independence day for the planet

July 3, 2012

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Wheat berry salad/photo by Julian Hoffman-Mateya

If visions of hamburgers and hot dogs are dancing in your head this July 4th eve, you might want to consider that livestock and their byproducts contribute at least 32.6 billion tons of CO2 equivalents each year, or 51 percent  of  greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). That’s the number Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang arrived at in a report for World Watch Institute.  In their report, Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change are cows, pigs, and chickens?, they concluded that previous studies had  undercounted or overlooked many sources of emissions.  

Already taken into account in other research, chiefly a 2006 report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),  were the emissions from land cleared to graze livestock and grow feed, and then to process and transport  those burgers and sausages. The FAO study concluded that 18 percent of GHG emissions were related to animal consumption. But that study discounted, for example, breathing by cows and even suggested that livestock, before they are consumed, are a carbon sink. Goodland and Anhang find that notion absurd, noting that the amount of carbon stored in grazing cows is “trivial” compared to the amount stored in the forests that had to be cleared. So breathing by cows doesn’t get a pass from them:  “Livestock (like automobiles) are a human invention and convenience, not part of pre-human times, and a molecule of CO2 exhaled by livestock is no more natural than one from an auto tailpipe.”

Some of the other GHG sources overlooked in the earlier studies: the higher temperatures needed to cook meat – often on charcoal (even at your cookout);  the disposal of GHG-emitting livestock waste in landfills; production, distribution and disposal of the packaging required for meats (which, for sanitary reasons, has to be more intensive than for non-meats); the use of fluorocarbons, which is needed  for cooling livestock much more than for non-meats (think large fans needed to keep pigs and cows cool); the reduction in GHG emissions from photosynthesis that is forgone because 26 percent of land worldwide is used for grazing livestock and 33 percent of arable land is used for growing feed; and the “carbon intensive medical treatment of millions of cases worldwide of zoonotic illnesses (such as swine flu) and chronic degenerative illnesses (such as coronary heart disease, cancers, diabetes, and hypertension leading to strokes) linked to the consumption of livestock products.”

So, meat consumption is bad for the planet, bad for human health, and, from the animal’s point of view, bad for animals. A trifecta.  Pick your reason to forgo meat …or pick your poison.

Philip Wollen, an Australian philanthropist and former VP of Citibank,  also has made a passionate argument for not eating animals. He notes, for example, “If everyone ate a Western diet, we would need 2 Planet Earths to feed them. We only have one. And she is dying” and “Greenhouse gas from livestock is 50% more than transport . . . . . planes, trains, trucks, cars, and ships.”

But what will you eat?

Here’s a simple yet colorful, delicious and filling recipe for July 4th that is better for the planet, you and the animals. It’s from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  You could always have corn on the cob with it.

Wheat berry salad with peanuts and fresh and dried fruit 

3 ripe peaches (or more)

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1/8 to 1/4 cup olive oil

2 T red wine vinegar

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups cooked whole wheat berries  (about a cup dried)

1/2 large or 1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced, separated into rings (or I use 4 or 5 green onions, chopped)

1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries

1/2 cup roasted peanuts (or walnuts or pistachios)

1)      Whisk the herb, oil and vinegar along with some salt and pepper in a bowl.

2)      Cut up the peaches and add to the oil and vinegar mix  (cut peaches over the bowl so you use the juices)

3)      Add the cooked wheat berries, onion and dried fruit. Toss and adjust seasonings

4)      Serve topped with the peanuts (Best not to mix the peanuts into the salad because if you have leftovers, the nuts get soggy. blah)

Note for the wheat berries: I rinse about  1 1/4 c organic wheat berries and put them in a pot with enough water to cover the berries by about 1-1/2 inches. I bring that to a boil and cook for maybe 8  mins. Then I turn off the heat and walk away until I’m ready to assemble the salad. You don’t want the wheat berries to get too soggy, so don’t use too much water. The berries are chewy when done. With this method, you don’t have to leave the pot boiling for 40 or 45 mins., so you use less energy. Works with rice, too. 

Happy Fourth….

—Elisabeth Hoffman

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