Live Well
October 2017

How Climate Change is Affecting the Food We Eat

According to the World Wildlife Federation, agriculture accounts for 14% of greenhouse gas emissions around the world. But how do those greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting climate change affect agriculture? I just read an interesting article in Politico about how climate change is affecting the quality of the food we eat (see the link to the article below). Scientists had already shown that the changing climate was affecting the quantity of food produced because of changes in rainfall patterns, droughts and soil erosion. However, according to recent research by Irakli Loladze, a mathematician with a passion for biology, while increased CO2 in the atmosphere leads to more plant growth, it also causes those plants to have a lower level of key nutrient, vitamins and minerals.

Recent research has shown that levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have almost doubled since the pre-industrial revolution. As a result of this increased CO2, plants have also grown. And, while at first glance, one might think this is a good thing, research is proving otherwise. As a matter of fact, scientists have noticed that plants have lower levels of calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron and protein. At the same time, there has been a concentration of carbohydrates, especially sugars, in plants.

This could become a serious public health issue for several reasons. Firstly, given the high rates of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the world, if plants contain a higher concentration of sugars, this could further exacerbate the problem. Furthermore, In developing countries where women and children suffer from high rates of anemia, lowers levels of iron and protein in plants could worsen the problem. And, who knows how this will affect the soil in which these plants grow, or the animals which eat these plants.

This is how we can intervene to reverse the trend by making the right food choices:

  • Purchasing foods seasonally and from local farms rather than from across the country or across the world, helps cut down on our carbon footprint.
  • Eat less meat and avoid factory-farmed meat at all costs. Meat production – especially factory-farmed meat- is one of the largest producers of methane, a greenhouse gas similar to carbon dioxide.
  • Landfills are a big source of greenhouse gases and pollution – reduce your waste and compost as much as possible.

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Worthwhile

The Carnivore’s Manifesto by Patrick Martins

As I mentioned in previous blog posts, my husband and daughter recently became vegetarians. The rest of our family is not. I understand their points: Factory-farmed animals live in inhumane conditions and are very poorly treated, and meat production is one of the biggest producers of methane, a greenhouse gas that is one of the main causes of climate change. Nevertheless, my other children and I do eat meat. In my view, the key thing about eating meat is sourcing it well and making sure it was sustainably-raised.

This is where a book I read recently, The Carnivore’s Manifesto: Eating Well, Eating Responsibly and Eating Meat, by Patrick Martins with Mike Edison, came in handy. The book is a series of 50 short essays, in which Martins make the case for eating meat in ways that are healthy for us, for the animals and for the planet. Here are some key takeaways from his book:

  • There are costs to human beings and the planet to eating industrial meat – production of methane gase, water contaminated with waste, antibiotic resistance, unfair and dangerous labor practices, to name but a few. Consider quality over cost – pay a little more, eat a little less, but eat better.
  • Eat more ground meat – that’s what helps small farmers stay in business.
  • Eat meat in season – fall is the season for goats; in winter, look for turkey, ducks and cured meats; spring is time for lamb and beef; and summer is the best season for pigs, chicken and beef.
  • Don’t limit yourself to just a few common species of beef, lamb, poultry and waterfowl. As Martins puts it, “The viability of the livestock population depends on a strong genetic base. Novel pathogens, natural or manmade, can wipe out one variety while having no effect on another; which means that relying on only one or two is dangerous – we have to keep rare and heritage breeds viable by creating an active market for them.” (P. 6)

Most importantly, understand what you are eating and where it is coming from. Build relationships with local farmers, vendors and producers so you really know what you are getting.

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Articles

Here are a few of my favorite articles for this month:

  • This is a great piece on recent research indicating that increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere is causing crops to contain lower nutrient levels. READ ARTICLE
  • I highly recommend going to see this documentary about one of the first female farm activists in the U.S., Dolores Huerta. READ ARTICLE
  • Here’s an interesting article on what it takes to fix America’s health crisis – eating whole, real and clean foods. READ ARTICLE
  • I highly recommend listening to this interview with Mary McKenna, who just published a book called Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats. READ ARTICLE
  • This is an interesting article about how multinational food companies are expanding their presence in developing countries and, with that, expanding the rates of obesity and diabetes. READ ARTICLE