Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


March 27, 2006

Eat Your Veggies, But Not Just Because of Mom

Category: Household,Organic & Local Food,Take Actions,Tips – Tom Harrison – 9:20 pm

A brief check-in on our progress with perhaps the single most important change we have made, or should I say “we are making” as we proceed to adopt an energy-efficient, yet pain-free lifestyle. Not, not changing light bulbs, or even our Prii (we have 2, count ‘em, Prius’es). Vegetables!

I’ll start by saying that my world was rocked recently when our local lunch/deli place near work closed out of the blue. For several years, my co-workers and I had gone there most days to get lunch. And, purely for reasons of health I got a salad with good ingredients and low-fat dressing. (Meat lovers note: To my surprise and delight, a good salad does not suck. But now our beloved store has gone out of business. Now, we’re wandering the suburbs of Boston aimlessly in search of another good spot, and while I have found another salad bar, it’s … just not the same.

But why is salad relevant? It’s relevant because since I learned how much oil it takes to grow a hamburger, I have come to understand that changing my behavior to reduce energy consumption is a lot more significant than one might expect. Yes, you can make easy and painless changes by changing to CF bulbs, using less gasoline, turning down the heat or A/C and so on. But eating a salad? Yes, eating a salad, and (if you’re over 40 you’ll understand) having oats in the morning.

Yes, eating salad, if it is an alternative to eating a hamburger is an important step because growing a cow (or other animals) requires them (the cows) to eat a lot of salad in order for you to eat your hamburger. So growing food sounds innocent, right? Nuh uh! Most crops are grown using fertilizer and pesticides. Fertilizer and pesticides are both made from … OIL! Unless you are eating organic food, the feed that makes your cow is using a heck of a lot of fertilizer, and some pesticides which account for, on the whole a great deal of our energy. One post I linked a while back suggested about 30%, and here’s a new one that has a more conservative estimate of 17% You can choose the number, but it’s a big one.

And the meat numbers are not trivial. Here’s another source that drives home the point: for every cow you eat, they eat 10x more energy than you get. Ok, this is not really accurate because, no we don’t often find ourselves in the fields eating grass chewing our cuds, but on the other hand, somebody had to grow the grass to make that cud. And yes, fertilizer is used to grow that grass.

Ok, so in the full disclosure: I fully admit that I eat meat. And that last link bummed me out majorly because of all meats, I really love lamb. Suffice it to say that I have no issues with the whole fairness or justice issue with meat. I carnivore. Me eat meat. Ung.

And, no, it’s not even organic meat that I eat all the time (or even most of the time). I am a hypocrite. Well, not a super-bad one, but hey, this blog is not about being perfect or changing everything we do, but about realizing that it’s easy to make a small change (the number five percent comes to mind) and that this change will have an impact if we all do it. Ok, so we’re not all going to do it, but let’s say 1 in 6 people make a small change, and if you’re reading, I’m talking about you, then a 30% (5% * 6) change is really, really not that hard. And it gets easier if you convince others of your point!

Heck, while I’m coming clean, I don’t always eat organic vegetables. Yeah, they are the best. But then again, killing yourself would be the single most efficient way to reduce your total demand on the planet, so let’s just be moderate here. Still, I have found that a diet rich in vegetables and grains makes me a) sound like an advertisement, yet b) actually does not taste like chewing cud. Further, I have found that seeking out organics when you have the chance is not that much more expensive, and they taste at the very least as good. Organics are worth it, if only to piss off the major agri-businesses. (Side note: I graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Economics in 1984 and a seriously conservative econo-brainwashing, and I can tell you, they would not like to hear this trash-talking!)

Perhaps the most important take-away from this: we all use energy in sometimes unexpected unrealized ways. Eating vegetables or grains instead of meat, especially organic (but don’t worry if they are regular) is not only good for your health. Changing light bulbs and turning down the heat are more, eh hem, directly evident. There are so many ways we use energy; a simply realization of the big picture is sometimes worth considering.

Indeed, as a parent, I am working on getting two kids, a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old to eat more vegetables. The scary thing is, I am not sure which is more beneficial to their long-term survival: eating vegetables because they are healthy, or eating vegetables because they are energy efficient. Oh my god, I am really off the deep end.

Or am I?

1 Comment

  1. […] especially meat, is a much larger contributor to climate change than packaging. True and very, very important; I have been writing about the energy cost of food for a […]

    Pingback by Relative Energy Cost of Food vs. Food Bags | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — April 12, 2008 @ 5:17 pm

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