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November 18, 2010 / robertstockham

Go Vegetarian…just once a week.

Purists will tell you that only an organic vegetarian diet made from local produce will save the planet. While that may be true in theory, I enjoy a good steak or hamburger. I love barbecue. And you can’t beat a great lemon chicken. Top that off with the fact that you can’t buy a local green vegetable in Cleveland in January, unless you own your own greenhouse. So are we forced to decide between our favorite foods and saving the planet? I say no.

True, eating meat is bad for the environment. The Amazon rain forest is being destroyed at an unbelievably rapid rate, partly to raise beef for our carnivorous consumption. In addition, it isn’t being harvested, it is being burned-adding to the CO2 problem. Overgrazing destroys grasslands and leads to topsoil erosion. Methane from cows and other livestock are contributing to greenhouse gas levels. A pound of grain fed beef in the US is roughly equivalent to a gallon of gas, as far as energy used to produce it. Chickens are being raised in tiny cages that do not permit movement. Livestock production in general uses nearly half of the water consumed in the US. It has been estimated that if all the resources used for meat consumption were used for cultivation of human food crops, the world would have a surplus of food.

But eating vegetables has its own impact on the planet. Pesticide runoff is affecting the water table. Bio engineering of fruits and veggies is drawing precious resources away from human problems. Unless you live in the tropics, most of the produce in our local supermarket is shipped from around the globe. Fossil fuels are being burned to bring foods to you. Consider this: in New York City, most of the apples consumed are being shipped from New Zealand and Australia. However, there are plenty of apples produced in Washington state. Even the apples at my market are Washington apples, and there are multiple apple farms within 50 miles of my home. How much energy does it take to bring your Florida orange juice to you-especially if you live near Arizona or California? And I don’t think you can even grow a banana in most of this country.

Does this mean I am doomed to a diet of potatoes and corn all year? Luckily, no. All it means that we can make a big difference in the world by changing just one meal a week.

Think of skipping that meal of cheeseburgers and having some stir fried vegetables. Switching to veggies just one day a week saves on greenhouse gasses in an exponential fashion. Factual data is subjective, and varies from study to study. I could quote facts and cite figures but what do they really mean? Reducing our dependence on meat by even one meal a week will mean less cows bred and raised. Less cows means less cow flatulence, less forests burned, and less transportation. I estimate that I eat a cow every three years or so (yes, I love beef). If I substitute one meal of beef a week with vegetables, that means I will eat one less cow every 20 years. Now that is my calculation based on me and me alone, but I think that is pretty average considering how many burgers are sold by fast food vendors alone each year. Multiple that by 5 families of four. That is a cow a year. How many families of four are there in the US?

Buying and eating local can also have a huge impact on the world. In addition to supporting the local producers, which feeds your local economy, less energy is used to bring those products to market. Try eating just one local meal a week. If you need some ideas or recipes look at this blog: Eat Local Challenge.There are participants from around the world and plenty of ideas. While you may not be the kind of person who will make their own yogurt and cheese from locally produced milk, there are still plenty of ideas to help you make a once a week commitment.

I am going to do my part to save the planet-one meal at a time.

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