Vegans in Hummers or Beef Eaters in Priuses

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Michael Pollan dropped a one-liner at the recent PopTech conference that took me by surprise. He said, “I hope I’ve driven home the point that our meat eating is one of the most important contributors we make to climate change. A vegan in a Hummer has a lighter carbon footprint than a beef eater in a Prius!”

So much of the chatter I read about greening has been focused on artifacts of one kind or another. Food kind of slips by unnoticed in the great green accounting system. I suppose that's because we tend to think of food as an essential and unavoidable part of consumption. In the most general of terms it is, but Pollan points out the huge contribution manufactured food, especially meat, makes to global warming. Meat-eating is deeply engrained in our culture and is started to permeate other cultures, like the Chinese, where meat has traditionally been a relatively minor source of nutrition.

Pollan takes pains to distinguish what he calls food from the bulk of the manufactured products we eat. He argues that all this stuff is not only not good for the environment because of all the energy it takes to bring it to the table, but because it is not healthful for us. The article from the Poptech conference reports much of what he said. I thought some of his closing comments were too good to leave to the link.

"I’ve spent the last couple of years trying to answer the supposedly complex question of what we should eat if we’re concerned about our health,” Pollan says. “I realized I can boil it all down to 3 sentences, 7 words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” It’s easier said than done, he notes. Increasingly our supermarkets and restaurants are full of substances that “don’t deserve to be dignified” with the word “food.” Focus on quality rather than quantity, he says. And if all of America went meatless one day a week, it would be the equivalent of taking 20,000,000 cars off the road.

Three other revolutionary things we can do: 1) plant a garden. “If you invest seventy dollars in a home garden you can yield $600 worth of produce in a year.” Organic produce isn’t expensive if you grow it yourself. Our non-productive land could be feeding us and giving us exercise without using fossil fuels at all!

2) Get back in the kitchen and cook. “Corporations…don’t cook very well,” he says — they use too much salt, sugar, and fat. The only way to get control of our diet and our food system back is by cooking again and involving our families in that.

And 3) Eat meals! Eat food at tables with other people! “This doesn’t sound radical, but it has become that.” Twenty percent of our food is eaten in the car, in front of a screen, on the run. “Food isn’t just fuel; it’s about communion,” he says. “Bring back the meal as the sacred communal activity it is.”

Pollan is saying much the same thing in this last two statements as I say when I talk about the difference between having and Being. Our ordinary everyday eating habits are much more like having even if the product disappears into our bodies. Being shows up in the kind of "sacred communal activity" Pollan portrays.

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Sherry Immediato said:

Thanks for the reflections on food - I started off as a vegetarian for health reasons almost 30 years ago and eventually become aware of how eating puts a burden on the environment. At least for me, it is a habit that helps me live more lightly on the earth with only good side effects.

Anyway, I'm going to go eat my vegan lunch at a table now and feel more virtuous than I did before!

Now if only I could get the garden to actually yield more than it costs ... what's the impact of taking pot shots at raccoons?

Sherry