national vegetarian organization, EVA (Ethical Vegetarian Alternative), and adopted Thursday as a vegetarian day for officials. From September, the city's schools will be making a meat-free meal the "default" option every Thursday. Even a hospital is joining in.

An EVA statement said: "Ghent, in co-operation with the vegetarian organization EVA, is determined to go the extra mile in our common battle against climate change. Other Belgian cities have already shown interest in following Ghent's example."

The city council was persuaded to back the idea when vegetarian chef Philippe van den Bulck served a gourmet banquet at the town hall. Philippe Van den Bulck is an upcoming young chef who has worked in some of the finest restaurants all over the world, including elBulli in Spain, which is considered by many to be the best restaurant in the world.

The city threw a party to celebrate the first veggie day. Recipes were distributed, as well as a list of vegetarian restaurants (Ghent has more vegetarian eateries per capita than London, Paris or Berlin), and demonstrations were given on how to cook a 'green' meal.

"We hope that the university, other institutions, enterprises and other towns will jump on the train," said the director of the local branch of EVA. Other towns in Belgium and the Netherlands are making inquiries; there has even been one from Canada.

"If everyone in Flanders does not eat meat one day a week, we will save as much CO2 in a year as taking half a million cars off the road," said the EVA.

In Taiwan last year, one million people pledged to be vegetarian as part of the effort to reduce carbon emissions and fight global warming.

"More than one million people in Taiwan have pledged to help cut carbon emissions by being a vegetarian. Taiwan's population is about 23 million, and the one million vegetarians would reduce at least 1.5 million tons of carbon emissions in Taiwan in one year.

The Union of NoMeatNoHeat made the announcement during its anti-global warming drive. Many prominent politicians, such as the legislative speaker, the environment minister, and Taipei and Kaohsiung Mayors all pledged to become vegetarians.

The Union said if a person eats only vegetables for a whole year, roughly 1.5 tons of carbon emissions can be cut."

The inspiring initiatives from Taiwan and from the town of Ghent are setting an example for the rest of the world to follow.

According to The Worldwatch Institute,

"The United States and China, which contain 25 percent of the world's population, combine to consume 35 percent of the world's beef, over half of the world's poultry, and 65 percent of the world's pork."

As explained in Kathy Freston's article, Vegetarian is the New Prius,

"For a decade now, the image of Leonardo DiCaprio cruising in his hybrid Toyota Prius has defined the gold standard for environmentalism. These gas-sipping vehicles became a veritable symbol of the consumers' power to strike a blow against global warming. Just think: a car that could cut your vehicle emissions in half - in a country responsible for 25% of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions… Last year researchers turned their attention to another gas guzzling consumer purchase… The researchers found that, when it's all added up, the average American does more to reduce global warming emissions by going vegetarian than by switching to a Prius."

For more information on how transitioning to a vegan diet can reduce an individual's impact on the environment and help to bring about the ethical evolution that will lead us into a safe and prosperous future, please see this short, informative video: A Life Connected.

Michael Franti supports Donderdag Veggiedag from EVA-TV on Vimeo.