I've heard all of the environmental arguments against eating meat, from cows farting methane clouds resulting in climate change to the resources - land, water, feed - that growing meat requires.
Is the paleo diet environmentally responsible? Can it be sustainable?
Hey, I was trained as an agricultural economist and I work in sustainable agriculture now. There is an increasing awareness that vegetarianism is NOT a panacea for climate change and that those who initially pushed it as such did not know much about the realities of agriculture. The reality, which is portrayed pretty well in the aforementioned Lierre Keith book, is that grain agriculture is incredibly unsustainable and destructive. Grain agriculture is what caused the huge "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico. Vegetarians might point out that some of those grains go to feed livestock, but that doesn't change the fact that the vegetarian diet doesn't do much to wean us from industrial monoculture. I recently heard Wes Jackson, a prominent plant geneticist, speak and he said that currently, the agricultural system we have is point blank unsustainable and destructive whether we are eating whole wheat bread or chicken mcnuggets.
A paleolithic diet based on local grassfed meat is one of the few that is truly sustainable. That brings me to another vegetarian myth, which is that if we stopped eating meat we could feed the world. Sorry, we already produce enough food to feed the entire world- problems with hunger are problems due to distribution and politics. Humans can't eat what pastured livestock can: compost in the case of pigs, grass in the case of cows, brushy weeds in the case of goats. And if you tried to grow grains on pasture you would destroy the grass-based ecosystem, leading to soil runoff and ecological destruction. As far as methane emissions, the report that said that 50% of global warming gases are caused by livestock is laughed at by economists...it makes NO sense and was a hack job.
Methane can be an issue though, so if you are really concerned with that, chose the most sustainable meat: pork. Pigs are fed compost which other animals can't eat and they are not belching ruminants.On a sustainable farm their waste doesn't go in fermentative lagoons, but to fertilize crops. Oh, BTW, let's talk about fertilizer. You can't grow much of anything without fertilizer. Right now, they only respectable alternative to animal waste is oil-based....how is that more sustainable? Unfortunately, right now the waste from factory farms really is doing damage to the environment. Farms aren't integrated the way they used to be, partially because of bad regulations, and instead of fertilizing crops, the manure just sits around polluting the environment. Thankfully, you can chose to get your meat from a small integrated farm...either from a farmer's market or a CSA. Look at localharvest.org to find one near you.
I also think it's frankly laughable and irresponsible that vegan groups like HSUS are advocating a vegetarian diet as a cure for climate change. The effects would be negligible and perhaps even negative given that most people switching would probably go for processed imported trash like Boca burgers. Colin Beavan, No Impact Man, eats a diet of local beans and vegetables, which I will concede might have less impact, but it's so much more complex than meat vs. vegetables. It depends on how destructive to the soil growing these things was...rotational grazing is usually waaaaaaay less destructive.
That said, since I eat a diet based around grassfed local meat, I do eat less meat than people would expect. But that brings me to another way paleo is more sustainable...we don't shun the fat! God knows how many calories goes to waste from people trimming fat. I use ALL my fat and it allows me to eat probably less meat than the average American, but get plenty of calories and fat soluble vitamins from it.
Just gotta steer you towards Lierre Keith's "The Vegetarian Myth". In short, a perennial grass prairie grazed by various browsers/ungulates, with the myriad fowl and other foragers is what we need. The world will certainly require a reduction in population, but Paleo will be mankind's salvation, or what the survivors will have to fall back upon.
Another good view of this would be to read/watch/listen to everything you can find with/by Joel Salatin of PolyFace Farms.
I don't know if anyone has mentioned it yet, but you probably can't feed 6 billion+ mouths on grass-fed beef and other meats. It seems we long ago exceeded the population limit for the paleo diet. Then there's a whole host of questions regarding socioeconomics, selfishness, and blah, blah, blah.
Yes, there are advances that can and will likely be made in modern agriculture, but I don't foresee a drastic overhaul simply because there are so many mouths to feed. For better or for worse, the human population is near 6.8 billion and increasing.
Ironically the best argument against the sustainability of meat is because of how bad grain is! Notoriously producing meat to eat requires far more production of grain (to feed the animal) than eating the grain directly, producing more damage via agriculture and requiring more food production.
This is all true, but while lots of land could be used for pasture that couldn't support agriculture, none could be used for agriculture that couldn't be used for pasture. So even if minimising agriculture, we still ought to devote huge swathes of the world's grassland to rearing meat.
The argument that meat is unsustainable because it requires producing more food is undermined by the fact that food-production isn't an isolated process. We don't just have the current amount of food-production potential, which we can devote to meat or grain in a zero sum game. We could devote some of the resources we devote to non-food products (cars, ipods etc) and so produce much more food, even if using hydroponics, skyscraper farms etc. Even at present, sheer lack of food isn't the problem, we have more than enough resources to feed the world.
My local grassfed beef is better for the environment and soil than their mass quantity organic produce... I have a lower carbon footprint and I'm healthier too
Eating local is more important if you want to lower your footprint, transportation sucks. The grain production and cafos are destroying our soil.
Edit: wanted to add the re-engineered desert of Operation Hope.
Literally undoing the damage done by growing grain.
How sustainable is the current sytem? Thirty-eight percent of world's surface in danger of desertification.
One of my favorite bookmarks is this: http://www.second-opinions.co.uk/vegetarian.html Towards the bottom of this long article, you will find information on how a vegitarian diet adversely affects the environment, and the lives of animals. There's also good info to help counter a number of other pro-vegitarian talking points.
I don't know the exact answer, and I don't think anyone does, because the kind of people who fund large-scale studies about things don't think in Salatin-style terms, where livestock contribute to the soil not just with their manure, but in a variety of other ways as well. All I'm sure of is that a pasture-based, meat and dairy-focused food supply is a lot more sustainable than mainstream experts would ever predict.
As for overpopulation, I sometimes wonder if the first time two Groks tried to stake out the same cave for the night, one of them scratched a treatise about population control on the wall. From Malthus around 1800, to Ehrlich predicting widespread starvation within the 1970s, to that great climatologist Ted Danson predicting the death of the oceans in the 1990s, overpopulation doomsayers rival Jean Dixon in their predictive powers. Of course, we could be running out of food this time; there has to be some limit to how much food humans can get out of the earth. But historically, the smart bet is the other way.
Right now the US government pays farmers not to grow anything on about 37 million acres of land. This isn't tumbleweed territory; this is previously productive crop ground that farmers have been paid to take out of production. Conservatively, that land could produce 13 billion pounds of beef per year, or 69 billion gallons of milk, or a trillion pounds of potatoes. When they stop paying farmers to keep that land idle, I'll start taking the predictions of food shortages seriously.
I think part of creating a more sustainable future with paleo or ANY diet is to expand our view of what food is. Quality meat is not just grass-fed beef, pastured pork and chickens, that is just our present-day, narrow-minded grocery store view. Food is everywhere! Insects (crickets, grasshoppers, grubs, meal worms), rabbits, squirrels, opossums, deer, pigeon, quail are all eating their natural diet and good for you. Here's a good article about people who eat roadkill: http://www.chelseagreen.com/content/eating-roadkill-would-you/. When I dig out the sod in my yard, purslane starts growing all by itself. I also have two mulberries trees in my small, urban yard. Many people are happy to give away the fruit from their trees because they don't want the mess of rotten fruit and all the critters that come with it.
I think another issue that goes hand in hand with this one is that people will have to decrease their "stuff" in order to make time to gather foods. With bigger houses, and all the things needed to fill those houses, people have to work (mostly in offices) all day long to pay for it. In order to eat better most people will need to significantly reduce their belongings so they have time to catch, gather, and/or hunt real food and then prepare it.
There's probably dozens of ways of describing what 'green' is. Personally, I feel that it's living as we would naturally. Which, is pretty much what paleo is. Dedicating vast tracts of land to a small number of food sources, which normally require lots of chemicals to grow, isn't natural, and not green in my eyes.
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