Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Eat your greens

We're big proponents of organic food, organic farming and eating locally-produced food versus imported foods, so we very pleased to discover this excellent article in th March issue of the PCC Natural Markets Sound Consumer (the newsletter of the Puget Consumers' Cooperative) on how we can all learn to eat green (in addition to eating our greens!) as well as shop and eat with an eye towards minimizing the carbon footprint of our diets.

Among all the excellent reasons to eat organic foods, reducing one's carbon footprint is probaby the most important reason with respect to taking the long view of life here on Earth. The article has lots of good suggestions, but here is a short list of several important ones I'd like to call attention to:
  • Conventional farming uses a lot of fossil fuels and petroleum derived fertilizers and pesticides. Organic farming omits the non-organic fertilizers and pesticides, and tends to rely more on labor than large machinery to get the job done. Sadly, "[conventional food] is marinated in crude oil by the time it reaches our table."
  • Organic farmers, many of whom have continued on the family legacy, use practices such as cover cropping and composting that act as carbon sinks.
  • Free-range livestock is healthier, and eats foods better suited to their digestive systems (e.g. grass instead of highly formulated cattle feed). Consequently, those animals produce significantly less methane than their industrially-farmed counterparts. This matters because, as greenhouse gases go, methane is twenty one times more effective at keeping heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
  • Foods in its original, natural form represent a lower carbon footprint because less energy is involved in processing and packaging. For example, an apple has a lower carbon footprint than an apple's worth of applesauce.
  • Waste not, want not: on average, we all need about 2,000 calories a day to be healthy. Yet, our food system produces and delivers about 4,000 calories a day per person across America. If that excess doesn't go to our waistlines, it ends up in our landfills where it gets buried and decomposes anaerobically, a process which produces additional methane.
  • The best thing you can do is, of course, grow your own food. Not an easy job, but you can't get more organic or more local than something you grew yourself in your own backyard.
Finally, although the article mentions the Leopold Center report that introduced the concept of "food miles" to the debate on America's food system, it stops short of what we consider to be the logical next step: consumers taking the lead by demanding food-mile labeling (or even better, carbon footprint labeling) on groceries and other products.

No, that's not an easy request to satisfy when you take into account the complexity of our food production and distribution system.

But the complexity is exactly why we need such labeling: currently the environmental costs of that system are hidden.

It's time we made them explicit so all of us, when "voting with our dollars" at the grocery store, can make environmentally informed choices.


Blogger rolandovich said...

BusinessWeek has an article this week (3/17/2008) about carbon labels:

March 10, 2008 4:36 PM  

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