What You Eat

by
Dr. John Vann, Department of Marketing
Green Initiatives Coordinator
February 2003

What you eat, how you prepare it, and how you dispose of the waste all affect sustainability.  There are several principles to use in making more sustainable choices in what to eat.  The first is to eat lower on the food chain.  Vegetarian diets allow us to feed ourselves directly from the land, whereas according to The Earth Policy Reader feedlot cattle require seven pounds of grain for one pound of weight gain (a 7:1 conversion ratio). Other animals that can provide protein require less walking-around energy than cattle.  For pork, the grain to meat conversion ratio is 4:1; for poultry a little over 2:1; and for herbivorous, farmed fish (such as catfish and tilapia) less than 2:1.  Carnivorous farmed fish, such as salmon, require 4 pounds of fish per pound of salmon (of course the salmons' food also had an energy budget for growth and development).  Meat-free days or the substitution of more efficiently produced meats are easy ways to eat more sustainably.

A second principle is to eat food that is produced as near to us as possible.  This reduces the energy required for delivery.  This may require foregoing grapes from Chile in the winter because of the high embodied energy resulting from the large distance and jet transportation.

A third principle is to eat more organically-grown foods.  Organic production results in less chemical pollution of the soil, water, and air, as well as less toxic residue on our foods.  In addition, organic production is more in tune with the natural cycling of nutrients in nature.

Some other guidelines include buying in bulk to reduce packaging, cooking with a microwave or toaster oven instead of a full-size oven, covering pans on the stove-top to reduce heat loss, covering storage containers in the refrigerator to reduce evaporation and associated defrosting cycles, and, of course, composting wastes whenever possible.