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A great environmental goal is to “eat lower on the food chain.” What exactly does this mean? Well, let’s start at the beginning. When we talk about a food chain, we’re talking about a series of plants and animals that are related to one another through predation. Food chains always start with a plant (an autotroph, in ecological terms) which converts sunlight energy into energy that can be used by plants and animals. Plants are the source of energy and nutrients for all animals. As we move up the food chain, we’re looking at animals (heterotrophs) that eat certain plants. Moving further up the food chain, we’d see animals that eat the animals that ate the plants. A sample food chain would be:
Grass ---> grasshopper ---> bird ---> hawk
So why do we want to “eat lower on the food chain”, that is, eat more plants and less meat? The way that our food is produced in our industrialized society, much energy goes into the production of food. The higher one eats on the food chain (meat, that is), the more energy that must go into producing that meat. So, if you eat a 2,000 calorie per day diet, a diet of vegetables will require much less energy input, than a 2,000 calorie diet that contains substantial amounts of meat. Another way of thinking about it -- for the same energy input, much more plant-based food can be produced. Eating lower on the food chain can also help to reduce greenhouse gases – the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that meat production is responsible for 1/5 of global greenhouse gases!
Unless you live in an area with a very short growing season, a plant-based diet is a realistic goal. But many folks say they can’t or don’t want to go totally vegetarian. How about 1 night per week? The Utah State University Cooperative Extension website states that if “1000 people replaced one meat meal per week with a vegetarian option, it would save 70,000 lbs of grain per year!” That amount of grain would really feed a lot of people, with much lower environmental impact. Our family eats meat-free in our home. Outside of the house, the kids and my husband eat whatever they want. Why not give it a try? Once a week, I will post a recipe that has been a success at our house. I’ll also include meatless products that I like, because people often ask me which products I like best, but you can substitute any brand that you like. Good luck, and I hope you enjoy “Meat-free Friday!”