A Climate Sensitive Diet
by Dr. Alan Journet & Dr. Carley Corrado
Alan Journet and Carley Corrado relax after a recent Southern Oregon Climate Action Now meeting where Carley discussed regenerative agriculture. Photo: Liz Olson
Recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. Global Change Research Program Report paint a bleak picture of our future if we don’t collectively wake up. They underline the importance of conscious living.
Sustainability is definitely the watchword for those wishing a healthy future for life on this precious planet. One critical element of a sustainability strategy is reducing our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions so the temperature shift is not beyond what current living systems can tolerate. The best scientific estimate for the limit is 1.5°C (3.6°F) above the pre-industrial temperature.
The recent reports tell us that we must make substantial reductions in emissions by 2030, a dozen short years away. One arena that we can address individually is our diet. Several food (grub) ideas are worth considering:
< >Eat locally grown grub:Transportation is one of the economic sectors most responsible for GHG emissions. A recent assessment of these emissions in the Rogue Valley revealed that consumption of goods is responsible for our greatest source of emissions. The reason is that both manufacturing stuff, and transporting it to us use energy and cause GHG emissions. Regardless of what we buy, whether clothing, electronics, or food, the closer to us it is produced, the less emissions result. Therefore, we should eat food grown as locally as possible, from our own garden or by local farmers. < >Eat grub that’s low on the food chain:A well-known ecological principle involves the so-called trophic energy pyramid depicting what happens to energy, assessed on a per unit of area basis, as we pass up a food chain. The lower on the pyramid we eat, the less energy is required for each calorie that we consume. At the base, we have plants trapping sunlight and using it to extract hydrogen from water, stick it into carbon dioxide and make carbohydrates. Plants then burn some of the carbohydrates extracting the energy in to grow. Herbivores then eat the vegetation and use its energy and nutrients to build their own body mass. But they also move around, so much of their intake is burned off in respiration, leaving less energy for the carnivores who come along to eat the herbivores. And then the carnivores bound around in search of more herbivores to eat, in turn burning off much of what they consumed - leaving very little to build carnivore body mass. Much less energy is thus available to the next level of consumers. And so on… As a result, the further up this food pyramid we eat, the less energy is available. When we feed corn to cows, for example, we waste most of the energy in the corn as the cows burn it off in respiration rather than building cow muscle. This is why it is much more efficient for us to gain our energy by eating vegetation than herbivores or, even
The Trophic Pyramid depicts the reduction in energy available per unit area (e.g. square mile) at each level of the food chain up from the vegetation. From the plant level upwards, energy is lost at each transition due to Respiration such that approximately only 10% (not drawn to scale here) is available at each next level up. Graphic: Alan Journet
worse, carnivores. < >Avoiding meaty (especially beefy) grub:Herbivores such as cows (especially) have great difficulty digesting the vegetation they eat; they use gut-dwelling bacteria to help them. Unfortunately, these bacteria produce the greenhouse gas methane as a bi-product. Methane, it turns out, is much more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Thus, when we eat dairy products and meat, especially beef, we are promoting the methane production of those primary consumers. If we can reduce our beef and dairy
While eating meat results in an inefficient allocation of our energy resources since it wastes much of that present in the vegetation the herbivores eat, because of the methane production resulting from the enteric bacterial community in cow intestines, beef and dairy products are among the least sustainable dietary items. Photo: Alan Journet
product consumption, we reduce the greenhouse gas emissions.< >Focus on organic soily grub not industrial oily grub:
Industrial agriculture is dependent on fertilizers and pesticides all of which are very oil dependent for their production and distribution. And that oil usage emits greenhouse gases. Furthermore, this industrial agriculture destroys the organic content of good soils, much of which ends up in our atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, organic farming avoids these chemicals and restores the organic matter to our soil, extracting it from our atmosphere and reversing global warming.Keep your microbiome happyYour immunity, cognition, mood, and digestion are all dependent on the health of your microbiome. Yes, you read right, your mood and emotional wellbeing are highly affected by your gut health. Your body is composed of about 10x the number of microbial cells compared to human cells. Nurturing this aspect of your wellbeing to be at peak diversity and functionality is imperative for you to be at your peak and able to contribute your best to our world’s climate. You can achieve this by eating probiotic foods such as miso, sauerkraut, kefir and other fermented foods, as well as eating prebiotic foods which feed beneficial gut bacteria such as radishes, jicama, carrots, garlic and turmeric. Foods to avoid are sugar and processed foods. < >Avoid food grown with toxinsEating organic is a great way to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions and enhance your health. Toxins such as Roundup plague our agricultural lands and our foods. The effect is pollution of our ecosystem including destruction of the microbial web of life in the soil. This results in GHG emissions from the soil as the carbon-based lifeforms die and are turned into carbon dioxide while at the same time depleting the soil fertility and leaving it susceptible to erosion, drought, and other climate-related challenges. Additionally, the toxic residue makes it into processed foods, as well as on fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat. GMO’s are often “Roundup ready,” aka herbicide-tolerant, with glyphosate being the active ingredient. Food grown in this way has a toxic residue which essentially acts as an antibiotic that disrupts your microbiome. A report “Glyphosate: Unsafe on Any Plate” found the chemical in virtually every processed food tested. It is hence wise to avoid them since they almost all contain GMO ingredients which include corn, soy, and sugar. Good news is companies such as General Mills, Kashi, and Nutiva are joining a growing trend to support farmers to transition to organic, regenerative farming methods. The rising consumer demand for organic food is helping drive this climate-solution forward.< >Eat mindfullyEating is one of the great pleasures in life and we enjoy it most when we take time to do so. When we listen to what our body most desires and eat food that will truly nourish us, then we can function at our best. This is compounded by mindful eating bringing greater awareness to the right amount to become full. In the world’s current state of challenge, we can bring our best to collectively creating solutions when we are functioning at our best. Each one of our bodies is part of this earth, and hence each of our vitality is part of the solution. By paying attention to how food makes us feel and making choices aligned with nourishing our bodies for peak performance, we are able give life our best.
Eating local, organic fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes is a great recipe for a climate sensitive diet that makes you feel great. Photo: Carley Corrado
In summary, conscious living urges us to adopt a diet that reduces our direct and indirect emissions of greenhouse gases along the food path so we contribute, as best we can, to maintaining a sustainable planet. And, as a bonus, it’s also much healthier.