Category Archives: ecology

A Quick Start Guide to Plant Based Eating

As they transition to plant based eating, different people will find themselves confronting different challenges. Some of us view food as an exciting adventure and look forward to new and exotic food experiences. We like trying out new recipes and sharing our discoveries with friends.

Some of us regard food as a dear friend that has been there for us for years and we rely on the familiarity and comfort of specific tastes or even food items to help us get through the day.

Some of us simply regard food as fuel and just want it to be there when needed with as little fuss and bother as possible.

Perhaps some of us even find ourselves moving from one category to another at different times. In any case, our differing relationships with food create differing challenges for us as we think about transitioning to a greener, more healthful way of eating.

Do you consider yourself a skilled cook or chef? Do you enjoy exploring new foods? Do you look forward to your next culinary adventure? Do you consider yourself competent in the kitchen? When you eat out, do you plan what to have based on your knowledge of the restaurant’s menu and your past experience there? Do you want your food to be familiar and comforting? Do you get lost when you go in the kitchen? Do you want your food to just show up? Now!? Is the most important thing about food to you that it be quickly and easily available? Can you eat more or less the same thing every day?
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Posted by on 2013/05/19 in ecology, nutrition, wellness


A New Gospel

For past millenia, our cultural mythology has taught us the Old Gospel — the possibility of perfection, that we can discover or create a world in which every tear is dried, every loss redeemed, where the lion lies down with the lamb (and the lamb can even sleep), where justice and freedom is for everyone, not just the wealthy and powerful.

All the western religions hold out this ideal as our lot after death in heaven and exhort us to create heaven here on earth by treating our brothers and sisters with the same kindness and consideration we would want for ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with that… but…

But today I give you a new gospel. The ideal of perfection is an illusion. It’s not how the world works. It’s the cultural carrot used, along with the cultural stick of hell, to entice us, the donkey-headed populace to preserve the cultural norms. But it’s not how the world works and it never has been.

Complex problems like poverty, world hunger, social justice, warfare, environmental degradation, global warming, and the like don’t have simple solutions. They can only be managed over time.

Life consists of repetitive cycles of prosperity and adversity. No matter how prosperous this cycle is, it will end and we will see adversity again. No matter how bleak and painful this cycle of adversity may be, it will eventually turn and we’ll see prosperous, happy times again. The cycles continue, so far without end. The age old aphorism, “This too shall pass,” is perennially true.

The dominant cultural religions teach us to look forward to the Day of Judgement, the end of the world, when all shall be made new, all the problems solved, everyone pigeon-holed neatly into heaven or hell, good or evil, saved or lost. So do most television shows, fiction books, movies, video games, and other entertainment modalities, including sporting events, television wrestling, and political debates. They all end with a satisfying emotional cadence in which everyone gets their just desserts (at least from the storyteller’s point of view), a winner and loser, and all the loose ends are neatly wrapped up (unless the storyteller wants to leave a few threads dangling on which a sequel can be hung).

Perhaps such a Day of Resolution will eventually arrive, but despite it having been regularly predicted and anticipated over the past millennia, so far it has not arrived. While we’re waiting for it, we have to go on living. The solutions that are working today may fail tomorrow and we’ll have to find new ones. The problems looming on the horizon may melt away like morning fog or may be the harbinger of the next cycle of adversity.

So, given that life goes on in the meantime, how are we to live these cycles of prosperity and adversity? How do we navigate this reality?

Prudent people have always set aside resources during prosperous times to help them get through the adversity they knew were coming. We live like the grasshopper or the ant in the ancient fable, either freely spending wealth when we have it and suffering when we don’t, or saving some in the good times against the difficult times. If we live as ants, saving responsibly when we can, we may even get to offer help to some grasshoppers when times are tough. We can still offer our brothers and sisters the kindness and consideration we would want for ourselves. We just have to be careful not to turn ourselves from ants to grasshoppers by giving away too much of our husbanded resources in a fit of generosity.

The dominant culture encourages us to live as grasshoppers. It tells us to gamble, borrow, spend with abandon, that we can have it all, that we deserve a break today, that we can have our cake and eat it too if we’ll just keep putting coins in the slot to keep the economy humming. It doesn’t want us to reflect on how history shows that every boom is followed by a bust, every recession by a recovery.

This new gospel will be hard to hear and even harder to accept. Our human brains evolved to look for simple solutions for the simple problems encountered in small tribal groups on the African savanna. The dominant cultural religions, news programs, and pundits pander to this evolutionary predilection of human neurology, offering black and white assessments of complex realities, simple ethical and moral dicta that overlook the complexities of modern life and the cultural and environmental changes of the thousand years or so since those dicta were formulated.

Let them who have ears to hear…


My sister teaches about health and recently asked me for sources representing my views on agriculture, food production, and nutrition

Here’s her e-mail and my response
On 2011 Aug 28, at 16:25 , Sis wrote:

Hi, again. I have a question.

I am compiling material for a lesson on agriculture and food
production for class. I want to present different points of view so
that the students can evaluate and discuss the information. Could you
point me to some of your soureces of information that you use on
nutrition? Tom already sent me one site (thanks). Anything else that
is easy to pass along would be great.

Sure. I’m not sure what I already sent you, so I may repeat myself.

This first one is a report from 2006 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. It estimates that 18% of greenhouse gases are generated by livestock production, more than any other single source. The PDF (19M) can be downloaded from the page above.

This is a follow-up report from the World Watch Institute that says that the FAO underestimated the greenhouse gas production of the livestock industry. They put it at about 51%. Again, the PDF can be downloaded from the page at the URL above.

The take away message I get from the above reports is that the most significant thing a person can do to help avert global warming is to stop eating meat, dairy, and eggs.

Of course, the meat, dairy, and egg industries have done what they can to obfuscate and oppose this information. I still think it’s true. In June, NPR published this story,, which talks about how 97% of scientists are convinced that global warming is real and caused by human activity but less than a quarter of the US population (13%) understand how strong this scientific consensus is.

What I find amazing is that, given this, more scientists aren’t vegetarian.

This is Dr. McDougall’s website. He makes his entire program available on it for free (, so a person doesn’t have to buy anything to put his recommendations into practice. His basic primer on nutrition (which to some extent reflects his philosophy about what to eat) is here: And of course, there’s lots more.

This is Jeff Novick’s blog. He is a Registered Dietician and teaches about healthy eating by focusing on foods low in calorie density (mostly fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, legumes, and grains, optionally with a small amount of nuts and seeds).

This is the website of the Cardiovascular Health Improvement Project (CHIP), run by Dr. Hans Diehl. His message is very similar to Dr. McDougall’s.

My big take-away from Dr. McDougall, Jeff, Dr. Diehl, and others, is that humans don’t need to eat animal products for health and in fact we’re generally healthier when we minimize animal products or avoid them altogether. Of course, there’s more than that to their message — minimize or eliminate refined products, keep dietary fat levels low, exercise moderately, get plenty of sunshine, fresh air, and clean water, and so forth.

Again, various industries have a vested interest in making sure the public doesn’t understand how simple it is to eat in a healthy way. If everyone stuck to unprocessed fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains, the meat, dairy, and egg industries would go out of business. If people stopped being chronically sick because their diets got healthier, the pharmaceutical and medical industries would lose their markets of chronic patients who require care and medication for the rest of their lives. Health insurance would lose its importance and the insurance industry would lose revenue. The banking industry that finances expensive hospitals, medical equipment, and drug research would lose their investment if those facilities became unnecessary. So a large segment of the economy depends on a steady supply of sick people to justify the way the system works.

Of course, if everyone went veg tomorrow and all the chronic diseases went away, we’d still need a medical system. People would still have accidents and infectious diseases would still be a threat. What can be greatly reduced through diet and lifestyle is the epidemic of chronic degenerative disease.

I can probably dig up more if you want. Just let me know, and I hope this helps. Also, thank you for asking. It feels good to write all this down.


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Posted by on 2011/08/28 in ecology, nutrition


Soylent Green is people!

“Every day forty thousand children die in the world for lack of food. We who overeat in the West, who are feeding grains to animals to make meat, are eating the flesh of these children.” — Thich Nhat Hanh, quoted in The World Peace Diet [5]

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported in 2006 that an estimated 18% of green house gases generated by human activity come from producing meat for humans to eat. [3] The Worldwatch Institute subsequently updated this estimate to 51% when they took other factors into account. [4]

National Public Radio recently reported that 97% of scientists believe that global warming is real and mostly or all due to human activity. However, only a small percentage of the population at large understand that the scientific consensus is that strong because the picture presented in the media is much more conflicted. [1, 2]

In his book, Comfortably Unaware, Dr. Richard Oppenlander describes how raising livestock degrades and depletes land, fresh groundwater, and human health. The resources consumed, land and water, are not renewable in our life time. [6] These are resources that could feed future generations. In consuming and destroying these resources now, we are consuming the flesh of future generations.

About a billion people in the world don’t have enough food. These are people in places like Ethiopia, where grain crops are raised and exported to Europe to be fed to livestock. When we eat meat, we are eating the flesh of those billion people who could be fed by the grains being given to livestock. [6]

You might think that the 97% of scientists who believe in the global warming science would make the connection and stop eating meat and other animal products. Humans are very good at not making connections they don’t want to see. The people who work at national labs, who gather, analyze, and report the numbers on which global warming science is based eat just like the rest of the population. Their healthcare costs are similar to those of other large organizations.

Research has shown that we respond more to advertising than we think we do. [7] We are embedded in a System that is invested in the status quo. The System abhors change even more than most individuals do, even though it is gradually changing constantly, just like most individuals. The System consists of all of us and includes the UN, the meat industry, Big Pharma, the medical establishment, WorldWatch Institute, the banking system, vegetarian organizations, government, farmers, the economy, vegans, carnivores, the media, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Al Gore, and everyone.

Some components of the System have a lot of influence. This is commonly called having “deep pockets”, meaning the entity in question has a lot of money that can be used to buy public relations and advertising. Over time, the System has evolved to a state in which all its components have very short time horizons. Politicians are mostly focused on the next election and are unwilling to do or say anything that would reduce their chances of re-election. Financial decision-makers are mostly focused on the next quarterly report and are unwilling to do or say anything that would reduce their profits. Business leaders are focused on what the populace is buying today and next week and are unwilling to do or say anything that would have a negative impact on their revenues. Few minds are focused on the long term and the few that are have very little influence within the System.

Some parts of the System are actually invested in keeping you confused and sick. If everyone had a clear and accurate understanding of nutrition, the animal industries (producing pigs, chickens, cows, fish, dairy, and eggs for human consumption) would see their revenues shrink drastically. Without sick people, the medical establishment and Big Pharma would lose their market. The banking sector, which finances hospitals, high tech diagnostic equipment, costly drug trials, and the like, would see their investments threatened. Much less money would flow through insurance companies as the population got healthier and needed fewer healthcare interventions.

“Beef, it’s what’s for dinner.” “Got milk?” “The incredible edible egg.” If they can seduce you with advertising, they will. If advertising doesn’t work and you learn enough to be motivated to change, as Oprah Winfrey did when Howard Lyman appeared on her show in 1996, they’ll use intimidation. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association sued Oprah and Howard, costing them a great deal of time and money. The NCBA eventually lost the suit, but the intimidation was effective: from that point on, Oprah avoided any potentially controversial discussion of food on her show. [6]

So, important elements of the System are committed to maintaining the status quo and they do so through advertising, intimidation, and peer pressure. It’s not that they want to kill the planet or their customers, particularly, they just don’t want to see their revenues drop.

The only elements of the System that are free to change are us — the individuals making day-to-day choices about what to eat and how to live. In the movie Soylent Green, the main character discovers that the main food of the culture portrayed was made from the flesh of people who had died. Ultimately, the meat eaten in North America and Europe, and increasingly in China and Brazil, is the flesh of the people who might have been fed, both starving today and future generations, if our ways were less wasteful.


  1. Climate Change In The American Mind: Americans’ Global Warming Beliefs and Attitudes in May 2011. (pdf)
  2. Climate Change: Public Skeptical, Scientists Sure, NPR, June 21, 2011
  3. Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  4. Goodland & Anhang. Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change are…cows, pigs, and chickens?
  5. Tuttle, Will. The World Peace Diet.
  6. Oppenlander, Richard. Comfortably Unaware.
  7. Cialdini, Robert. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
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Posted by on 2011/07/22 in ecology, nutrition, statistics


Staying GLAD in a SAD world

SAD, of course, stands for the Standard American Diet, characterized by lots of animal foods (meat, eggs, dairy), lots of refined and processed foods (breads, cakes, chips, crackers, spreads, sodas), and very little whole, unprocessed plant foods (vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains).

SAD also stands for how we feel about where the Standard American Diet is taking us. Two thirds of residents of the US are overweight and half of those are obese. The rest of the world is working hard to catch up with us. As it is exported to other countries around the world, the Standard American Diet is making the world both SAD and sad.

Everyone wants to live like the Americans — in a large house, driving their own car, and eating lots of animal and refined foods. The only problem is that Americans make up 5% (one twentieth) of the world’s population but consume about 40% (nearly half!) of available resources. If everyone in the world lived like an American, consuming at the same rate as the average American, the world would need 800% of available resources (40% x 20). SADly, 100% of available resources is all there is.

Continued export of the expensive American way of life is setting the world up for a shopper’s riot worse than any Walmart stampede ever seen as nations, tribes, and individuals struggle to get “their share” of the world’s diminishing bounty.

This is the sad outcome toward which the SAD pushes us.

GLAD, on the other hand, stands for Green, Lean, Active, and Delighted. GLAD describes a way of life that strives to reduce its impact on the environment, to consume less, and to make itself sustainable.

GLAD also describes how we feel when we do our best to live this way.

Green means living in a way that is kind to the environment, that doesn’t depend on rainforest destruction, topsoil erosion, desertification, greenhouse gas emission, or pollution of the oceans.

Green means feeding ourselves in a way that is efficient and safe. Livestock production consumes about 54 calories of energy for each calorie of food delivered to a hungry human. Plant food production consumes only around 10 calories of energy for each calorie of food delivered. Livestock production accounts for between 18% to over 50% of greenhouse gases generated by human activity. Livestock accounts for about 20% of all farm worker injuries, according to the Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety. Livestock production for food is neither efficient nor safe.

Lean means feeding ourselves in a way that will produce optimal health. Since the late 1800’s, a handful of researchers and doctors have documented the powerful health-producing effects of a diet based on whole, unrefined, unprocessed plants. As it turns out, what’s best for us is also best for the animals (we don’t have to kill them for food) and the planet (producing plant foods is much less damaging to the environment than producing animal foods).

In addition to the epidemic of overweight and obesity, in the US and other western countries (and everywhere else people are choosing SAD-like diets), chronic diseases of affluence are on the increase. Despite “wars on” the various killer diseases, cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes are becoming more common and killing more people.

Eating in a way that keeps us lean, by choosing a diet based on whole, unprocessed plants (vegetables, fruit, legumes, and grains) helps us avoid these chronic diseases and live a healthy, active life right to the end. The SAD generates disease and causes years of suffering before life finally ends.

The ability to be active is both a result of making green and lean choices and a contributor to the health outcome we want. We can be more green and more lean by using our muscles to provide some of our energy needs instead of burning fossil fuel (thereby driving mining and global warming). Being able to bike to work, for example, is both a reward for making healthy food choices and a way we can be even greener and leaner.

Delighted is where we wind up when we do our best to live GLADly. Choosing to be green, lean, and active naturally fosters an attitude of delight — with the world, with ourselves, with our cousins of other species.

So, be GLAD and help the world get over its SADness.

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Posted by on 2011/05/09 in ecology, nutrition


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