Why eating less can help the environment

July 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: Spinach used in neutron studies could unearth secret to stronger plant growth

Related Stories

Doctors evaluate 4 popular trends in dieting

April 12, 2018

Thinking of trying that trendy diet your friends raved about on Instagram? Before you're ready to declare the latest celebrity fad the best diet plan, check the science first. While many diets promise quick weight loss, they ...

How to make greener biofuels

March 27, 2018

The climate is under pressure. And despite a number of climate agreements, we still have not bent the curve on fossil fuel emissions, which continue to rise. One of the big sinners is the fuel we use for transport.

Recommended for you

People waste nearly a pound of food daily: study

April 18, 2018

Americans waste nearly a pound of food per person each day, but the exact amount of food we trash differs by how healthy your diet is, a new University of Vermont co-authored national study finds.

Coal mining reduces abundance, richness of aquatic life

April 18, 2018

Coal mining, under current US regulations, has significantly reduced the abundance and variety of fish, invertebrates, salamanders, and other aquatic life in streams, according to a new study from the University of Tennessee, ...

2 comments

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.