Sunday, March 2, 2014

Should we still eat low on the food chain?

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Greenmomster has posted several articles on the green aspects of eating low on the food chain (going vegetarian).  Lately, though, some folks have been making the news with talks and papers on low impact meat production and consumption.  Even NPR has been publicizing these studies!  Gasp!  Could it be that greenmomster was WRONG?  Well, let’s take a closer look. 

A TED talk by Allan Savory discussed how to avoid desertification by using grazing animals.  An article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences discussed cutting greenhouse gases on the supply side (more efficient land use in meat production; more industrialization of farming) rather than trying to change the consumption side (getting folks to eat less meat through carbon taxes).   Both of these presentations address public policy and how to decrease climate change; they make two assumptions:  1)  folks will continue to demand meat, and 2)  the demand will increase as income increases.  Both of these presentations have valuable information on the possible policy implications of their research.  Both should be studied by policy makers to ensure we get the result – decreasing greenhouse gases from agricultural production – that we want to see.  The studies don’t address individual choices. 

Greenmomster’s goal is to educate folks to make the most practical environmental decisions at an individual level.  The short answer to the question, “Should we still eat low on the food chain?” is Yes!  As you can see from the graphic below, eating low on the food chain leads to the least resource intensive diet.  While the studies referenced above address how public policy might address greenhouse gases from food production, at an individual level, it’s greenest just to reduce your meat consumption.  Unless you live in an extremely cold climate where the growing season is too short to supply enough local food for the year, eating as little meat as possible is still the greenest alternative.  image

Campbell, N.A. and J.B. Reece, M.R. Taylor, E.J. Simon, J.L. Dickey.  2008.  Biology, Concepts and Connections, 6th Edition.  Pearson, Benjamin Cummings, San Francisco.  p. 754.
Havlik, P., et al. 2014.  Climate Change Mitigation Through Livestock System Transitions.  PNAS published ahead of print February 24, 2014, doi:10.1073/pnas.1308044111. 


  1. The charts you provide to support your argument are not abundantly clear. Pls. explain further.

  2. Notice how the same amount of corn can feed several adults or one adult (through several cows). Much more corn must be produced (by using more land, more fertilizer, and more fossil fuels) when we first feed the cows to then feed the humans.