Saturday, June 30, 2007

More on diet and the environment.

Five Eco-Diets Get Put to the Test
By Tyghe Trimble

I am your run-of-the mill vegetarian. I started up after a college cafeteria gave me dry Salisbury steak with a side of food poisoning, kept it going for a girl, then firmed up a deepening veggie philosophy with some essential reading. I stuck with it from there because I’m healthy as hell, think there is little more appealing than fresh arugula salad, and, really, who would doubt a diet promoted by Einstein?

But these days, regular old vegetarianism -- which 10 percent of Americans claim to be, by the way -- is just one jumping point for molding a healthy dietary conscience. As meals today come complete with a carbon footprint, more of us are eating with the health of the watershed, soil and sustainable farming in mind. Everyone’s favorite (albeit omnivorous) food guru Michael Pollan said it best with his sage advice for healthy eating: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Still, like any new dietary trend, sustainable diets are subject to extremes, as well as their own fair share of loopholes and problems (think Atkins and a bunless triple-cheeseburger with bacon). I decided to see for myself what’s on the menu for the vegan, for the 100-mile-dieter, for the raw foodist, the slow food advocate, and the strictly organic consumer, noting how these diets hold up beyond theory and in surreptitious practice (i.e. is that really organic?). To aid my assessment of each diet’s feasibility, sustainability, health and strain on the wallet, I attempted to practice each method for one week.

[Read the whole article here.]

One of the things I like about this article is Trimble's honesty; he actually recognizes that, unfortunately, even vegan diets aren't necessarily 100% eco-friendly. Sometimes there will be trade-offs:
For every hunk of beef, slice of cheese and glass of milk you replace, you are giving a nod to the veggie farmer and shying away from problems plaguing the animal products industries: run-off, overuse of antibiotics and growth hormones. Still, there are no limits on your food’s carbon footprint (grapes from Australia, anyone?).

As much as I love living in Canada, this is something that bothers me: it is very difficult to get locally-grown produce at certain times of year. I mean, I love Autumn produce, like squash and apples, but I know that it's unrealistic to think that I can subsist on squash and apples and pumpkin through the Fall and Winter months. In order to ensure variety in my diet, on occasion I've found myself having to choose between produce from California and produce from, say, Argentina. Since the produce has to travel such a ways, neither the California produce nor the Argentina produce is ideal. Of course, I choose the produce that's travelled the shortest distance, but that's cold-comfort for one who'd really rather be eating locally.

Perhaps now you better understand my enthusiasm when it comes to reading news like this. Vertical farms would allow for the consumption of local, organic produce on a much larger scale than is happening even today. 'Cause, let's face it, not everyone puts that much thought and effort into their dietary choices:
the shock doc’s [Super Size Me] main point is not that McDonald’s is bad for you -- because, well, duh -- but rather that the average American thinks so little about the quality and history of the food they put into their body.

The sustainable diets I’ve explored have one unifying priority -- they aim to return thought back into diet. But, once the rules become unthinking habit, loopholes appear. Sure going raw can be healthy, but eating three Chilean avocados a day could leave you with high cholesterol and a hefty carbon footprint. The trick to eating with a conscience is to mix and match ideologies to create meals that are healthiest for you and the planet.

I don't think I could have said it better myself!


wheatgerm said...

vegetables emit carbon dioxide!!!!

Natalie said...

Yes, and small amounts of carbon dioxide are indeed necessary for photosynthesis. But at issue here isn't the carbon dioxide that is produced through a natural process like photosynthesis, rather that which is produced through the over-consumption of human beings.