The Stats on Ethical Eating
August 11, 2008
From the Ethicurean, a recap and review of a carbon emissions study conducted by Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews, professors in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. The subject: The impact of agriculture on the environment. The upshot: Looks like locavores, whose diets are derived from proximal sources, are outpaced by vegan warriors, who win the battle on carbon consumption, no matter from whom they nab their grub. Turns out that food production, as opposed to food transportation, accounts for obscene amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.
Here are the metrics, as compared to the carbon output of a 25/mpg car, quoted from the Ethi article:
- An “all local” diet is equivalent to driving 1,000 fewer miles per year
- Shifting one day per week’s calories from red meat to chicken/fish/eggs is equivalent to driving 760 fewer miles per year
- Shifting one day per week’s calories from red meat to a vegetable-based diet is equivalent to driving 1,160 fewer miles per year
- Giving up red meat and dairy in favor of chicken/fish/eggs is equivalent to driving 5,340 fewer miles per year
- Switching to a completely vegan diet is equivalent to driving 8,100 fewer miles per year
Yikes. I’m a vegetarian who strives to buy as much local food as is possible, but now my green guilt is setting in. Should I be shoveling seitan and soy cheese down me gullet to help stave off global warming? What’s a semi-conscious and fairly conscientious Living Smaller to do? Eat less Whidbey Island ice cream from the farmers market? Eat more spinach from California? Oh, Popeye.
For me, eating ethically = the Lernaean Hydra. Every time I slay one issue, another two pop up in its place. To wit, a simple situation, designed for your ethical scrutiny: I need sweet peppers for a dish I am preparing. Issue One: non-organic or organic? Non is much easier on the pocketbook, but not on the Earth, or on my body. Organic, on the other hand, is good for the land in which it is grown, the planet, me, etc. Issue One decided. Organic it is.
I go to the co-op. Here’s where Issue Two rears that proverbial ugly (Hydra) head. For my approval are two sets of organic peppers: one, a loose pepper grown in and shipped from Mexico. The other, a shrink-wrapped sister-pepper grown in Yakima, an ag-center in Washington state. For the first pepper, I’m paying to support farmers more than 2,000 miles away, as well as the cost of flying or trucking a load of peppers to Seattle. For the second, I’m supporting a (relatively) local farmer, but I’m also inadvertently forwarding that farmers use of shrink wrap, which is wholly unnecessary.
Which pepper do I purchase? One of each? Neither? See what I mean by Hydra? And that’s just the first head, folks; there are, like, 30 billion more to uncover.
Sometimes I stagnate. I want to do well. And then I buy a bag of Yogurt & Green Onion Kettle Chips, ’cause I love that flavor.
I think I need to go Stoic.