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If Everyone Ate Beans Instead of Beef

What follows is an excerpt from an article written by James Hamblin and published online by The Atlantic on August 7, 2017. To read the entire article, follow the link at the bottom of the post.

I think you will be surprised by what you read here.

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Helen Harwatt is a researcher trained in environmental nutrition, a field focused on developing food systems that balance human health and sustainability. She’s interested in policy, but realistic about how much progress can be expected under the aforementioned leadership. So she and colleagues have done research on maximizing the impacts of individuals. As with so many things in life and health, that tends to come down to food.

Recently Harwatt and a team of scientists from Oregon State University, Bard College, and Loma Linda University calculated just what would happen if every American made one dietary change: substituting beans for beef. They found that if everyone were willing and able to do that—hypothetically—the U.S. could still come close to meeting its 2020 greenhouse-gas emission goals, pledged by President Barack Obama in 2009.

That is, even if nothing about our energy infrastructure or transportation system changed—and even if people kept eating chicken and pork and eggs and cheese—this one dietary change could achieve somewhere between 46 and 74 percent of the reductions needed to meet the target.

“I think there’s genuinely a lack of awareness about how much impact this sort of change can have,” Harwatt told me. There have been analyses in the past about the environmental impacts of veganism and vegetariansim, but this study is novel for the idea that a person’s dedication to the cause doesn’t have to be complete in order to matter. A relatively small, single-food substitution could be the most powerful change a person makes in terms of their lifetime environmental impact—more so than downsizing one’s car, or being vigilant about turning off light bulbs, and certainly more than quitting showering.

To understand why the climate impact of beef alone is so large, note that the image at the top of this story is a sea of soybeans in a silo in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. The beans belong to a feed lot that holds 38,000 cattle, the growth and fattening of which means dispensing 900 metric tons of feed every day. Which is to say that these beans will be eaten by cows, and the cows will convert the beans to meat, and the humans will eat the meat. In the process, the cows will emit much greenhouse gas, and they will consume far more calories in beans than they will yield in meat, meaning far more clearcutting of forests to farm cattle feed than would be necessary if the beans above were simply eaten by people.

This inefficient process happens on a massive scale. Brazil, the world’s largest exporter of red meat, holds around 212 million cattle. (In June, the U.S. temporarily suspended imports of beef from Brazil due to abscesses, collections of pus, in the meat.) According to the United Nations, 33 percent of arable land on Earth is used to grow feed for livestock. Even more, 26 percent of the ice-free terrestrial surface of Earth is used for grazing livestock. In all, almost a third of the land on Earth is used to produce meat and animal products.

This means much less deforestation and land degradation if so many plant crops weren’t run through the digestive tracts of cattle. If Americans traded their beef for beans, the researchers found, that would free up 42 percent of U.S. crop land.

“The real beauty of this kind of thing is that climate impact doesn’t have to be policy-driven,” said Harwatt. “It can just be a positive, empowering thing for consumers to see that they can make a significant impact by doing something as simple as eating beans instead of beef.”

She and her colleagues conclude in the journal Climatic Change: “While not currently recognized as a climate policy option, the ‘beans for beef’ scenario offers significant climate change mitigation and other environmental benefits, illustrating the high potential of animal to plant food shifts.”

The beans for beef scenario is, it seems, upon us.

“I think it’s such an easy-to-grasp concept that it could be less challenging than a whole dietary shift,” said Harwatt. The words vegetarian and vegan have stifled some people’s thinking on what it means to eat well—to consume responsibly, conscientiously. Rather the beans for beef scenario is the dietary equivalent of effective altruism—focusing on where efforts will have the highest yield. “It’s kind of a worst-first approach, looking at the hottest spot in the food system in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions, and what could that be substituted with without losing protein and calories in the food system? And at the same time, gaining health benefits.”

In addition to the well-documented health benefits of a plant-based diet, this case also brings empowerment, or at least reprieve. Regardless of a person’s degree of ecoanxiety, there is some recourse in knowing how far individuals can go to make up for a regressive federal administration simply by eating beans.

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https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/08/if-everyone-ate-beans-instead-of-beef/535536/

 

My One Small Soul

The sun is just up where I live, so it’s up to me now. This new day, this new light, this unfolding of unused time. See it? How it slips across the dining room table and on out to the pasture? How is rides the backs of the sheep and the small grasses, the stillness? And on out the lane to the road and turning left and right simultaneously? This new day, this new light. It’s up to me now, no doubt. I can do whatever. I can pout, sing, walk twenty miles, I can do whatever. But it won’t always be thus. Because there is the coming of diminishment, the fact of my lessening, the same new days, the same new light, the same unfolding of unused time…but without me. So. So what I’m going to do now is go outside and tend to the animals. All the animals will come running when I show up. Then I’m going to pick beans, both knees firmly in contact with earth, my hands working, the buckets gradually filling, one green, one yellow, this new day spread across my neck, my back, both arms, my one small soul.

just in after having set out 144 cabbages in a fine light rain, the rows straight, the cabbages spirited, and me, the day done, with just enough energy to cabbage on

“Cabbage: A familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and wise as a man’s head.”  Ambrose Bierce

“Remorse is eating his soul like a caterpillar in a cabbage.” Dorothy Sayers

“An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it makes a better soup.” H.L  Mencken

“Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college degree.”  Mark Twain

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Painting. Marilyn Wells. http://www.marilynwells.com/

 

 

Our Big Dena


Quetzal came skipping up yesterday mid-morning with both hands behind her back. She was glowing. “Which hand?” she asked.  “Left,” I said. She shook her head. “Right,” I said.  And so in slow motion she brought around her right hand and there it was, the season’s first, a perfectly ripe Big Dena tomato. We stared at it for a few seconds, and then she handed it off to me and we stared a while longer. It seemed like a new center of gravity, a small sun.

Quetzal initially placed the tomato in the very center of our dining room table. Later on she placed it on a cutting board along with her favorite knife. When I returned home from Portsmouth, I noticed she had added a small bouquet of sweet peas to one side. That’s how it showed all last evening, last night, and that’s how the tomato shows right now. The Queen Bride, the first begotten, some new revelation sent down from Saddleback Mountain. Our Big Dena. When we go to eat it, it will be like communion. When we walk through the valleys we will know no evil.  We shall stand as lifted. Yea we will stand as lifted.

 

 

With Soul and Earth Only

Imagine if every adult in America sat on a rock each morning and listened or prayed or studied their ankles. 6 minutes, say.  Or, to splurge a bit, imagine if every adult likewise attended each morning a garden of carrots and spinach.  6 minutes, say. What would come of 300 million folks sitting/gardening each morning for 12 minutes? 12 minutes with soul and earth only.


Art: Kerry Buck

http://www.kerrybuck.com/portfolio_item.asp?id=181&picture_title=Green%20Fields