By Zora Lathan, January 2018
“For decades, United States food and farming policy, corporate power and agricultural science have been directed toward a narrow goal: producing as many calories as possible as cheaply as possible. The confluence of these forces has created a powerful river of toxic, energy-intensive factory farming. We are eroding public health, worker safety, local economies, animal welfare, and the resilience of the ecosystems we depend on. Solutions are available — if policymakers, people and businesses make vitally needed changes.” –Friends of the Earth
Simply put, food is at the juncture of many of the most important issues we face as individuals and facing our society. What and how we eat affects our personal health, our wallets, public health, conservation, climate change, animal welfare, corporate control and consolidation, fair labor and immigration. Are we digging our graves with our forks, or are we empowered by our food choices?
Every day, generally three times a day, we are making important food choices that have lasting personal and planetary impacts. We vote most often with our food dollars. Our expanding food choices and options for how food is served—e.g., fast food as well as the growing restaurant industry—means that many American’s waistlines continue to expand. And while some Americans go hungry, many Americans waste food. But what are the factors behind these trends? Beyond personal responsibility, who’s controlling the food supply?
In times of significant political stress, we can sometimes feel a loss of agency and control. But in order to move forward, it’s vital that we don’t forget all of the ways we can make our voices and opinions heard. Let’s remember that advocacy at the community, state and national levels has been at the heart of many of the significant advances we have made for decades. From the significant expansion of farmers’ markets, to the exploding growth of organic farmland, to the baby steps made towards the improvement of animal welfare, much action has been taken through our collective food choices.
We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we should also celebrate the steps we have taken to get where we are, and more specifically, the role you have played as eaters. Your choices have made big impacts, and will only continue to do so in the coming years – regardless of who is president. The following is just a smattering of the ways you can keep up the battle each day:
- Eat less … [or no] meat.
- Support local food systems and small, family farmers by shopping at farmers’ markets and participating in CSAs.
- Buy organic food when you are able to.
- Buy fair trade and from companies supporting just labor conditions when you can.
- Boycott bad actors when possible.
The Standard American Diet (SAD)
The U.S. still makes stuff, but mostly it serves stuff—food, that it. And as Americans consume ever-increasing amounts of food over the past few decades, they’ve obviously gotten much bigger. XXXL clothing sizes to supersize movie seats and coffins are becoming more commonplace. Over 70 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese.
Clearly, it’s gotten much easier to gain weight. The average restaurant meal today is more than four times larger than in the 1950s, according to the CDC. Along with the rise in obesity, we’ve also seen growing rates of associated chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
“The food environment is a strong predictor of how we eat,” says Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness and a faculty member at both Johns Hopkins and George Washington University. “And in America, the unhealthiest foods are the tastiest foods, the cheapest foods, the largest-portion foods, the most available foods, the most fun foods.”
The following summary is from the VOX article “It’s easy to become obese in America. These 7 charts explain why.“ by Eliza Barclay, Julia Belluz, and Javier Zarracina, updated Oct. 13, 2017:
1) We eat out — a lot
Americans are cooking less and less and eating away from home more and more. And that’s leading us to chow down more than we would if we were home. …researchers have found that people typically eat 20 to 40 percent more calories in restaurants compared with what they’d eat at home.
2) Portion sizes have gone up, up, up
3) We guzzle sugary beverages on an unrivaled scale
4) Healthier foods can cost more
5) Our vegetables consist mainly of potatoes and tomatoes
6) Too many of our meals are like dessert
7) We’re bombarded with ads for unhealthy food
In addition to unhealthy and excessive amounts of food and a sedentary lifestyle, another reason for the increasing obesity rate is sleep deprivation. The more sleep deprived you are, the higher your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which increases your appetite. And “between 50 million and 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders or sleep deprivation, according to the Institute of Medicine…” reported by www. nbcnews.com.
The Standard American Diet is indeed SAD, and getting worse. From a 2008 report produced by the Federal Trade Commission, the food industry spends almost $10 billion per year marketing food and beverages in the U.S. that appeal to children and adolescents, including $1.6 billion to target young people directly with soft drinks, fast-food, and cereal promotions. Food marketers are increasing their promotion of unhealthy foods via standard methods such as television and print ads, to increasingly varied and sophisticated methods, including digital marketing techniques to target youth across a host of platforms, including cell phones, video games, social media, and immersive virtual media.
Overall, 70.7 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese. An October 13, 2017 report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that almost 40 percent of American adults and nearly 19 percent of adolescents are not simply overweight, but are obese — the highest rates ever recorded for the U.S.
“The consequences of the obesity epidemic are devastating: High blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke are not only killing millions of Americans annually — the obesity epidemic is also a humongous burden on the American health care system, making up $190 billion a year in weight-related medical bills.” –www. nbcnews.com
Health & Environmental Impacts
Animal agriculture is choking the Earth, and the longer we turn a blind eye, the more we limit our ability to nourish ourselves, protect waterways and habitats, and pursue other uses of our precious natural resources. Raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the second highest source of emissions and greater than all transportation combined. It also uses about 70% of agricultural land, and is one of the leading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution.
On top of this, eating too much meat and dairy is making us sick, greatly increasing our risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, several major cancers (including breast, liver and prostate) and obesity. Diets optimal for human health vary, according to David Katz, of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, “but all of them are made up mostly of whole, wholesome plant foods”.
So what gives? Why can’t we see the forest for the bacon? The truth can be hard to swallow: that we simply need less meat and dairy and more plant-based options in our food system if we’re to reach our climate goals.” –James Cameron and Suzy Amis Cameron, “Animal agriculture is choking the Earth and making us sick. We must act now,” Dec. 4, 2017.
Of all the food we eat, meat is among the most greenhouse gas–intensive to produce. Livestock production is responsible for nearly 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, red meat from ruminant animals (cows, sheep, and goats) and pigs is a major source of that pollution. Growing and fertilizing crops to feed these animals is energy and greenhouse gas intensive, and the multichambered digestive systems of ruminant animals cause them to release large amounts of methane. Pound for pound, producing beef results in about five times more greenhouse gas pollution than producing chicken, and 34 times more than growing legumes like beans and lentils.
Eating too much red meat is also harmful to our health. Recent ﬁndings by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. government–appointed Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee highlight the strong connection between high red meat consumption and problems including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The scientiﬁc evidence is so solid that the WHO recently classiﬁed the consumption of red meat as a probable human carcinogen.
The solution is to eat less red meat and more plants. If Americans ate just a quarter pound less beef each week for a year, it would be like taking 10 million cars off the road for one year.
The three largest food service companies in the United States collectively operate tens of thousands of dining sites and rank second, third, and fourth in meals sold in this country. (McDonald’s ranks first). Compass Group, the top food service provider, has already publicly committed to purchasing less red meat and more vegetables over the next three years. NRDC believes food service companies can play a powerful role in creating healthier diets. We are encouraging leading food service providers and venue managers to shift away from red meat–heavy menus and toward more plant-based offerings.
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” –Michael Pollan
Despite the numerous voices extolling the virtues of one diet over another, there is remarkable consistency in core dietary values. The basics of healthy eating aren’t complicated. “Eat food” means to eat real, not processed, edible food-like substances. Eat mostly plants, especially organic vegetables (including dark leafy greens), fruits, nuts, seeds (which includes beans), and whole grains. Limit the consumption of added salt, sugar, and saturated fats from animal products. Avoid industrial-made trans fats, which are the worst type. Good fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Practice mindful eating—slow down, chew thoroughly, and savor your food. You’ll enjoy your food more and eat less.
Here are seven suggestions from Michael Pollan on healthy eating:
- Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
- Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.
- Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
- Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot.
- It is not just what you eat but how you eat. “Always leave the table a little hungry,” Pollan says. “Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule….”
- Families traditionally ate together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. It’s a good tradition. Enjoy meals with the people you love. “Remember when eating between meals felt wrong?” Pollan asks.
- Don’t buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car.
“A properly fueled body is a miraculous self-healing machine.” –Dr. Joel Fuhrman, MD
Dr. Fuhrman: GOMBS Superfoods, Reverse Disease, Lower Cholesterol, Prevent Cancer
Dr. Joel Fuhrman MD, board certified family physician, New York Times best-selling author, and widely published nutritional researcher, explains how you can lower your cholesterol, reverse heart disease and diabetes, and lose weight through natural methods. … Dr. Fuhrman feels these super foods are the most powerful disease fighting foods on the planet. A simple way to remember them is to remember the word GOMBS.
- Greens – Green vegetables have lots of different nutrients and systems that put a silicone like slippery coating on the inside of your blood vessels. They activate something inside the blood vessel called the Nrf2 mechanism that prevents plaque from binding to blood vessels and accelerates the rate at which fat melts away from the inside of the blood vessel.
- Onions – In The Medical Journal of Clinical Nutrition a large study in Europe showed people who ate onions regularly showed a 60 to 70% reduction in all major cancers. That would be a reduction in prostate cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer just from the higher consumption of onions. When you cut an onion, the gas that is given off creates disulfides and anti-cancer nutrients that are formed.
- Mushrooms – A Recent study published in the international Journal of Cancer showed women who regularly consumed mushrooms are 64% less likely to develop breast cancer. That was about 10 g of mushrooms daily. That same study showed that the women who ate 10 g of mushrooms and simultaneously consumed green tea had 89% less likely to develop breast cancer.
- Beans and Berries – Beans and berries have high cancer preventive antioxidants levels and promotes healthy brain function.
- Seeds – Raw seeds and nuts contain phytochemicals and fats that help reduce inflammation, help reduce cholesterol, and helps the absorption of other important micronutrients. Dr. Fuhrman suggests having nuts as part of your salad or even making a salad dressing from them.
The Natural Resources Defense Council expands on the following topics to help you and your family make healthy, smart food choices:
- Choose Climate-Friendly Food
- Buy Organic and Other Sustainable Certifications
- Watch Your Waste
- Eat Locally
Food Consumption & Waste
“On average, Americans today eat almost 600 more calories per day than we did in the 1970s and we waste an amazing 40 percent of our food supply.” –GRACE Communications Foundation (2016)
“Americans trash 40 percent of our food supply every year, valued at about $165 billion.” –Natural Resources Defense Council (2012)
“The average American family of four ends up throwing away an equivalent of up to $2,275 annually in food.” –Natural Resources Defense Council (2012)
“Food waste is the single largest component of solid waste in US landfills.” –Natural Resources Defense Council (2012)
Try exercising these tips to drop those food waste pounds:
- Meal planning for health, better budgeting, and to reduce food waste, also makes meal preparation a lot more convenient. A little planning can save a lot of stress about what to eat.
- Inventory your refrigerator, pantry, and cabinets so you don’t rebuy what you already have and overspend. Take stock so you’ll know what missing ingredients you’ll need to purchase to prepare dishes. Use what you’ve got and don’t let food go to waste.
- Purchase food you can consume before it expires to help minimize food waste and shrink your grocery bill. Buying more than we can use is a big reason behind food waste.
- Over preparing and serving too much food often results in more food than we can, or need to, consume. We may not save leftovers, or we forget to eat leftovers we’ve saved and end up throwing them away.
- Extend the limits of your ingredients by freezing them. The cold temperature in your freezer is your best friend when it comes to cutting food waste. You can freeze most foods, whether you just brought it home, or it’s already cooked. And for easy access, try freezing food in portions.
Did You Know?
“80% of all antimicrobials sold in the US are administered to livestock in order to boost growth rates and compensate for crowded, unsanitary conditions. This practice promotes the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which threaten public health and reduce the effectiveness of medicines used by humans.” –GRACE Communications Foundation (2016)
“Between 1970 and 2010, the populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish declined by 52%. Producing food contributed significantly to this loss of biodiversity.” –World Wildlife Fund
“More than half of our food dollars are now being spent on restaurants and convenient on-the-go meals. In 2015, for the first time, Americans spent more money eating away from home than they did on groceries.” –Eliza Barclay, Julia Belluz, and Javier Zarracina, “It’s easy to become obese in America. These 7 charts explain why.” VOX, updated Oct. 13, 2017
“For the past three decades, restaurants have steadily grown, as part of the most fundamental shift in American work—from making things to serving people. Between 1990 and 2008, 98 percent of new jobs came from so-called “nontradable” industries that aren’t sensitive to international trade, according to the economist Michael Spence.” –Derek Thompson, “Restaurants Are the New Factories,” The Atlantic, Aug. 9, 2017
“In 1990, manufacturing was almost three times larger than the food-service industry. But restaurants have gradually closed the gap. At current rates of growth, more people will work at restaurants than in manufacturing in 2020. This mirrors the shift in consumer spending. Restaurants’ share of America’s food budget has doubled from 25 percent in the 1950s to 50 percent today.” –Derek Thompson, “Restaurants Are the New Factories,” The Atlantic, Aug. 9, 2017
Below are 11 facts from the Green Future website page—11 Facts About Meatless Monday That Will Inspire You To Reach For The Veggies.
- According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Americans consume 60% more meat than Europeans, and the rest of the world isn’t too far behind.
- Global meat production tripled from 1971 through 2010 to an estimated 600 billion pounds produced annually. If numbers continue at that rate, sources estimate that meat production will double to about 1.2 trillion pounds of meat per year by 2050.
- Meat production is responsible for an estimated 24% of global greenhouse gases every year. Greenhouse gases include methane production from animals, carbon dioxide from deforestation, and nitrous oxide from fertilizer. Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
- Based on current data and consumption patterns, if everyone on the planet went without meat for one day per week, we could reduce emissions by an estimated 1.0 gigaton per year. That’s equal to taking 273 million cars off the road.
- In order to produce 1 kilogram of rice, 3,500 liters of water are used. To produce 1kg of beef, about 15,000 liters are used.
- Livestock in confined factory farms generate 500 million tons of manure per year. That overwhelming amount of manure creates toxic wastewater and pollutes groundwater, streams, rivers, and — eventually — the ocean.
- In developing countries, up to 95% of public wastewater and 70% of industrial waste is flushed into surface water without treatment. With limited freshwater resources, many cities use this untreated water for agriculture.
- Agriculture uses about 70% of all global freshwater resources. Freshwater is a finite resource, and rising global temperatures are already causing a decrease in precipitation. FAO recently released a report which stated that if farmers don’t take action to reduce their emissions and conserve water, up to 42 million people could face dangerous levels of hunger.
- Not all meats are the same: lamb, beef, and cheese create the highest emissions, partly because they come from ruminant animals that constantly generate methane. (Reminder that methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide!)
- Livestock takes up 30% of Earth’s land surface. As demand for meat increases, so does the amount of deforestation and land degradation.
- A diet consisting largely of beef and processed meat increases your risk of heart problems, heart disease, cancer, and obesity. A study using UK meat consumption patterns estimated that a 50% reduction in meat and dairy consumption, when replaced with vegetables and cereals, could result in a 19% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and up to 43,600 fewer deaths per year.
- Civil Eats
- Environmental Working Group
- Food Chain Worker’s Alliance
- Food Policy Action
- Food & Water Watch
- Friends of the Earth
- Grace Communications Foundation. Grace Communications Foundation’s “Sustainable Table” projects include:
- Eat Well Guide – a free, online directory of farms, stores, restaurants, CSAs and other sources of sustainable food throughout the US. By simply entering a zip code, users can find sustainable food locally or along a route when traveling. The Guide includes 25,000+ handpicked listings and was created in conjunction with local and national sustainable food organizations.
- The Meatrix – a series of humorous videos that educate viewers about the problems created by factory farms. Produced by Sustainable Table and Free Range Studios, the first movie was released online in November 2003 and immediately went viral, breaking new ground in grassroots advocacy. The Meatrix and its sequels, The Meatrix II: Revolting and The Meatrix II½, have been translated into 30+ languages and boast over 15 million viewers worldwide.
- Ecocentric – GRACE’s blog, which covers food, water and energy issues. Sustainable Table staff members regularly contribute articles, interviews, news briefs, photos and videos to keep you informed about the latest developments in food and agriculture.
- Mother Jones
- Natural Resources Defense Council
- Recirculating Farms Coalition
- Slow Food USA
- World Wildlife Fund
Recipes…How to Get Started…Health Properties of Food
- Learn “How to Transition to a Plant-based Diet” here. – Also visit their pages to learn about the benefits of numerous healthy foods
- 31 Vegetarian Recipes So Satisfying You’ll Want to Go Meatless for an Entire Month
- Dr. Joel Fuhrman—recipe pages
- Eating Well – featuring mostly (but not solely) plant-based recipes
- Foodbabe.com – featuring mostly (but not solely) plant-based recipes
- Pulses – how to cook dry peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas
- Tasty Vegetarian’s Facebook page – features videos on how to prepare vegetarian and vegan meals
- Vegetarian Times