by Adelbert Nelissen
I admire your dedication to a greener, cleaner environment. Your crusade against global warming has awakened people around the world to a coming plague that affects us all. Your Nobel Peace Prize was well deserved and will enable your urgent message to command even more attention.
Why then are so many people concerned with the fate of the earth disappointed in you? The simple, inconvenient truth is that you ignore the main cause of environmental destruction and climate change in your speeches, slide shows, and other presentations. You eloquently point out the consequences of global warming, but you neglect to explain its underlying origin and how we can prevent it. The missing link is the modern food pattern. But it is nowhere to be found in your public statements.
The basic facts are well known among environmentalists. As Livestock’s Long Shadow, the landmark report of the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) recently concluded:
· The cattle and other livestock industries are the single biggest contributor to global warming, “responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions measured by CO2 equivalent. This is a higher share than transport,” or 40% more than all the cars, trucks, buses, trains, and planes combined
· The meat industry is “one of the . . . most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global,” including “problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity”
· Global meat and milk consumption is expected to double by 2050, further accelerating environmental destruction and global warming
There are many more shocking facts such as these. Scientists at the University of Chicago found that changing to a plant-based diet will save more greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere than switching to a low-polluting, energy-efficient Prius hybrid.
The modern agricultural and food system requires enormous amounts of fossil fuels for fertilizers and pesticides, refining and processing, packaging and transport. After the meat and dairy industry (which accounts for 51% of total food-related carbon emissions), the second most energy intensive food sector is sugar refining and the third is the soft drink industry (together adding another 15% to the total). To satisfy modern society’s sweet tooth involves processing enormous amounts of cane sugar, sugar beets, and corn syrup. It also requires the production of millions of tons of artificial sweeteners and the manufacture of billions of bottles and cans. The high-tech processing of other refined foods is responsible for emitting a further 15 to 25% of food-related greenhouse gases. These include white bread, white noodles, white rice, refined oils, salts, and other staples. Seventy-five percent of processed foods in the supermarket contain refined corn or soy ingredients such as corn dextrose and soy lecithin. On average, each item in the supermarket travels 1200 miles from field to table, further adding to energy costs and carbon emissions. According to a recent study by the European Union, modern agriculture and food production together contribute to about one-third of global warming and climate change. This does not include emissions from deforestation and other changes in overseas land use, e.g., the Amazonian basin, to grow imported food for human or livestock consumption. Taking these impacts into account pushes the total percentage of greenhouse gases associated with the modern food pattern to about 50%!
· A quarter century ago, about 1 in every 5 Americans and Europeans developed cancer in their lifetime. Ten years ago, it rose to 1 in 3. Now it has climbed to nearly 1 in 2. Scientists say this rise is directly related to increased consumption of meat, dairy, and other highly processed foods
· The incidence of osteoporosis in women now exceeds that of heart attack, stroke, and breast cancer combined. Ten years ago, about 1 in 6 women developed this weakening bone disorder. Today, nearly 1 in 2 women and 1 in 3 men will fracture their spine, wrist, or hip. Medical research has linked this increase with rising consumption of meat, chicken, milk, and other foods high in animal protein that produce strong acids that block the absorption of minerals and lead to the decalcification of the bones, joints, and nerves
Diet-related chronic disorders in children and young adults are rising even more steeply than among middle-aged and older adults:
· Since 1980, the incidence of diabetes has tripled in the United States. It is continuing to grow at 5% a year. 1 in 3 children born after 2000 will come down with this debilitating disease during their lifetime and face blindness, amputation, and early death. Researchers say too much sugar, refined flour, potatoes, soft drinks, and other starchy or highly processed foods are the main cause
· In 1975, 1 in 5 Dutch kids had allergies requiring medical attention. In 1985, the rate rose to 1 in 4; in 1995 1 in 3; and in 2005 1 in 2. Over the last century, dairy consumption increased over 1000%, from 3% of total food intake in 1900 to over 50% in 1990. Sugar consumption soared 5000% over the same period
· In 1975 Japanese schoolchildren had the highest IQs of all industrialized countries and the lowest LDL (bad) cholesterol. In 1995 after a total shift from nearly traditional Japanese food to Western food, Japanese kids had the lowest IQs and the highest cholesterol. China and India will soon follow
It is scandalous that schools, restaurants, and entertainment and sporting events around the world continue to serve foods to kids that are destroying and damaging their health!
Degenerative disease is no longer confined to modern affluent societies. It has spread globally with rising living standards and the popularity of fried chicken, pizza, ice cream, croissants, and cappuccino. The World Health Organization recently warned that heart disease has replaced infectious disease as the #1 health problem in developing countries:
· In China, milk and other dairy food consumption has quadrupled in the last decade, sending rates of respiratory diseases, breast cancer, and allergies soaring. Traditionally, cow’s milk products were not eaten in the Far East, and as recently as the 1980s, milk and cheese were rarely consumed. In a few years, China will be the world’s largest consumer of dairy food. It is also now officially the world’s fattest country, with more overweight and obese people than the United States. Every year, 5000 new McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and other fast food franchises open in China to reach a market of 1.3 billion consumers
· In India, cardiovascular disease has more than doubled since 2000. Diabetes has quadrupled in the last 20 years, and rates for oral and esophageal cancer are now among the highest in the world. “In recent decades consumption of food grains has also shifted from coarse grains (e.g., barley, rye, maize, millet, and sorghum) to refined rice and wheat,” one medical journal observed in connection with rising incidence
As these trends show, the consumption of traditional foods, including whole grains, fresh vegetables, and fruit has fallen in modern and native societies. Organic agriculture is starting to go mainstream, popularizing whole, fresh foods and reducing the use of petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides. But an organic junk food market is now emerging, supplying organic beef, organic dairy, organic chicken, organic sugar products, and other highly refined or processed foods that are contributing to the global health and environmental crises. There is simply not enough farmland to support an organic facsimile of the modern food pattern. But if enough people change to cereals, beans, and fresh vegetables and fruits as their principal food there will be more than enough land and other natural resources to feed the entire world and preserve precious air, water, and soil.
The outrageous modern food pattern (whether conventional or organic) is the chief user of energy today and the leading cause of sickness and climate change. Yet you do not mention this in your talks. In your slide show, you do not include charts of soaring meat, sugar, and milk consumption, skyrocketing disease rates, and the catastrophic effects of modern farming and food processing on the climate and environment. Why not?
Until these central interrelated trends are addressed, efforts to slow global warming and the pace of climate change will remain token at best. It is imperative to reverse these trends and encourage society to adopt the Ideal Food Pattern for Humanity, a healthy, dynamic, satisfying way of farming and eating based on a synthesis of traditional food practices from East and West, modern nutritional and analytic research, and ever changing climatic and environmental factors. Centered on whole grains, beans, fresh vegetables and fruits, and other largely plant-quality foods, the Ideal Food Pattern provides a full range of nutrients to maintain optimal health and vitality and can be modified and adjusted by every individual, family, culture, or society for their own unique tastes and needs. Animal food is optional or minimal and as much as possible food is organically grown, locally produced, or naturally processed.
There is a growing consensus among physicians, nutritionists, and other scientists that a varied plant-based diet will lead to enormous improvements in public health. Over the last 25 years, the U.S. Food Guide Pyramid, the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, and the Asian Diet Pyramid—focusing on whole grains as the center of the meal—have moved in the direction of the Ideal Food Pattern. The incidence of coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, and other disorders that currently kill 6 in 10 people will sharply decline as these guidelines are implemented.
What will the effects of the Ideal Food Pattern be on the environment? It takes from ten to twenty times as much energy on average to produce a meal based on animal food, sugar, and other highly processed items than one centered around whole grains and fresh vegetables and fruits. Beside production and processing costs, changing to a healthy, plant-based diet would save energy in many other ways. For example, the modern food system makes extensive use of refrigeration for preserving, transporting, and storing meat, eggs, and dairy food, as well as soft drinks, chilled beverages, bagged salads, and pre-cut fruit and other convenience items. The Ideal Food Pattern not only avoids virtually all refrigeration on the production side but also on the consumption end. From my own experience in the last forty years with a family of five children, preparing a plant-based meal needs very little if any refrigeration. In a four-season climate, grains, beans, round and root vegetables, and most staples will keep without cooling. For those who can’t shop for fresh produce every several days, a mini-fridge would be sufficient and could replace the giant refrigerators and freezers in most households today. On a world scale, refrigeration is forecast to contribute up to 3.5% of greenhouse emissions by the end of the century.
The same goes for air-conditioning and central heating. When we eat a diet based on meat, dairy, sugar, and other highly processed foods, our bodies become blocked and are unable to adapt well to the changing seasons and weather. Our circulatory system, respiratory system, and skin became clogged with fat, mucus, and toxins, and we can no longer warm up or cool down normally. At a personal level, the build up of carbon dioxide in our blood, from animal protein especially, creates an internal greenhouse effect. In summer, we require artificial cooling to bring our overheated body temperature down. In winter, we are colder than usual as our body heat moves inward, and we need to keep the thermostat up to warm our extremities and offset our poor circulation. As my family and many thousands of other families have discovered, eating a plant-based diet enables most people to enjoy wider fluctuations in temperature as their bodies adjust flexibly to seasonal change. On a global scale, even a small 2-5 degree improvement in tolerating seasonal heat or cold would enable us to reduce energy and meet the goals of the Kyoto Protocol in carbon reductions.
The healthcare impacts of the Ideal Food Pattern are even more impressive. On a societal scale, obesity, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and other chronic diseases would drop sharply. Declining at a modest rate of 2-3% a year, for example, these scourges would steadily fall by 50 to 75% by mid-century through concerted public education campaigns in supermarkets, schools, and hospitals. The same goes for common conditions, ranging from allergies to sleeping problems, from menstrual problems to anxiety and stress. Improved public health would result in enormous savings of time, money, and carbon. In the U.S., the healthcare sector currently accounts for 16% of the total economy. Substantial declines in medicalization would further reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as reduce medical pollution, including radioactive medical waste.
As society becomes healthier, it will also become safer and more peaceful. Behavioral problems, including hyperactivity, violence, crime, and drug and alcohol abuse will also start to fall. In one experiment in a juvenile detention center, sugar was removed from cafeteria meals and vending machines and replaced with a natural sweetener. Over several months, aggressive behavior, including incidents of violence, decreased by 45%! There are many such studies published in the scientific literature. The recidivism rate for offenders who eat a plant-based diet is up to 89% lower than usual. The modern food pattern, based on meat, dairy, sugar, and other highly processed foods and often supplemented with legal and illegal drugs, alcohol, and other stimulants, leads to illusory thinking, crazy behavior, and a fearful, aggressive, or warlike mind. A modern war is inconceivable without the regular use of meat, sugar, alcohol, and drugs by the combatants—governmental forces and rebels or terrorists alike. Crime, the international drug trade, and war are among the largest contributors to global warming, climate change, and other forms of environmental destruction.
On a global scale, there would be incomparable benefits as fear, mistrust, and competition gave way to openness, cooperation, and friendship. Less dependence on petroleum and other fossil fuels would ease tensions in the Middle East, Central Asia, South and Central America, and Africa. Armies and military spending could be substantially reduced, and the resources saved could be put into more productive educational, social, and cultural pursuits. Congressman Dennis Kucinich has proposed the establishment of a Department of Peace as a counterbalance to the Pentagon. Under his proposal, not only would the president and Congress be required to mediate any conflict diplomatically before resorting to force, but also peace education would begin in the schools with children growing healthy, peaceful foods in organic school gardens. As a longtime macrobiotic practitioner, Dennis knows first-hand the benefits of the Ideal Food Pattern. I encourage you to work closely with him and incorporate the Department of Peace into your presentations. It offers an important new dimension to saving energy, reducing greenhouse gases, and preserving the planet.
Around the world today, there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people already observing the Ideal Food Pattern. They are enjoying optimal health and vitality and in many cases leading exemplary, utopian lives. Their carbon footprint is a fraction of those observing the modern food pattern. The entire planet could be like this, not in the next millennium or the next century, but in our lifetime!
Water and air pollution would also dramatically fall. The rain forests would be preserved as vast cattle, sugar, and soy plantations gave way to small family and community farms and gardens and large-scale reforestation efforts. Soil fertility would be restored, and the world’s biodiversity, rapidly becoming extinct from the encroachment of pastureland, chemical pollution, and climate change, would revive. At the present time, 65% of the world’s cereal harvest goes to provide livestock feed for meat, poultry, and dairy production. More cereal grains and other staples would be available to ease and eventually eliminate world poverty and hunger. The health and environmental benefits of the Ideal Food Pattern are almost limitless. Altogether, CO2 and other greenhouse gases would fall by 75% or more if such changes were adopted on a global scale (see chart).
HOW THE IDEAL FOOD PATTERN IMPACTS GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS
Impact Reductions (CO2 equivalent)
Reduced meat, chicken, eggs, dairy, and other livestock
Reduced sugar, soft drinks, and other processed foods 10%
Reduced chemical farming and long-distant transportation of food
and increased organic farming and local food consumption 5-10%
Reduced refrigeration, air-conditioning, and home heating 3-5%
Reduced deforestation and destruction of native environments
to grow corn and soy for beef production and sugar and palm
oil for biofuels 5-10%
Reduced chronic diseases will result in less hospitalization,
sick time, disability, nursing homes, transport, medical and
pharmaceutical pollution, energy use, etc. 10-15%
Reduced crime, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence,
divorce, war and defense spending, and other social ills 10-15%
Reduced poverty and hunger, including less regional conflicts
and strife, less emergency relief, less international aid, and
less environmental pollution 3-5%
Total reduction in emissions 60-90%
Sources: Based on data from FAO, WHO, Food Climate Research Network, etc.
Fortunately, President Obama has gotten the message. During the election campaign, he addressed the underlying cause of global warming. “Our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil,” he told food critic Michael Pollen in response to an open letter in the New York Times magazine. “As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector,” he added, clearly referring to the UN report Livestock’s Long Shadow.
In his personal life, Obama has made significant changes, selecting grains as much as possible, eating little animal food, and telling interviewers his favorite food is vegetables. He is clearly moving toward the Ideal Food Pattern. But given the financial crisis and other challenges, it is unclear whether he will give it the priority it deserves. You are still the world’s chief authority on global warming. But as we can see in your film and public appearances, your own health is not so good. You are considerably overweight and puffy and appear to be at risk for some of the chronic diseases associated with the unsustainable modern food pattern. For the sake of the planet and your own health, please improve your own way of eating and speak from your own personal experience about these explosive dietary and health trends. Let the world know the real reason it is on fire. Show them by your own example how healthy changes in their own lives can help put it out. Demonstrate how together we can create a truly cool planet!
For further information on the Ideal Food Pattern for Humanity, please visit our new web site Makropedia.com.
In health and peace,