Saturday, November 29, 2008


There are many diets out there that are aimed at reducing your carbon footprint. An example of this is the “food mile” diet. In this diet, you only eat food that is grown or produced with a certain number of miles from where you live. The idea being that you save the emissions and pollutants released from the petroleum products used to transport this produce long distances from entering the atmosphere.

At first flush this seems sensible, proactive and oh, so, green. However, what it (and many other diets) doesn’t take into account are the many other factors involved in getting foodstuffs from farm to dinner plate. That is where ecotarianism comes in. Ecotarianism has a charmingly common-sense approach that is also amazingly well-rounded.

The concept is simple: eat the foods that have the lowest environmental burden. That is, the products with the lowest global-warming potential (GWP) and cause the least physical harm to the environment with soil acidification and pollution.

Cooking Up a Storm (by Tara Garnett, University of Surrey, UK) is considered by many to be the ecotarians’ bible. So what does going ecotarian mean? Do you have to eat food that is either grown in your own back yard or field next door? Must you never eat meat again? What next – will they soon be encouraging you to graze your front yard not mow it?

A few changes will have us all eating healthier and eating more foods with a lower GWP. The following is an example of how things are not always what they seem on the surface.

If you lived in Germany and were asked: Which fruit juice would contribute the least damage to the environment in order to be sold in Germany – juice produced in Europe or juice produced in Brazil? What would you say?

In 2004, a German study compared fruit juice (from Brazil) with local European versions. They found that the smaller European producers used more energy producing and distributing their products than the Brazilian producers did.

A Swedish study of the perfect environmental diet suggests that we cut our intake of sweets by 50%. While this is good advice for everyone (not just ecotarians); it appears that it is the milk in milk chocolate that produces the greatest burden of all the sweets, so a good ecotarian eats only dark chocolate. (I knew there was an altruistic reason I loved dark chocolate, I just knew it!)

While many ecotarians will be vegetarians for personal reasons; ecotarianism does not demand vegetarianism. Rather, good ecotarians are discerning meat eaters. Pork and poultry have a lower environmental impact than meat from ruminants - cows in particular.

As a general rule in farming, organic, non-animal products are best as the organic system uses legumes to fix nitrogen in the soil rather than wasting fuel on synthetic fertilizers (with all the problems fertilizers and that run-off brings).

Frozen products are kept to a minimum as are chilled foods. Almost half of supermarket transport trailers are temperature-controlled (many of these travel huge distances) creating tremendous greenhouse gas burdens.

The thing that attracts me most to ecotarianism is the flexibility – the ability to call myself ecotarian (so people immediately understand my ideals) while still being able to imprint my own conscience on my lifestyle. I will never be called on to do something I feel uncomfortable with.

One issue I feel very strongly on and have had many a lively discussion with family, friends and total strangers about is the subject of eggs. I will only eat eggs from free-range, organic-fed, hens.

While some may say that commercially-raised chickens and eggs make ecotarian sense because they are cost-effective, are a nutritional source for many, and with high-efficiency feed conversion they appear to have the lesser eco burden; I say the cruelty to battery-hen operations outweighs everything and, very definitely, makes them non-ecotarian.

Just let me put my little soapbox aside...

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