Can You Make a Difference on Earth Day?


Hint: Yes.


Across Europe, Asia, and Africa, bread and noodles are staples that feed the world. More than half of US grain is fed to animals, rather than being consumed by humans. “If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million,” says David Pimentel, professor of ecology in Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Exported, these grains would boost the U.S. trade balance by $80 billion a year.

An environmental analyst and longtime critic of waste and inefficiency in agricultural practices, Pimentel depicted grain-fed livestock farming as a costly and non-sustainable way to produce animal protein. He distinguished grain-fed meat production from pasture-raised livestock, calling cattle-grazing a more reasonable use of marginal land.

Animal protein production requires more than eight times as much fossil-fuel energy than production of plant protein while yielding protein that is only 1.4 times more concentrated for humans than the comparable amount of plant protein, according to the Cornell ecologist’s analysis. This concentration of protein has been linked to inflammation, and comes with the unfortunate side serving of saturated fat, cholesterol, and no fiber at all.

Different animal proteins require less diesel to produce.


Photo by Martin Muller

Meat Product Calories of Energy Input per 1 Calorie of Protein Output:

Chicken 4

Beef 54

Lamb 50

Turkey 13

Milk 14

Pork 17

Eggs 26

Animal agriculture is a leading consumer of water resources in the United States, as we have seen illustrated so shockingly in California recently. Grain-fed beef production takes 100,000 liters of water for every kilogram of food. Raising broiler chickens takes 3,500 liters of water to make a kilogram of meat. In comparison, soybean production uses 2,000 liters for kilogram of food produced; rice, 1,912; wheat, 900; and potatoes, 500 liters.

water in a glass

Being an ethical eater requires that we think about all the consequences of the choices we make. Our choices impact not just us as individuals and our immediate families, but also the environment and other human and nonhuman members of our planet. Eating simple foods gives everyone their best chance at optimum health and survival.

Dr. Mary is an internal medicine MD and the co-founder of Get Waisted. She likes to eat ethically while she is shoveling herself out in Northern Minnesota.

Posted on by Mary Clifton, MD


Leave a Reply