Friday, April 2, 2021

Eating for the Climate is Easy

Vegetarian dinnerFantastic Foods & Simple Solutions, in 3 Parts  

The climate crisis, by its very nature, is tough to wrap your head around. We can feel some of its immediate effects, but most of the most severe changes happen on a scale that is beyond the ability of one person to see. Many of the actions we can take as a society to mitigate those effects have proven challenging to do. More and more of us agree that collective, systemic action is needed to combat climate change. In addition to systemic action, it is important that individuals still do our part. It can be really tough to figure out what to do!

When faced with the enormity of the climate crisis, we often find ourselves asking: what can we do to help?

I’d like to present a very simple answer to that question.

We can eat! (I’m sure you were planning to eat anyway.)

Or to be more specific, we can eat in such a way that reduces the climate crisis. Yes, an action this easy really can help save the world. There is a growing body of research that shows that changing the human diet to become as plant-based and as locally resourced as possible will help alleviate the climate crisis to an incredible degree. There are so many good citations on why climate-conscious diets are important that I have created a handy bibliography at the bottom of this article. Skip ahead and check it out, so that you can see the facts for yourself.

While climate-friendly eating habits certainly won’t single-handedly solve the climate crisis, such habits are a great place to start for taking individual action. It may be surprising to hear that most people have very few opportunities to take certain actions that have the biggest impact. You may not have a chance to choose the most fuel-efficient vehicle, weatherize your house, or spring for an expensive upgrade like solar panels or an electric car. If your work depends on frequent transportation, you may not be able to choose public transportation or choose to drive or fly less. On average, people in the highly-developed Western world emit far more carbon per capita simply by living.

Having an individual impact, even when you want to, can be tougher for the average person than many well-meaning environmentalists realize. That’s why a climate-friendly diet can be so impactful. It delivers easy, measurable results in carbon reduction. You can start at any comfort level, and once you get the hang of it, a climate-diet is very enjoyable! Plus it’s highly sustainable and as a result, has a huge, cumulative impact.

I write about this topic as an Italian-American raised on cold cuts, pizza, sausage and meatballs. I went from paying no attention to the climate-impact of my diet, to managing about 95% vegetarianism for 5-6 years now, with a recent emphasis on cooking at least 2-3 vegan meals a week. My journey did not happen overnight, and I did not embark on it for social media brownie points or the ‘gram. Although I certainly don’t miss meat in my everyday diet, I don’t turn down meat cooked by family or the very occasional Five Guys burger. There are some animal products that I personally have a hard time cutting out. (We’ll get to a discussion of the challenges of plant-based diets, and why they’re not as bad as some people think.)

I adopted this lifestyle change not as a trend or because I hate animal products, but because it’s extremely effective at giving back to the planet and future generations. It’s the most climate-saving bang for your buck, and it’s a pleasure to eat delicious foods in order to save the world.

But I don’t want you to take my word for it. I’ve set out to convince you in a triple-series set of articles that will provide experience, opinion and objective research that shows why a climate-friendly diet is healthy, easy and most importantly, super fun to adopt. This first entry (or entrée) will focus specifically on plant-based diets and their advantages. Part 2 will focus on a less popular but equally important part of a climate-friendly diet, eating locally and growing your own food. The Adirondacks are uniquely able to have an outsized impact on this second topic. Therefore, we’ll focus on local groups who are making a big difference.

Finally, Part 3 will zoom back out to the bigger picture. We’ll look more closely at climate-oriented eating as a part of the environmental movement as a whole. Some of the research noted in the bibliography below will be reviewed explicitly, to help us understand why many of the habits that are optional for this generation will probably be required for future ones. There isn’t a wide understanding yet that due to the shrinking availability of key natural resources, and the huge changes that climate change has already brought to the planet, humanity is only at the very tip of an enormous iceberg of changes that will be needed. It is still unknown if our current methods of organizing society can sustain the human race beyond another few hundred years (if that). Tough choices are ahead for future generations. It’s the responsibility of those alive now to make those choices easier for our children and grandchildren.

Therefore, let’s get into Part 1: a plant-based diet, and why it’s easier than you think to adopt one.

tofuThe Basics

Plant-based diets are exactly what they sound like: a diet that focuses only on eating products from plants. As you may already know, there are lots of options to choose from when adopting a plant-based diet. Diets that count as plant-based range from the relaxed flexitarian or reducitarian diets, to vegetarianism that cuts out all meat, to veganism that cuts out consumption of all animal products, including outside the realm of eating (such as not wearing leather gloves or shoes, i.e., not using any products made from animals). You do not have to strictly adhere to one particular diet in order to adopt it. This notion may go without saying, but I am continually surprised at how many people I meet that believe that changing their eating habits requires something as formal as adopting a set of rules or a plan for what they eat.

As noted above, I call myself a vegetarian, but every few months there is an occasion where I end up eating a serving of meat. Too many people get caught up in a set of rules, and then feel guilty when they break them. I can assure you that lightning does not strike me down on the rare occasion I exit my car while headed to Five Guys. In other words, I have an intent and a clear set of guidelines, but do not have super strict rules. This works for me, especially when the goal is to have a long-term impact. Other people find adhering to a strict set of rules rewarding, and if that’s you, more power to you. There are a wide variety of ways to approach a focus on eating plant products, and as long as you are making regular, conscious choices to eat plants, you’ve adopted a plant-based diet.

Where to start?

In the West, it’s often the case that people who approach plant-based diets do not have a history of eating in this way. This has been the situation for almost all of my vegetarian or vegan friends. Therefore, it’s extremely common for someone who is motivated to make a change to ask, where to start?

plant based mealThe answer should always be: start wherever and however strictly you want to start. In my opinion, a lot of popular media related to vegetarian or vegan diets does a poor job at being welcoming to people who are hesitant or confused regarding the benefits of going plant-based. In order to make a real impact on the climate, there needs to be more emphasis that every single meal consciously chosen to be plant-based is valuable and important. Insisting that these changes be part of a fad, or a politicized social obligation, or even as a tool for garnering attention excludes so many people that would otherwise have an excellent experience if they tried out eating more plants. There are benefits for everyone who wants to try an entry point into a plant-based lifestyle.

I sometimes refer to a lot of the trends regarding plant-based diets as “hippie marketing,” because in most contexts there is a demographic being targeted when an article, influencer or other party is persuading people to adopt a trend. In order to make such a trend appealing, it is often the case that it needs beautiful, hip representatives. The trend also needs rules that make adhering to it valuable, i.e., if you stop eating beef and dairy you will save a bunch of adorable cows. While I too find cows to be completely adorable, that marketing is not going to appeal very widely. Too often, the elitism in such an approach seems to be the point.

I advocate for an approach to plant-based diets that is as relaxed and comfortable as we can make it. If after reading this article, I can convince you to trade one night of beef or chicken for a veggie quiche, a risotto or a tofu stir-fry, I believe we’ve already made progress. It’s absolutely the case that you’re not really contributing very much to fight climate change if you only occasionally make plant-based choices. However, there is an undeniable sense of accomplishment in even a single choice consciously made, rather than a “choice” made under some sort of societal pressure. I believe that this is the best way to make adopting plant-based diets fun for people. When you surprise yourself by making a delicious vegetarian meal, after you did not have a previous expectation that such a meal would be so tasty, you will repeat the experience.

vegan christmas dinnerOne of my biggest accomplishments of 2020 was a tiny vegan Christmas dinner for my husband and I while in lockdown due to COVID-19. It had been on my list to try for years, and I finally got an opportunity where I was not cooking for anyone who expected to eat animal products. I was shocked at how well the result turned out, given that I expected “to need” at least some animal products like butter, milk or cream to make the dishes that are traditional for Christmas. Because I made a choice under the conditions that are comfortable for me, I had a good experience. Environmentalists need to be more accommodating to the varying paces that many people will need when adopting climate-related changes.

Unfortunately, we are in a race to stop climate change. However, as long as all of us are traveling in the same direction, it doesn’t matter too much who’s going the fastest at any one time. The more of us who are headed towards the finish line, the sooner that the majority of society will make it there.

Health Questions & Concerns

By far, the biggest common concern I hear in America regarding why people are hesitant to adopt plant-based diets is a fear that they’re unhealthy. Let me be as clear as possible on this point: such concerns are simply unfounded. (They’re also often exploited in a menacing fashion by commercial interests that produce animal products.) Any diet is healthy so long as you get a full-range of necessary nutrition, and you’re consuming the correct number of calories. That fact is universally true – use it next time you have friends arguing over the best diet. I certainly do!

There are numerous resources available online that provide guidance on how to make sure you’re getting complete nutrition with a plant-based diet. I will be the first person to say that doing so can be tricky for a beginner. It is the most common issue I know of that causes people who try more strict diets like vegetarianism or veganism to quit. Some people get especially concerned about protein, but again, this concern is often overblown in the West because of our historically high-meat diets. (There is a lot more debate than you’d think regarding the essentiality of meat-eating to human evolution. There’s also debate over its importance to recent human history, even in the West.) The fact is that plants produce plenty of protein, and when different plant products are consumed in variation, even the strictest vegan can get all of the proteins required for health.

Another common concern is that athletic performance is reduced by plant-based diets. Again, as is the case for any diet under the sun, as long as you’re achieving complete nutrition, there is no athletic disadvantage to a plant-based diet. In fact, it’s quite in vogue lately to highlight elite athletes who adhere to plant-based diets. Check out this article to meet some very well-accomplished vegans I bet you didn’t know you’d heard of before. My favorite plant-based athlete to cite when asked by skeptics is Alex Honnold, perhaps one of the best rock climbers ever to exist. Yes, it’s possible to not only climb thousands of feet, but to do so without any sort of gear or protection, and to win an Oscar while you’re at it, all while eating only plants! If there’s a cooler ad for veganism, I couldn’t write it. (Admittedly, certain corporate interests have taken note.)

Finally, it is often helpful to remind skeptical or hesitant folks that plant-based diets are widespread throughout the world. For example, there are millions and millions of vegetarians, found in all regions and among all socio-economic groups. I occasionally remind people that there are more vegetarians in India than there are people in the United States! Even in the United States, that previous citation estimates that there are between 12-20 million vegetarians. In my opinion, it’s the best time in human history to adopt a plant-based diet, since we cumulatively have so much of the health and wealth that make dietary choices even possible. It is easier than ever to find good plant-based takeout or restaurant food, or to find vegan alternatives to your favorite non-food products, or even to find plant-based food products that closely mimic the taste and texture of meat. We’re in such an advanced era that you can eat plants that are all but indistinguishable from meat – fast-food chicken nuggets and plant-based “chicken” nuggets are my favorite example. Try these two side by side some day. I bet you the comparison will tell you a lot about the quality of fast food.

Conclusions

More than anything else, I hope the information above convinces you that plant-based eating does not need to be a fad or a status symbol. Rather, it is a concrete and reliable weapon in the fight against climate change, and can be adopted to whatever degree works for you today. The more you adopt it, the bigger the impact you have on the planet and the ecosystems we all love. But even one meal consciously chosen is a win for our irreplaceable Earth.

I know that choosing what to eat is a very personal experience for everyone. Further, your diet often has to do with a lot more than just your personal choices. Availability of food, the money to purchase it, the time to cook it – all of these factors contribute to what we’re able to eat. But compared to other times in human history, and especially compared to many other places in the world, the modern human in a fully developed nation has more food choices than ever before. It’s easy and enjoyable to make a difference with plant-based food – I hope you all try it out!

All meals pictured were cooked by the author and are 100% vegan, save for some “cheating” goat cheese. All guidelines, no rules followed!

Bibliography: Climate-Friendly Diets

Benton et al. “Food System Impacts on Biodiversity Loss.” Report from the Chatham House, 02/03/2021.  https://www.chathamhouse.org/2021/02/food-system-impacts-biodiversity-loss

Carrington, Damian. “Plant-based diets crucial to saving global wildlife, says report.” The Guardian, 02/03/2021. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/feb/03/plant-based-diets-crucial-to-saving-global-wildlife-says-report

Carrington, Damian. “Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth.” The Guardian, 05/31/2018. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth

Clark et al. “Global food system emissions could preclude achieving the 1.5° and 2°C climate change targets.” Science, 2020. Vol. 370, Issue 6517, pp. 705-708.

Leiserowitz et al. “Climate Change and the American Diet.” Report for the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 02/13/2020. https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/climate-change-and-the-american-diet/2/

Pike, Lili. “Why we need policies to reduce meat consumption now.” Vox, 11/20/2020. https://www.vox.com/21562639/climate-change-plant-based-diets-science-meat-dairy

Poore, J & Nemecek, T. “Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers.” Science, 2018. Vol. 360, Issue 6392, pp. 987-992.

Schiermeier, Quirin. “Eat less meat: UN climate-change report calls for change to human diet.” Nature, 2019. vol. 572, pp. 291-292.

Woolston, Chris. “Healthy people, healthy planet: the search for a sustainable global diet.” Nature, 2020. vol. 588, pp. S54-S56.

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Vanessa Banti

Vanessa Banti is a millennial librarian who loves the Adirondacks, and hopes to live there someday as a wonderful neighbor. In her professional life, she works with copyright and intellectual property, and in her personal life, she outside under the pines as often as possible.




33 Responses

  1. JB says:

    Great! An Almanack article with a bibliography!

    One thing that confuses people is that terms like “low carbon footprint” are often lumped together with “agricultural water productivity”, “soil erosion protection”, “pesticide-free”, and “organic”. These are all things that we should strive for, but they are often separate, albeit somewhat interrelated, issues that need to be at least considered individually. So, sometimes we can be “climate friendly” without being “water friendly” or “pollution friendly”, and vice versa. Ultimately, the easiest necessity to argue for is “sustainability”, which encompasses all of the above–although each of the above does not necessarily equate to “sustainable”. Food-practices that cannot be scaled up into the future (without being limited by resource degradation) should thus not be scaled up. What, after all, is easier to sell than our own survival?

    The second thing that confuses people is the fad-dieting, the latest popular incarnation being “Paleo”, which, contrary to its name, does not replicate what paleo-biologists believe that earlier humans ate. Then, vegans will argue that we were all vegans if you go back far enough (chimpanzees are not vegans, though). It is such an emotionally charged issue that, at this point, I can’t even guess how far back the ideological distinction between “vegan” and “vegetarian” goes. My understanding is that vegetarianism as a cultural phenomenon mainly originated thousands of years ago on the Indian subcontinent, where it continues today, with vegans being more of a sub-culture there. In America, on the other hand, veganism looks to me like it is currently on its way to overtaking vegetarianism (maybe). Diets evolve, though, as technology evolves that enables us to live healthfully in new ways. Even in India, vegetarianism was almost certainly not a cultural concept before the Vedic invasion. One notorious armchair anthropologist, in support of his thesis against utopian interpretations of nomadic societies, even made the interesting observation that, although all surviving pre-Vedic nomadic tribes of the Indian subcontinent were indeed hunters, they typically would only eat a few rodent-sized mammals per year–so maybe it’s in the water over there!

    Third, the health consequences of diet are so difficult to study, so rife with special interest lobbies and ideological conundrums, that, if we want to nitpick the finer points relating to which diets are “healthier”, there is no consensus–even the official recommendations of the US government, the DRI values, are hotly contested by respectable scientists. Take sodium, for example: “ecological” studies indicate that some hunter-gatherers consumed significantly less dietary sodium on average than the DRI Adequate Intake (DRI AI: 1500 mg/day for adults), but the government insists on this AI, which is probably well above what is needed to sustain normonatremia [life], because of studies that indicate that diets well below this sodium intake threshold increase one’s risk for insulin resistance (and possibly other hormone imbalances). The problem is that some researchers have called those studies into question, citing poor design. (Oh 2016) Similarly, the results of some large-scale intra- and inter-population studies have lead the government to advocate for dietary salt reduction as a means of lowering blood pressure (this theory was largely jump-started by Dr. Lewis Dahl, who conducted “ecological” studies of hunter-gatherers in the 1950s and concluded that salt was so detrimental that he even raised his own children without added dietary salt). (Dahl 1960) Again, the problem is that those inter-population studies linking salt reduction to blood pressure reduction have been fiercely refuted by some respected names, although those who side with the government argue that such critics cannot be trusted, since they are funded by and tied to food-industry lobby groups, such as the Salt Institute–and some indeed are! (Roberts 2006, Taubes 1998) Now take calcium: the official DRI for Recommended Dietary Allowance for calcium (DRI RDA: 1000 mg/day for adults 19-70y) is argued to be much higher than the estimated dietary intake of hunter-gatherers that is indicated by some “ecological” studies, and a meta-analysis of available estimated dietary calcium intake data has indicated that people in most reviewed countries in Asia averaged less than 400 mg/day, and people in most reviewed countries in South America and Africa averaged less than 700 mg/day. (Balk 2017) Are we to believe that cultural bias or special interest groups have effected our government’s dietary recommendations? There is no clear-cut answer. But either way, it is virtually impossible for a vegan to meet DRI sodium Adequate Intake without consuming meat or salt, and it is nearly impossible for a vegan to meet the DRI calcium Recommended Dietary Allowance without consuming dairy or supplementation. I have lived for several years doing none of the above, not conforming to DRI values or an “ecological” diet–I never thought of myself as vegan, but, hey, I was–and I did not die. But to argue incontrovertibly that my choice was healthier than X or Y is probably impossible from my standpoint.

    On the bright side, here is an excerpt from an article by famous cardiovascular pathologist Dr. William C. Roberts that will prove to be a quite damning indictment of the food industry, but, as always, take it with a bit of salt:

    “The Salt Institute, a large snack company, and the US Dairy Council have been heavily involved in suggesting that what really raises blood pressure is not a high salt intake but a low calcium intake and that consuming more calcium (e.g., milk) would solve the blood pressure problem. Giving calcium to patients with high blood pressure, however, has not lowered it, and indeed there is little to no relation between calcium intake and blood pressure in different populations. The Salt Institute then argued that a very high calcium intake lowered blood pressure in individuals who were already on a high salt intake. This has not proven to be the case. Much more troublesome for the milk industry is the recent evidence that a high salt intake is an important aggravating factor in bone demineralization and that reducing salt intake is likely to have a greater beneficial effect on bone density than increasing calcium intake. The food industry’s next rather rash maneuver was to assert that a moderate reduction in salt intake might be dangerous. Close analysis of the study cited in support failed to back up this claim.” (Roberts 2006)

    Balk, E. M., et al. “Global dietary calcium intake among adults: a systematic review.” Osteoporosis International 28.12 (2017): 3315-3324.

    Dahl, Lewis K. “Possible role of salt intake in the development of essential hypertension.” Essential hypertension. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 1960. 53-65.

    Oh, Hyunwoo, et al. “Low salt diet and insulin resistance.” Clinical nutrition research 5.1 (2016): 1.

    Roberts, William C. “Facts and ideas from anywhere.” Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings. Vol. 19. No. 1. Taylor & Francis, 2006.

    Taubes, Gary. “The (political) science of salt.” (1998): 898-907.

  2. Pat Smith says:

    Love the buy local and farm raised aspect of this article. We support local farmers along with raising our own pork and beef. Much better than store bought,or worse yet,plant based loaded with all kinds of chemicals to try to make it taste like meat. This sounds like a story I read recently about Bill Gates and his call for America to go to a plant based diet. I’ll pass but Vanessa you do you. Say hi to Elizabeth for me too.

    • Vanessa Banti Vanessa says:

      Any resemblance here to something that Bill Gates said is purely coincidental. I am not a fan – these are my own ideas based off my own research and experience. Eating local and the advantages thereof will have its own article in this series, part 2.

      • Pat Smith says:

        Look forward to the second installment. In the past year I’ve been amazed at the demand for local products from goats milk gelato to farm bottled milk and beef and pork that is raised in the area. Also a lot of specialty cheeses and several vineyards in the north country.

  3. Burt says:

    So Vanessa , how are you going to feed over 8 billion people on fruits and vegetables ?

    • Cenzo says:

      Most of the people on this planet already live on a diet that is largely seeds, grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. I have lived and worked in rural areas in more than 50 countries and there are definitely intriguing variations on this mix, but the meals I have shared are virtually always some kind of seed, grain,or other item that came out of the ground. Meat is never turned down, but it is a rare luxury, and usually locally sourced (or personally raised), principally because that is all people can afford. It is a relatively small percentage of the world’s population that we are encouraging to return to this diet, and the economy can easily withstand a transition from McDonald’s to millet burgers.

    • Brady says:

      This is actually the very easiest part of the problem. All the calories that feed everyone everywhere come from the sun, via photosynthesis. Eating a diet of plant-based foods cuts out the inefficiencies of higher trophic levels. If you can feed 8 billion people with meat included (that was all directly or indirectly raised on plants), it certainly follows that you can feed 8 billion or many more on plants alone. Cost of complete diet, logistics, markets, and personal choice are all more complex questions the author addresses, but “how do you feed all the people” just isn’t hard at all.

  4. Zephyr says:

    I love veggies and locally produced food, but unfortunately I found that going full vegetarian left me so depressed I just couldn’t do it. I managed to be completely vegetarian for more than a year, but finally gave up when I admitted I was just miserable doing it. I never lost the mouth-watering desire when smelling a grilling steak or burger and going without was just masochistic. Also, I found that I didn’t feel good physically. One issue with buying locally produced stuff is the cost is prohibitive for many people, and purchasing the items adds an environmental cost when you drive long distances to get to farmstands or the places that sell the goods. Farmers markets are now so ritzy they are mostly for the wealthy. I can’t afford to buy most of the stuff there.

    • Vanessa Banti Vanessa says:

      That’s interesting re the cost of a farmers market – thank you for the comment. I am researching for the next installment and will keep this in mind – I have found affordability as a big barrier to multiple types of eating choices.

      • JB says:

        In theory as things scale up to meet demand, price will come down. Conversely, as artisanal products become more desirable (e.g., farmers markets during the past 10 years), prices will continue to go up. It’s hard to counter-act the market forces that have cast their shadow on small-scale agriculture in industrialized nations. COVID-19 has driven food prices up even more, and the speculators have taken to agriculture especially this year, driving up grain and farmland prices. Maybe that is why Bill Gates is now the biggest farmland owner in the United States: https://agfundernews.com/bill-gates-tells-reddit-why-hes-acquired-so-much-farmland.html

        And, surprising discovery, JT: the idea that a plant-based burger is more expensive right now than a normal fast-food burger is counter-intuitive, especially considering how much more land-efficient crop production is than animal production. Also, that includes wild animal herds. Look at what happened to the George River caribou herd: ~900,000 -> ~14,000 in 30 years! Now the absence of caribou is even starting to trickle down to QC plant communities. Some blame the herd collapse on natural fluctuations, climate, habitat interference (i.e., “Virgin Soil Thesis”), however, the proliferation of high-accuracy firearms and white tourist hunters certainly must have played a role. Not exactly a bulletproof comparison (St. Lawrence deer herds are doing quite well), but, point is, resources are not infinite. Vanessa has a good basis for making her argument in this article.

        • Vanessa Banti Vanessa says:

          The economics of modern agriculture is a whole other (fascinating) kettle of fish. I wish I had time to do that topic justice in writing. You should write something if you would like to, JB. :).

          Also something weird I’ve found about veggie burgers is nowadays there is a very wide variety of food that qualifies. An Impossible or Beyond burger is trying as hard as it can to mimic beef, whereas you can also just stuff some legumes into a patty and it is quite tasty. After trying a wide variety, I personally find the legume-heavy options tastier and more natural. But I think the meat-mimicking ones are considered cooler and so cost the extra $$.

          • JT says:

            I read the article posted by Stan. Thanks!
            Perhaps, the high price is due to the research and development that has gone into the efforts of making plants taste like animals. Does not sound like an easy task.
            Vanessa, I agree, legumes in a patty is good but I think most Americans may disagree, and prefer the beef. I think one thing going on is people are conditioned to the taste of certain types of food. Example, give an Englishman a Bud Light and they don’t like it. Give an American a heavy brown Ale, and they don’t like it. Some people do not like venison, I think because the expectation is for it to taste like beef.
            JB, Was not aware of the caribou problem, looked at a couple of articles. Almost seems like an over hunting issue, both Inuit and white hunters. Yes, the Whitetail population here in NYS is doing well, I think too well. Since there are no natural predators to keep the population in check, and the average age of hunters is increasing because younger people are not getting into it, the DEC is concerned over how to control the population in the future. Not as much of a problem in the Adirondacks as it is down state. Actually, license sales increased during the pandemic, and I know there is a bill down in Albany to lower the age limit from 14 to 12 in an effort to recruit and retain new hunters.
            I definitely think deer hunting is a great way to obtain protein while actually helping the environment because of the over browsing problem caused by deer.

            • JB says:

              JT, glad someone checked out the Quebec situation. Beautiful place, but I agree with you about the culprit in the herd decline. Innu have treaty rights, but the younger generation are all too friendly now with wemistikoshiw (white men), sharing their harvests and running tourist operations. I think it is a good cautionary tale for us–the provincial government had to ban all non-treaty caribou hunts!

              Yes, in agricultural areas outside of the Adirondack Park, deer populations are high enough that we see browse lines and human conflicts, which indicate that those places are probably near or above carrying capacity. Targeted regulations to increase takes in those areas are ecologically sound! But for areas in the central Adirondacks, it is a much different story, as you mentioned. Deer populations are very sparse, and some would argue that hunting pressures for the past few years were about as high as they can get without overtaking reproduction rates–much higher than several decades ago. Then Covid came, and the number of people who made their way into the Adirondacks to hunt probably went up well beyond the 10-15% statewide spike in license sales. It is the perception of most locals that the deer herd took a real hit this year–we saw truckloads full of people fill their tags. But I guess we will have to wait and see when DEC releases the numbers. They released bear harvests a few weeks ago, and Northern Zone bear harvests were up ~50% over 2019 and ~25% over the 5 year average! Last year was a bad mast year, so the argument is that this inflated the harvest number by increasing bear mobility. But considering how difficult it is to bag a bear in the Northern Zone, imagine how many hunters were trying! If interest in hunting keeps going up in this particular region and last year was not a blip, we will have a problem. Hell, we already are in for a rough year this year.

              Interestingly, outside of the Park where herd sizes are much higher, hunting pressures (at least with bear) did not greatly increase last year. And that is where it is really environmentally desirable to increase takes–and people are more likely to actually come home with something to eat! But alas, hunting for many is a sport rather than subsistence, a sport that people will pay thousands of dollars each year to play without a guaranteed caloric return.

          • JB says:

            Vanessa, yes, I do get carried away with the comments sometimes! But that is all part of the fun!

            Melissa had given me a link to email the results of my investigations into Park population increase/decrease in the 2020 census. I have not gotten any updates on when the localized data will be released–but I think they missed their deadline of March 31 (I will check). Anyway, I will probably do my data-processing magic once we do get those numbers, and maybe that will be my contribution!

            Ah…good point pertaining to the price of the “Impossible”-type burgers. I have not tried them, but family members have told me that they really do taste like meat. The Plain-Jane seed-based burgers I can say are quite good. Many are basically like an Americanized version of the falafel, which through no accident has become an iconic dish worldwide in its own right–it is very tasty! Still though, some of those vegan burgers are still way more expensive than they should be considering what they are made from.

            • Vanessa Banti Vanessa says:

              Yeah there’s too much hype for the “meat-like” veggie burgers imo. I mentioned Alex Honnold sponsoring one of them in this article because I was kind of miffed by this action from an otherwise stellar athlete and all around awesome human. On the other hand, he also runs a cool non-profit for solar power, so it comes out in the wash.

              I think it’s good that the Almanack has a robust comments section, where generally speaking lots of “real” people comment. That’s why I was inspired to write here. I’m serious about others joining when they’re so inclined.

  5. JT says:

    Generally agree with the article, coming from a person who absolutely loves a good burger or steak. Also have a liking for dairy products. I have cut down considerably on these types of food over the years both for health and environmental reasons, Thinking about the Amazon rain forest being cut down to raise cattle. I rarely eat fast food but we stopped at Burger King yesterday. I noticed on the menu that the Impossible Whopper is more expensive than a regular Whopper. How is it that a vegetable based product costs more than a meat based product. Considering the energy and water required to produce beef is much greater than that to produce plants. I believe they could drop the price considerably and still make a profit, and this would get more people off of beef. Morningstar sausages is another example.
    My preferred source of protein is venison. Not 100% all natural, I notice the deer up here in the St. Lawrence valley eat a lot of corn, probably genetically modified. At-least I know they are free of antibiotics.

  6. Walter says:

    So Burt, how are you going to feed over 8 billion people with meat?

  7. To raise the average cow, most studies say you need 1.5 to over 4.5 acres of land when you count supplemental feed. It takes from 16 – 22 months for gain finished cattle to reach market weight and 24 – 36 months for pasture raised cattle. You can grow an awful lot of fruits and vegetables on that amount of land over that period of time.

    As far as farmers markets there are a number of reasons why foods there are often more expensive than equivalent supermarket foods. A major one is economies of scale. It’s a lot less expensive to harvest multiple acres of food, especially if mechanized methods can be used, to simply load up a trailer truck and take to to a processing plant than to take a tiny portion of it and load it into a pickup truck to drive to a farmers market. The market may be only open a few days of the week, be distant from the farm, highly seasonal, and a person has to sit there most of the day. Bad weather can cripple sales for the day. A nice supplement to their income as they make more money for their product, but hardly a viable way to make a living in most cases.

    Another factor is many farmers markets are located in affluent urban areas where people can afford and are willing to spend more money on what they perceive, rightly or not in some cases, to be a superior product.

    Omnivore (porkotarian and more?), but eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. Some vegetarian days.

  8. Howard Kay says:

    Thanks for an excellent article with some excellent suggestions.

    Perhaps you were just trying to speak diplomatically when you wrote “There is a growing body of research that shows that changing the human diet…..”. To me that almost sounds like someone saying today that there is a growing body of research linking cigarette smoking and cancer. In other words, despite society as a whole continuing to consume animal products in massive quantities, this “research” has already been very much out there for many decades.

    I stopped eating all animals and most animal products almost 50 years ago. Perhaps starting with the 1971 book “Diet for a Small Planet”, and followed by others, anyone who would care to read or listen, and not instantly label such evidence as fake news, could easily be informed of the ramifications of an animal based diet. Over these last 50 years, I have lamented the general lack of traction or enthusiasm for steering towards a more plant based diet in the world. Only in the last decade have I really started to see a small but significant growing movement in that direction.

    So please keep up your interest and enthusiasm of this dietary topic, and please keep writing about it. As for health benefits, I am in my 70th year and am still an avid and serious Adirondack hiker (the last 12 months of pandemic notwithstanding), which is more than I can say for most others my age.

    Thanks again for the great article. It gives me more hope for the future.

  9. M.P Heller says:

    I like veggies. Never been a snack food person. I absolutely hate Doritos and peanut butter cups. No idea how those two things became so popular, but people eat all kinds of crap I guess.

    There is a lot of good information in the article about alternatives to meat. I personally tend to eat a decent amount of legumes as a meat alternative, tofu sometimes as well. I don’t do it for health or environmental reasons. I just like those things. (And I’m an X-er, so can’t be bothered to be woke enuff to care otherwise.)

    I can’t help the feeling that the perspective of the article is heavily influenced by the American experience. Having traveled a lot and living overseas for part of the year has further informed my understanding that a lot of what is for sale (and popular I might add) in our grocery stores is just plain garbage. Even what passes for “organic” produce is often sad in comparison to what people in France or the Netherlands take for granted.

    I think that a lot of the trouble that we encounter with the food supply in the US is more related to how we do things and less related to what we are trying to accomplish. Sustainable ag is in its infancy here. There is a lot to learn and the costs of converting production methods are not insignificant. There will be a lot of resistance amongst producers, but the biggest challenge actually comes from consumers. Changing hearts and minds is a difficult task. Changing the spending habits of the public is even more difficult, and let’s face it, there is a huge economic barrier that many people simply can’t afford to cross when it comes to altering their eating habits.

  10. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Vanessa says: “Beyond burger is trying as hard as it can to mimic beef, whereas you can also just stuff some legumes into a patty and it is quite tasty….”

    I look at it as ‘Beyond Meat’ burgers are about “It don’t have to be beef for a burger to taste good,” and I doubt they’re trying to mimic beef as much as they’re offering us an alternative. These burgers are to die for! Delicious, and healthy. We don’t need beef plain and simple. Not for taste, for protein or minerals… not for anything! I’ve been eating these burgers for a handful of years at least, they cannot be beat, they are simply delicious! They are so good that restaurant chains have since been adding them to their menus. I think McDonald’s sells them.

    We think we need this or that….we are conditioned to think “we need.”

    • The Beyond Burger may be better for the environment and perhaps delicious but I wouldn’t call it healthy. It has close to the total fat and saturated fat of a 80% hamburger and over five times the sodium. Total calories are about the same. Of course you can buy 90 or 95% hamburger. A 95% hamburger would have about one quarter of the fat in a Beyond Burger and a bit more than half the calories.

      • Charlie Stehlin says:

        Good fats Richard…if I’m not mistaken. There’s a difference in what fats we consume too you know. I’ve never heard anything negative about Beyond Meat until your post…..not that I go online and search for such – I don’t. Years ago I heard, or read, that a red-meat diet is why our cancer rates are so high. Dairy too! Of course I don’t believe every ‘thing’ I hear or read. Generally I go by instinct which hasn’t failed me yet. I don’t eat red meat at all, except for on some rare occasion (like yesterday) when some friend kindly offers me his wife’s home-cooking, which was lamb and ham. I’m not a purist, but I am disciplined. I also believe that diets have an effect on us in accordance to our chemistry, which varies one person to the next, and there are other factors.

        • Vanessa Banti Vanessa says:

          The beyond burger is OK! – …but not like the solution to converting all of the meat eaters like the marketing makes it out to be. I find it tasty once in a rare while, but not a kitchen regular. Just my one opinion 🙂

          • Zephyr says:

            Personally, I find the idea of the beyond burger repulsive. I prefer to eat real food that isn’t trying to pretend to be something it isn’t.

    • The Beyond Burger uses coconut oil as its primary source of fat. It may be marginally better for you that beef fat but it is nowhere near as healthy as olive or canola oil. Most nutritional studies recommend limiting your intake of coconut oil as it can raise LDL just as beef fat can. That being said, you can greatly reduce your fat intake by simply choosing a leaner ground beef, which is not possible with the Beyond Burger.

      Another consideration is the Beyond Burger is a highly processed, high sodium vegetable product with nearly 20 ingredients as opposed to a hamburger which has one ingredient. It’s not like eating whole vegetables and very early as far as long term studies of all of those ingredients.

      However, I’ll eat both in moderation at this stage. The Beyond Burger is certainly healthier for the cow.

  11. Zephyr says:

    I rather like Michael Pollan’s rules for eating, including: Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food and don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.

  12. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.”

    There is quite much to what, on the surface, appears to be, the innocent line above. I have, for many years, or since I have become conscious of well-being, thought about this, about the fifty ingredients, or less or more, that come with much of the foods that we purchase… as if you must be a chemist to understand their meaning, and I have come to the conclusion that they are poisoning us! They as in the corporations! Think DDT! For one!

    It’s about taste and profits with them, or market shares, and always near are that duo when it comes to the foods we purchase. Corporations pay millions to specialists who know how to add the right, and the amount of, ingredients, to the foods we eat, so that three, or four, or five bites is not enough, the craving for more is always near at mouth. The corporations, when it comes to food, know how to grease the gills! Were it up to them they would have every consumer knowledgeable on how to eat others out of house and home, though they would prefer you do such at their establishments. Justice to them is playing a good fork and knife over the foods they produce, the sight of consumers licking their chops after devouring their products is enough to make their mouths water, or their brains flutter. And so because chemicals are capable of producing such….they will continue to add them to the foods consumers purchase.

    Keep in mind also that just because fifty ingredients are listed on the labels of the foods you purchase, this doesn’t mean that those are all the ingredients there are, there could be more! It was some years ago, most likely under a republican administration (I would wager a years pay on this) a law was passed that allowed corporations the flexibility of not having to present to the buying public all of the ingredients they place in their products. There was a big stink about this back then, but the smart ‘con’ crown lost and so this is why the poison in our foods. Money first!

  13. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “Another consideration is the Beyond Burger is a highly processed, high sodium vegetable product with nearly 20 ingredients as opposed to a hamburger which has one ingredient.”

    You make it sound like it’s the worst food for the consumer Richard. There’s much more sodium in many other foods, and there are variables to consider, including good, or ‘not so bad’ ingredients, and I still trust my instinct more than all things else, and besides…..it’s about moderation too you know. It’s not like I eat a Beyond Meat burger every day. I go weeks, sometimes a month or more, without. It’s good to mix around. I recall hearing a popular speaker once say that oatmeal is not good for you, “Take it out of your diet,” which I suppose had something to do with ‘gluten-free.’ This from a man who always pushes his own vitamin and nutritional products when he speaks to his audience. Never trust a one who is trying to sell something! In the meanwhile there was a 110 year-old man a few years ago who was queried, “What’s your secret to longevity?” His answer! “I eat a bowl of oatmeal every morning for breakfast.”

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