Ever think of the environmental impact of the food on your plate? Well maybe it’s time.
The fact is, the production, processing, and delivery of food have the largest environmental impact out of any other industry. The energy used in producing and distributing food accounts for roughly 60 percent of the total energy North Americans produce. Of that 60 percent, more than 85 percent is generated from the burning of fossil fuels which generates greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
Since food production is the largest energy draw in North America, it’s also the best place to start when looking for ways to reduce energy consumption. Less processing is better not just from a health standpoint but from an environmental standpoint. The first and easiest way to do this is to simply reduce the number of steps involved in the production of food. The more processing and refining that is required before food is consumed, the more energy will have gone into its production.
Many experts believe that the traditional production of food uses more energy than it returns. One report suggests that for every 10 calories of fossil fuel energy burned in food production, only 1 calorie of food energy is produced.
So when you’re choosing something like a glass of orange juice, ask yourself if you could go straight to the source, and go grab an orange!
Protein production: A significant environmental strain
Traditionally, protein-rich foods have taken the most resources to produce, requiring the most land, the most water, and the most energy. Traditional protein-rich crops consist of animal products: meat and milk. Land must be used to grow the food to feed the animal, and pasture land is needed to raise the animal. From there, the processing and distribution of animal products are labor and energy intensive.
The numbers tell it all: producing one kilocalorie (kcal) of beef requires the input of 35 kcal of fossil fuel, whereas the production of one kcal of plant protein uses a mere 2.2 kcal of fossil fuel. That means beef production requires nearly 16 times more fossil fuel energy than plants to produce one kcal of protein!
Most standard crops, such as wheat and corn, produce very little protein. What is needed is a plant with a high protein content, enabling it to be fed directly to humans without having to pass through numerous energy-intensive steps to convert it to a reliable form of protein.
Fortunately, such a plant does exist: hemp. Both nutritionally and environmentally superior to most plants, hemp seed contains 35 percent protein and delivers numerous nutrients. And unlike many crops, hemp can be grown in both hot and cold climates and it grows much faster than many traditional crops. Naturally resistant to most pests, hemp crops can also be grown efficiently without herbicides and pesticides.
Chlorella, a green algae, is another incredible plant. The number one food supplement in Japan, chlorella is currently being investigated in the West as a “land saver”. Because of its ability to reproduce four times every 24 hours while having the highest protein content of any living organism on earth, chlorella is by far the most environmentally efficient method of protein production. It is a true superfood, with 65% protein and high levels of essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. It also contains more chlorophyll and nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) than any other known plant, which makes it an excellent detoxifying agent. With nutrition and eco-stats like this, I can safely say Japan’s 10 million users are onto something.
To demonstrate the drastically low environmental impact of plant-based foods like hemp and chlorella, I had a study done on Vega Whole Food Health Optimizer, a plant based nutrition drink I developed. Made with ingredients including organic hemp seed, yellow pea, brown rice, Peruvian maca root, and chlorella, Vega is a great example of the difference plant-based foods make on our environment. The study performed by Conscious Brands showed that one serving of Vega produces 38 times fewer emissions than a traditional breakfast consisting of bacon, eggs, sausage, potatoes, and toast. For those who go for a lighter breakfast, Vega proved to produce 10 times fewer emissions than a breakfast of cereal flakes, milk, yoghurt and banana.
If you need that extra push to move towards plant-based foods, take your health into consideration: a shake made with ingredients like those in Vega contains less than half the calories of the “˜lighter breakfast’ mentioned above, while providing many times the nutrition.
Why the Thrive Diet is less demanding on the environment
A diet consisting of food that has been minimally processed and consists of primary-source nutrition is less demanding on the environment – it’s what I call my Thrive Diet. Primary-source nutrition means eating solely plant-based foods. As I noted earlier, simply removing the extra step of feeding plants to animals and then eating the animal, as is the basis of the typical North American diet, saves on average 16 times the fossil fuel energy.
Imagine the impact if North America not only replaced beef with plant protein, but cut out all other animal products also? The results would be world-changing. The Thrive Diet is an environmental friendly diet. It calls for eating many foods in their natural state, with little preparation. These foods consist entirely of primary sources of nutrition-plants.
What else can we do?
Where we spend our money determines what businesses thrive and what corporations fizzle. As consumers, we hold the power to push the economy toward greener initiatives. By making a point of avoiding corporations that practice poor environmental policies such as unsustainable and inefficient land use, use of toxic herbicides and pesticides, and destruction of old-growth forests, we have the ability to force the issue.
If you want to double the impact, lend your support to the small, Eco-conscious companies. If these sustainable industries are able to flourish because of our support, others will see the economic carrot of “green” agriculture, and they will follow. This is one problem that we can eat ourselves out of.