Why eating less can help the environment

Jul 23, 2008

An estimated 19 percent of total energy used in the USA is taken up in the production and supply of food. Currently, this mostly comes from non-renewable energy sources which are in short supply. It is therefore of paramount importance that ways of reducing this significant fuel consumption in the US food system are found. In a paper just published in the Springer journal Human Ecology, David Pimentel and his colleagues at Cornell University in New York set out a number of strategies which could potentially cut fossil energy fuel use in the food system by as much as 50 percent.

The first, and very astute suggestion they put forward is that individuals eat less, especially considering that the average American consumes an estimated 3,747 calories a day, a staggering 1200-1500 calories over recommendations.

Traditional American diets are high in animal products, and junk and processed foods in particular, which by their nature use more energy than that used to produce staple foods such as potatoes, rice, fruits and vegetables. By just reducing junk food intake and converting to diets lower in meat, the average American could have a massive impact on fuel consumption as well as improving his or her health.

Further savings are possible in the food production industry. The authors suggest that moving towards more traditional, organic farming methods would help because conventional meat and dairy production is extremely energy intensive. Similarly, in crop production, reduced pesticide use, increased use of manure, cover crops and crop rotations improve energy efficiency.

Finally, changes to methods of food processing, packaging and distribution could also help to reduce fuel consumption. Although well-established energy-saving considerations in lighting, heating and packaging materials all have their part to play, the authors again highlight individual responsibility as having the biggest impact. They contend that the most dramatic reduction in energy used for food processing would come about if consumers reduced their demand for highly processed foods. This would also help cut down food miles and its related fuel cost as US food travels an average of 2,400 km before it is consumed.

This study argues strongly that the consumer is in the strongest position to contribute to a reduction in energy use. As individuals embrace a 'greener' lifestyle, an awareness of the influence their food choices have on energy resources might be added encouragement for them to buy good, local produce and avoid highly processed, heavily packaged and nutritionally inferior food. As well as leading to a cleaner environment, this would also lead to better health.

Pimentel D, Williamson S, Alexander C E, Gonzelez-Pagan O, Kontak C and Mulkey SE (2008). Reducing energy inputs in the US food system. Human Ecology: DOI 10.1007/s10745-008-9184-3.

Source: Springer

Explore further: Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Climate change projected to drive species northward

Dec 10, 2014

Anticipated changes in climate will push West Coast marine species from sharks to salmon northward an average of 30 kilometers per decade, shaking up fish communities and shifting fishing grounds, according ...

Discovery links shift in metabolism to stem cell renewal

Dec 10, 2014

Stem cells in early embryos have unlimited potential; they can become any type of cell, and researchers hope to one day harness this rejuvenating power to heal disease and injury. To do so, they must, among ...

Exxon sees abundant oil, gas far into future

Dec 09, 2014

North America, once a sponge that sucked in a significant portion of the world's oil, will instead be supplying the world with oil and other liquid hydrocarbons by the end of this decade, according to ExxonMobil's ...

Land use looms as large factor in global warming

Dec 04, 2014

For the world's deteriorating environment, don't blame burning fossil fuels exclusively. Land use and land cover changes contribute about 40 percent to "radiative forcing," a key underlying factor in global warming, according ...

Recommended for you

Rising anger as Nicaragua canal to break ground

4 hours ago

As a conscripted soldier during the Contra War of the 1980s, Esteban Ruiz used to flee from battles because he didn't want to have to kill anyone. But now, as the 47-year-old farmer prepares to fight for ...

Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

Dec 20, 2014

One of the most prolific oil and gas basins on the planet sits just off Cuba's northwest coast, and the thaw in relations with the United States is giving rise to hopes that Cuba can now get in on the action.

New challenges for ocean acidification research

Dec 19, 2014

Over the past decade, ocean acidification has received growing recognition not only in the scientific area. Decision-makers, stakeholders, and the general public are becoming increasingly aware of "the other carbon dioxide ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

holoman
1 / 5 (3) Jul 23, 2008
Mr. Gore and Mr. Pickens proposed technolgy will do even further harm to environment and will effect all agriculture food production.

Here is one that will help the US get off oil and protect our planet.

http://www.p2pnet...t-619780



GrayMouser
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 23, 2008
Tell people how to live... Other people have tried.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.