March 12, 2011

The #1 Cause of Climate Change? You Might Be Surprised.

Josh Viertel of Slow Food USA:

How Our Relationship to Food Can Save the Planet.

The #1 Cause of Climate Change + the Healthcare Crisis? Food.

Recently, I was very lucky to hear a talk [similar to the one above] given by the intelligent and engaging Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA. I was taken by his description of our deeply flawed food systems and their consequences–which have significant impact on the environment, the economy, and our health.

Accordingly, Josh makes one key point:

If we care about saving ourselves and the planet, food should be the focus of our attention.

Here’s why…

First Off, Food and Climate Change.

“You can’t deal with climate change until you deal with the food we eat and where it comes from.” ~Josh Viertel

Did you know that food and farming are the #1 cause of greenhouse gas emissions? When you go to a supermarket or a typical restaurant, each 1 calorie of food relies on 10 calories of fossil fuel to produce it. And behind 1 calorie of beef? A whopping 55 calories of fossil fuel. (Another great reason to become vegetarian.)

Unnecessarily, the typical food we eat relies on a large amount of transportation. As Josh points out, if you go to a restaurant in the UK and order a crumpet with butter, the butter is likely to be imported. You might think: well, the Brits eat a lot of butter; they probably can’t produce enough to sustain themselves on their little island. Well guess what? While the UK imports 49,000 tons of butter each year, they also export 47,000 tons of butter–nearly the same amount.

As another example, Josh reports that Denmark exports a large quantity of sugar cookies each year. This might make sense to some–the Danes are known for their sugar cookies.  However, the US exports nearly the same quantity of sugar cookies to Denmark. Make sense? As economist Herman Daley pointed out, “Wouldn’t it be more efficient to swap recipes?”

These kinds of examples are prevalent across the map.

Food and the Healthcare Crisis.

“Healthcare cannot be dealt with without addressing the food we eat and the way that it’s produced.” ~Josh Viertel

Some statistics:

-Each year, the US spends 147 billion dollars on preventable diet-related disease.  Over the next ten years, we stand to spend 1.5 trillion dollars treating diet-related disease.

1 in 3 children under the age of nine are projected to get diabetes in their lifetime because of the food we feed them—completely preventable.

1 in 2 children in black and Latino communities are projected to get diabetes in their lifetime.

-Right now 8% of our population has diabetes. Once that percentage shoots up to 33% (as projected), the 147 billion dollars a year in healthcare that we now spend will quadruple–turning into 588 billion dollars each year for preventable, diet-related disease. That’s over a trillion dollars every two years (a completely unsustainable multiplier).

Global Hunger.

“Global hunger is not an issue of producing more food; it’s an issue of distributing food.” ~Josh Viertel

We have plenty of food in the United States. In fact, we have a surplus of food. We do not need to produce more food in order to accommodate an increasing population; we need to fix the way we produce and distribute it. As Josh says, “When you’re poor, there’s a very fine line between being hungry and being obese.” [Read more about the economics of obesity here.]

If only we could redirect the massive amounts of money we’re projected to spend on diet-related diseases and invest it in restructuring our food systems, ensuring that everyone, rich or poor, has access to healthy food.

Why is it never so simple?

What we can do…

“It’s not enough to just vote with your fork…. We need big structural changes.” ~Josh Viertel

According to Josh, we should definitely vote with our forks–eat food that we believe in–organic, local food that has a story behind it we can be proud of. But that’s not enough.

It is true that there is much support from both our citizens and President Obama for reorganizing our food and agricultural systems. However, Obama has made it very clear: in order for anything to happen, we have to show the administration a social movement.

This greatly deepens our jobs as citizens: change rests on our abilities to organize and create a substantial movement.

So here’s what we need to do:

1) Vote with our forks.

2) Vote at the polls.

3) Advocate constantly.

The last point–advocating constantly–is key. It is the only way we can make a considerable difference through global change and federal policy.

To find out more about how to get involved, check out: Slow Food USA.


Read 3 Comments and Reply

Read 3 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Elephant Journal  |  Contribution: 1,510,185