It may sound like a funny question, but it’s a serious one—one whose implications do, and will continue to, have a broad impact on the world we live in today. It’s a question that I’ve been posing for years and one that—now more than ever—is deserving of some real contemplation. A study published last week in the Lancet has brought the issue into clearer focus.
There are almost 8 billion people on Earth, and in the next few decades, it’s projected to rise somewhere north of 10 billion. At three meals a day (as long as we’re envisioning the future world, let’s at least envision one that provides everyone the basics)…the math is pretty easy. And when you do the math we can see the vast reach that our dietary choices have. Twenty or thirty billion meals a day, every day, is a pretty big deal. When you start to look at the way the food system works, both nationally and globally, what exactly the deal is becomes pretty obvious.
The scientists who authored the study have proposed major changes in both eating habits and food production, changes that are a necessity if we are to feed and nourish each and every one of us. What have their findings revealed? Meat is out—at least almost—a hamburger every two weeks, a sliver of bacon a day—a stark change when the average American is already consuming more than six times the current recommend red meat intake. If you insist on continuing to eat meat, you’re looking at an allotment of a chicken nugget and a half a day. Breakfasts must drastically change (1.5 eggs per week). Sugar consumption, they add, needs to fall by half.
More than ten years ago now the data was announced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the number one cause of greenhouse gas emissions was animal agriculture. Not only does animal agriculture account for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other industry—including transportation—but the methane gas produced by livestock traps up to 72x more heat in the atmosphere than CO2 over a twenty year period. Not only does cutting red meat from our diet improve our health, but it’s crucial for the health of the planet. “Eating less red meat,” claims director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Impact Research, and one of the study’s authors, “which is mostly a challenge in changing human behavior—is crucial.”
Wherever you fall on the aisle, whether, like freshman Congresswoman Octavio-Cortez, you believe that the end of the world is twelve years away, or like some—ahem—that climate change is a hoax, it’s easy to see the many ways that our food system destroys ecosystems and pollutes the natural world. Climate change/greenhouse gas emissions aside, animal agriculture is the number one or two polluters across nearly every major category. The oceans may be almost entirely devoid of fish by 2050 at the rate we are pulling them out of the sea. Dead zones, including one as big as France in the Gulf of Mexico, are a result of agricultural waste/chemicals and runoff. One hundred fifty acres of the rainforest is bulldozed every minute on average, by and large as land for grazing cattle or growing soy to feed them. Staggeringly, in order for everyone currently alive to eat the Standard American Diet, would require two more planet Earths just to raise the animals. 80% of all agricultural land in use is devoted to grazing or raising feed for animals.
The facts are many, if not overwhelming. What they mean is clear. In order to continue surviving—and thriving—on this little blue marble, we’ve got to make some different decisions about what’s for dinner…and breakfast, and lunch, and snack. While politicians debate over carbon taxes, think-tanks suggest exotic solutions like spraying particles in the air to block out the sun, austerity measures are floated, and the impetus is put on the consumer, rather than corporations doing the polluting, there’s something so simple that each and every one of us can do. And we can do it right now, today, without waiting for the government to legislate what they think is right, or magical future technologies that theoretically might be invented in time to make a difference.
The Inconvenienter Truth is that while some preach about lowering our footprint while flying from speaking engagement to engagement on their private jet to do so, they miss, or ignore the obvious—and best—solution. The number one thing you can do as an individual to lower your footprint, and help move us from wanton planetary destruction to conscious stewardship of this floating rock we call home, is to make the switch to a plant-based diet.
Can you imagine, if instead of pushing new fuel taxes—to disastrous results—Macron had instead come out and suggested that the French go vegan?
Perhaps they would have rioted in the streets all the same.
Change may be frightening, and uncomfortable, but it’s coming, and it’s coming out of necessity. We’re eating our way to extinction, and as the new study makes clear, it’s high past time we did something about it. For now, maybe you could just make this soup.
We all get to choose what sort of world we are creating, one meal at a time.
Cajun-Kicker Curry Lentil Soup
Louisiana meets India in this generously seasoned, NOLA-fied version of lentil soup.
Prep time: 29-30 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
2-3 medium carrots, cut into rounds
1 head kale, torn into bite-size pieces
3 cloves garlic
6 cups vegetable broth
3 tablespoons curry powder
1 13.5 ounce can coconut milk
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1.5 cups dried lentils
Salt and pepper to taste
Step 1: In a large pan, warm oil over medium heat. Cook onion and carrot, stirring often, until soft (about 8-10 minutes). Add garlic and sauté for one more minute.
Step 2: Add broth, the vegetables you just cooked, and all remaining ingredients to a large stockpot. Cook until the lentils are soft, about forty minutes.
Step 3: Cool, serve and enjoy.