Bulk is green

The following is from Progressive Grocer magazine: A recent study conducted by the Bulk Is Green Council confirms what the Little Rock, Ark.-based advocacy group is seeking to advance with consumers: that retail prices of bulk foods vs. their packaged counterparts are an average of 35 percent lower. Indeed, bulk foods were lower for all of the 16 foods compared, with savings ranging from 3 percent to 96 percent. Additionally, the majority of bulk foods compared in the study were organic while their packaged counterparts were often not.

Conducted at multiple grocery stores in three metropolitan markets, the study measured average prices with suggested retail prices of a leading national food distributor of both bulk and packaged foods.

The advocacy organization, which is charged with helping consumers, food manufacturers and grocers learn about the environmental and economic benefits of bulk foods, says bulk foods offer consumers a variety of shopping and sustainable advantages, including:

  • Packaging-free products, as packaging drove up the price of the average product evaluated in the study. Packaged foods were generally more competitive in price in situations where minimal packaging is the norm (i.e. beans, rice and nuts).
  • Enabling the consumer to purchase as much or as little of a product he wants, without paying a penalty for a small quantity. This is especially meaningful when a recipe calls for a small amount of an ingredient seldom used by that consumer.
  • Environmental benefits, because the foods are sold without a package, resulting in a reduction in deforestation and the use of petrochemicals for the manufacture of paper, plastic, ink and cardboard.

The study found that bulk herbs and spices offered the greatest savings. The most dramatic difference was bay leaves, with bulk savings of 96 percent, meaning that on average, packaged bay leaves cost 24 times more than bulk bay leaves. Almost as dramatic was thyme, with bulk savings of 87 percent.

More information about bulk foods can be found at www.bulkisgreen.org.

Mark Fergusson

Bottled water banned in move to protect environment

Bottled water is coming under even more pressure following the action of a small Australian town to ban sales of bottled water. Bottled water sales, once a major growth industry, has slowed considerably as people have considered the adverse environmental impacts of the plastic bottles, production costs, and trucking and transportation involved. It is cheaper and more environmentally sound to properly filter tap water. The following is from the Associated Press story:

Residents of a rural Australian town hoping to protect the earth and their wallets have voted to ban the sale of bottled water, the first community in the country — and possibly the world — to take such a drastic step in the growing backlash against the industry.

Residents of Bundanoon cheered after their near-unanimous approval of the measure at a town meeting Wednesday. It was the second blow to Australia's beverage industry in one day: Hours earlier, the New South Wales state premier banned all state departments and agencies from buying bottled water, calling it a waste of money and natural resources.

Vegetables not as nutritious as they were 40 - 50 years ago

The following excerpt is from Natural Foods Merchandiser's blog:

Store-bought vegetables are not as good for you as they were 40-50 years ago.

According to the USDA, fruits and vegetables were packed with far more nutrients back then than they are now.

Experts attribute the nutritional drop to hybrid breeding of crops, designed more for size and color and ability to survive transport, than nutritional value.

With the $25.2 billion supplement industry showing a 5 percent growth in the last year, perhaps many of us are aware that we can no longer eat enough food to get all the nutrients our bodies need. Monavie acai berry drink officials claim you would have to eat 7-9 peaches today to get the same level of nutrients from eating one peach in the 1950s.

Go to Mother Jones to click through a slideshow of fruits and vegetables “that have gone to seed,” according to the website.

"Save the planet; kill yourself?"

Photo: Woman Holding a Sign that Reads Save the Planet Kill Yourself

Everyone is trying to reduce their carbon footprint and their negative impact on the environment. Businesses are starting to be required to measure and report on their carbon generation, and the trading of carbon credits is now commonplace in many countries of the world. In a growing trend individuals are eating local in an attempt to reduce the carbon footprint of their dietary choices by reducing the amount of miles that their food travels to get to them. People are opting to ride in cars with huge batteries (despite the largely unknown dangers of electro magnetic fields, and the problems of disposing of the battery at the end of its useful life), or downsizing to more fuel efficient cars, or even deciding to catch the bus, walk or bike when they go shopping to reduce their impact on the environment. We are switching to corn fuel for vehicles (ethanol), corn bags, corn plates, and corn utensils in an effort to avoid plastics, but the unintended consequence was a dramatic increase in food prices that in 2008 led to riots in third world countries.

The reality of modern living is such that no matter what you do, or how committed to green principles you are, you are still having a negative impact on the environment by your very existence. You are breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide. You are traveling places using vehicles that create pollution while using roads made of converted fossil fuels. You are buying things that come in plastic or foam packaging and cardboard boxes, and were manufactured using electricity in facilities that have raw materials transported around the world to them, and which generate pollution or waste of some sort. You are eating foods that are transported to you, and you are evacuating and passing urine that goes into the sewer system, and you are using a computer that uses electricity, etc. etc.

If you become fanatical in our goal to have the minimum impact you can on the environment you could come to the rather bizarre but somewhat obvious conclusion that a woman in a photo I saw came too. She was holding a sign that said:


The obvious answer to this is, “No need; you can save the planet simply by not raising animals to kill and eat them”. The raising of animals to eat them has about the biggest impact on the environment than almost any other human activity. If you are truly serious about being green, adopt a vegetarian diet. That will have a much bigger impact and will have no negative unintended consequences. Do what you can for the environment, don’t go crazy over it, and do the easiest thing you can that will have the biggest positive impact – go vegetarian (while eating organic and natural foods free of GMOs).

Thanks for reading.

Mark Fergusson
Chief Vegetarian Officer

Another Alternative

An article in the Honolulu Advertiser today talks about aquaculture in Hawaii, and how various environmental groups are opposed to it on the basis that it is harmful to the environment. Aquaculture is another way of saying a fish factory farm, a large number of fish concentrated together in a small area. The concentrated fish population releases huge amounts of excretment into a very small area of the ocean; antibiotic use by the farmed fish is also a concern, both for native fish populations, and for the human consumers of the fish.

Sims, the President of one of the state's fish farmers, is quoted as saying that ocean aquaculture is a solution to overfishing which is depleting global wild fish populations.  He also says, "We are pioneering something that is very hard, but is really necessary."

As I read it I thought, "Why is this so necessary? Isn't there another solution?  Like, maybe, just stop eating fish!"

Mark Fergusson

Asian Plant-Based Diet Can Help Prevent Water Shortage

Photo: Mobile Irrigation System

Water resources are growing scarce in Asia and experts say the primary culprit is changing diet. Increasing adoption of a western meat-based diet requires more than four times the amount of water to produce than tofu and ten times more than rice.

Two additional trends competing for water are Asia's population growth and economic development, which are making it more difficult to meet the demands of an increasingly thirsty land. Surprisingly, the water required to meet these trends is a relatively small amount compared to the water used to raise animals for slaughter. For example, a bowl of rice, tofu and vegetables takes about 570 kilos of water to produce. That same meal with beef instead of tofu takes about 2180 kilos of water. So while population growth may be a problem, clearly the bigger problem is what people choose to eat. A plant-based diet, like the one common in Asia for centuries, is the only sustainable solution.

The authors of a study on the rising consumption of meat write, “Whether it is a good thing is not the issue; it is a phenomenon that will occur.” If the situation isn’t reversed, the Asian Development Bank has predicted that by the year 2030 Asia will lack 40% of the water it needs for food. Some scientists claim that nothing can be done. But governments and social organizations around the world agree they can't give up. Paul Reiter, executive director of the International Water Association, has compared the water crisis to a slow-moving train wreck. He hopes a gathering of 7000 policy makers in September in Busan, South Korea, will provide a platform to discuss water scarcity and solutions. Hopefully, conferees will consider the impact of diet on water supply.

The Asia Foundation says food production uses more water than any other activity. Only 6% of water in Asia is used for drinking, washing and cooking. Another 10% is used in development and industry. Meanwhile, fully 84% of all water withdrawn in Asia each year goes to agriculture. So focusing on food is actually the quickest path to solving the problem of future water supply.

According to the United Nations, it takes about 1500 liters of water to produce 1 kg of wheat, but it takes 10 times more to produce 1kg of beef! Producing feed crops for livestock, slaughtering and the processing of meat, milk and other dairy products also require large quantities of water. On average, meat production requires 2,025 liters of water for every 150 grams, while soybeans take 412 liters and fruit takes only 69 liters of water for the same amount.

Some experts look at the changing habits of 4 billion people in Asia and conclude that the rise in meat consumption cannot be stopped. However, no one is forced to eat meat. What we choose to eat is a decision that each of us makes individually. Each of us has the power within ourselves to make a difference. The good news is that no one has to learn new skills or adopt new habits. All that’s required is sticking with the traditional plant-based Asian diet, where meat is treated as a condiment rather than the main course.

Water shortages are a serious problem around the world. In the U.S. alone, nearly half of all the water used is squandered on animal agriculture. This situation is causing serious water shortages that will need to be addressed before long. At least in Asia a key solution already exists in the form of the traditional Asian plant-based diet.

What we choose to eat is one of the most significant factors in the personal impact we have on the environment and the fastest path to change. The single most important thing that an individual can do for their health and the environment—as well as to ensure future water supply—is to adopt a vegetarian diet.

It's Green to Adopt a Vegetarian Diet

Photo: Green Globe

What we choose to eat is one of the most significant factors in the personal impact we have on the environment and the fastest path to climate change. A recent study examining the impact of a typical week’s eating showed that plant-based diets are better for the environment than those based on meat. A vegan organic diet had the smallest environmental impact while the single most damaging foodstuff was beef. All non-vegetarian diets require significantly greater amounts of environmental resources such as land and water.

It is noteworthy that the United Nations and many leading environmental organizations have recognized that raising animals for food damages the environment more than just about anything else that we do. These include the Union of Concerned Scientists and the WorldWatch Institute; and in the United States the National Audubon Society; and the Sierra Club.

Our meat addiction is poisoning and depleting our water, land, and air. For example, more than half of the water used in the United States today is for animal agriculture. And as farmed animals produce 130 times more excrement than the human population, the run-off from their waste is fouling America’s waterways. Animal excrement emits gases, such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, that poison the air around farms, as well as methane and nitrous oxide, which are major contributors to global warming.

In its 2006 report, the United Nations said raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. Most of it comes from methane gas generated by manure.

The negative effects of the meat industry are far reaching.

Forests are being bulldozed to make more room for factory farms and feed crops to feed farmed animals, and this destruction causes soil erosion and contributes to species extinction and habitat loss. Raising animals for food also requires massive amounts of food and raw materials: e.g. farmed animals consume 70 percent of the corn, wheat, and other grains grown in the United States. One third of all of the United States’ raw materials and fossil fuels go to raising animals for food. I suspect that the numbers are similar among other meat-eating nations of the world.

Sadly, animals on today’s factory farms are subject to cruel and inhumane treatment including neglect, mutilation, genetic manipulation, subjection to antibiotics and growth hormones, and gruesome and violent slaughter.

  1. Baroni, L., Cenci, L., Tettemanti, M. and Berati, M. 2006. Evaluating the environmental impact of various dietary patterns combined with different food production systems. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1-8.
  2. Livestock a major threat to environment,” United Nations FAO Newsroom, Nov. 29, 2006: http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448/index.html

Your Health and the Environment

Photo: Cows Standing in a Pasture

What we eat can cause or worsen diet-related illnesses and thus has a significant impact on our quality of life.

Virtually all the major scientific and medical institutions in the world agree that the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, obesity, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, cancer, and diabetes, among other diseases is linked to a meat-based diet consisting of highly processed foods laden with fats and artificial ingredients. These institutions further agree that the risk is greatly reduced by adopting a healthy low-fat, high-fiber diet.

So what is the prescription for a healthier body, both now and in the future? Simple. Eat less meat, or even better give it up completely, as meat has all too often been blamed for the above mentioned diet-related illnesses, and replace it with an all-vegetarian diet. This makes sense for a number of reasons.

At the most basic level, meat, fish, and eggs have high cholesterol. Their wide-scale consumption has contributed to the dramatic increase in the number of premature deaths from heart disease, strokes and cancer; and meat-based diets contribute to a host of other health-related problems.

In contrast, a plant-based diet is generally low in fat, including saturated fat, which can help reduce blood cholesterol levels and the risk for heart disease. Flesh foods, on the other hand, are high in saturated fat, which is the biggest contributor to blood clotting, which can result in heart disease and stroke.

And, plant-based proteins have zero cholesterol. High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for developing heart disease. Meat is high in LDL (bad cholesterol) and the more LDL you have in your bloodstream, the more likely plaque (atherosclerosis) will form in your arteries.

A meat-based diet is an extremely wasteful use of the earth's limited resources, as it requires many times more resources to create a pound of animal flesh than a pound of vegetarian foods. Whether it's unchecked air or water pollution, soil erosion, or the overuse of resources, raising animals for food is wreaking havoc on the Earth.

And finally, from an ethical point of view, eating animals causes extreme pain and suffering to billions of innocent creatures. Given the suffering these animals endure, and given that all our nutritional needs can easily be satisfied without eating these animals, vegetarianism is morally required. The fact is that eating animals is unnecessary because nature has provided ample vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and dairy products for human sustenance. Therefore, the slaughter of animals for food is a luxury rather than a necessity and is morally wrong

The single most important thing you can do for your health, the environment, and the innocent animals is to adopt a vegetarian diet.

My Earth Day Breakthrough

Photo Illustration: Earth and Stars

Earth Day is on April 22, one day before my birthday. Growing up, I always felt a connection to Earth Day; it was like my own special holiday. My young mind seemed to think that Earth Day was actually the Earth’s birthday and so close to mine – it made me feel like I was “birthday buddies” with the Earth. Of course I eventually knew the real story behind the day but it hasn’t taken away this odd sense of kinship with my “birthday buddy”.

After watching movies and shows like “Bambi”, “Ferngully” and “Captain Planet and the Planeteers”, I began to slowly take away the huge messages these cartoons were promoting about saving wildlife and forests, the dangers of greenhouse gases, etc. and my mind began to build a more solid understanding of human impact on the world. How can we be doing this to my “birthday buddy”? I was empowered to do something about it! Being a little kid made it difficult to demand my parents join my crusade but I tried my best. I would reuse my completed coloring pages to write stories on, use empty cans and cereal boxes to make forts, or clump old newspapers together to make paper flowers to decorate my house. I would refuse to throw out anything, always thinking I could use it for something else. This attitude sometimes resulted in my room not smelling so fresh and eventually I would have to throw out the paper plate I ate on last Tuesday.

As I grew older, the internet was becoming easier to access until eventually it was available all the time on my bedroom computer. From there, I would periodically read articles on AOL News about conservation, global warming, and deforestation. It was mind blowing. Here were real live examples of what I saw in my favorite childhood shows and movies. As I got more curious about being “green”, I started to grow more and more interested in the concepts and issues that created and inspired Earth Day. Reflecting on life is par for the course when your birthday comes around, but thoughts of Earth Day started intermingling with this introspection. In high school, I’ll admit, I spent a lot more time consuming the information than actually doing anything about it. I would feel bad about sea life getting caught in oil spills and then I would quickly move on to thinking much more seriously about what kind of prom dress I was going to wear and should I do SAT prep with my study group or alone. 

When I was 21, I wrote a paper about the history of Earth Day for a college writing class. (You can read more about the Earth Day origin here.)   Thinking it was high time, I started to actually do something about these thoughts that had been floating in my head since I was 4 or 5. I started to use my own bags, my own water bottle, and I started to actively use recycling bins. I was reading articles from people like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman. Finally in 2006, I read about this incredible United Nations Report that stated, “Raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.” Something major clicked for me and I began some marathon searching about this issue. Finally after months of hemming and hawing about it, I decided that becoming a vegetarian could seriously help out some of these environmental concerns I had. It was a major decision but I’m glad I did it. It became something small and easy that I could do daily to help alleviate the amount of energy and pollution it takes to produce food.

I believe Earth Day is all about raising the public’s consciousness regarding environmental issues like air and water pollution, recycling, clean energy and more. I share my story with you to show that however long (and long-winded!) it might take for people to come around to the spirit of Earth Day, it is worth it. I hope it also illustrates how simple actions in your daily life can help even these larger-than-life issues. I don’t like the idea of pressuring people into being more environmentally conscious so I’ll just say this, that it took me almost 20 years to finally give a gift to my “birthday buddy”… and the gift was holding myself more accountable to how I treated the Earth. Happy Earth Day everyone, and I hope you find your way to celebrate Earth Day in your daily life everyday, not just on April 22nd.

Electric cars, are they the best way to reduce greenhouse gases?

Front page news today in the Honolulu Advertiser is that "a private company that state officials hope will put Hawaii on the road to the widespread use of electric vehicles expects to begin installing infrastructure here in about six months."

The company plans to install "between 20,000 - 30,000 recharging stations that can be used by electric vehicles in homes, office buildings, parking lots and public and private facilities."

The recharging stations will use energy from the electric grid, currently produced from fossil fuels, to recharge car batteries. It is hoped that in the future the electricity used to recharge the vehicles will come from clean energy such as solar, wind, and ocean power.

However, given Hawaii's unfavorable attitude towards business (note the irony that the Honolulu Advertiser article shares space with news of Superferry abandoning the ferries) maybe these clean energy projects won't get off the ground. We could end up with the illusion of green power, i.e. we could have electric vehicles powered by fossil fuel electricity sources.

In addition to this, according to a report by the Boston Consulting Group, the cost of electric vehicles is prohibitively high and will require large government subsidies to make it economical for the already ailing auto manufacturers to make them. In other words, the switch to electric and hybrid vehicles is going to be very very expensive.

There is a big contradiction here. Individuals and governments are prepared to spend large amounts of money in an effort to reduce their environmental footprint, yet the things they spend the money on will actually only have a small impact on greenhouse gasses and global warming. In contrast, adopting a plant based vegetarian diet will have a huge impact on reducing greenhouse gases, yet the government is not prepared to come out and do anything about it. In fact they do just the opposite by supporting the meat industry through huge (mega $billions) grain and other subsidies.

The following article from the United Nations News Center explains the environmental impact that the meat industry has on the release of global warming greenhouse gases:

"29 November 2006 – Cattle-rearing generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation, and smarter production methods, including improved animal diets to reduce enteric fermentation and consequent methane emissions, are urgently needed, according to a new United Nations report released today.

“Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems,” senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official Henning Steinfeld said. “Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”

"Cattle-rearing is also a major source of land and water degradation, according to the FAO report, Livestock’s Long Shadow–Environmental Issues and Options, of which Mr. Steinfeld is the senior author.

“The environmental costs per unit of livestock production must be cut by one half, just to avoid the level of damage worsening beyond its present level,” it warns.

"When emissions from land use and land use change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9 per cent of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.

"And it accounts for respectively 37 per cent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64 per cent of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.

"With increased prosperity, people are consuming more meat and dairy products every year, the report notes. Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tonnes."

Rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars, UN report warns.

If you are concerned about the environment, and want to participate in reducing the impact of global warming, please consider that adopting a vegetarian diet is the single most important thing you can do to reduce global warming. If you are not vegetarian then all your efforts to reduce your impact on the environment are more or less window dressing, they look good but don't accomplish much.

Thanks for reading.

Mark Fergusson