Beyond The Carbon “Food-Print”

cat tries to steal a sausageYou may have taken our “carbon food-print” quiz and wondered how well it reflects your personal level of “green-ness.” The truth is, not very. In the quiz we focused down on the biggest indicators of your carbon food-print – mainly the type and quantity of the animal products you eat.

Yet there are so many other choices we make that influence our impact on global warming, our local economy, the well being of animals, our own health, and the health of other people. You wrote to us to tell us stories about your ways of greening your food supply. And your sustainability tips go far above and beyond what’s captured in the quiz. We like to share some of these solutions:


1. Growing and Raising Your Own Food

Some survey takers reported growing a significant amount of food they eat – even raising their own animals including backyard chickens.  In addition to removing the transportation cost of food, home gardening has a number of other benefits such as creating a market for heirloom seed stock, serving as a great source of organic food, reducing your dependence on industrial agriculture, connecting with neighbors, exercise, and even increasing your intake of healthful bacteria via the soil!

Check out our green living articles on canning your locally harvested food and the joys of raising backyard chickens.

2. Purchase Locally Grown Food:

According to the Environmental Working Group’s Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change, “buying locally can significantly reduce the climate impact of vegetable production (10-30 percent).”cover98w

In addition, eating locally and sustainably grown foods supports your local economy, protects the health of your community by reducing the amount of pesticide sprayed and creates an alternative to the incredibly destructive industrial agricultural practices. For more resources, take a look at some of the articles in our issue on local food.

3. Eating Sustainable Meat and Dairy

According to the Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change, buying locally raised meat has only a 1-3% impact on the amount of CO2 produced.  Yet buying locally produced meat is important for number of reasons.

As author, Denis Hays told us in an interview, “raising cows correctly, whether for beef or milk, is incredibly hard work. Doing it on a small scale eliminates economies Milkof mass production. Organic, grass-fed and -finished beef operates on deep commitment and small margins. If no one is willing to pay a premium for a healthy product from a local rancher who treats his cows as sentient beings, sustainably raised cows and their keepers will disappear.”

One of our member related walking down her own driveway and across the street in order to buy beef – about as local as you can get. “These animals are treated very, very well,” she told us. “I know because I see them whenever I want.” Another member noted that she eats “grass-fed, free-range, hormone free, locally grown beef, pork, lamb and turkey.” Check out this article to get tips on lowering the environmental impact of the dairy you consume.

Do you go above and beyond what is captured in our food-print survey? We want to hear about it! Leave your ideas in the comments section below!

DON’T HAVE A COW: How Bad is Beef?

Photo by abbamouse on Flickr, licensed under creative commons.
Photo by abbamouse on Flickr, licensed under creative commons.

“All animals are equal,” Orwell’s pigs proclaim in the novel Animal Farm, “but some animals are more equal than others.”

I’ve always loved this quote and the round-about ways the pigs describe their own special status. But lately while researching the myriad problems around beef, I’ve thought about this quote again and again. Meats are often seen as interchangeable when we talk about their place in our diets. Eating animals can be seen as equally problematic from a humane standpoint. Similarly, we often don’t differentiate between meats with the labels we use for one another — “vegetarians,” “vegans,” and “meat eaters.” But the more I read, the more it became apparent that from an environmental standpoint, meats are not equally damaging.

Chances are you’re aware that beef is bad for the environment –if you’ve kept up with our blog series on the subject or read the lead article of our last magazine issue, you’ll know that beef has a disproportionately large impact on our water, climate and even our own health.

But a study conducted by Gideon Eshel, Alon Shepon, Tamar Makov and Ron Milo published earlier this summer quantifies this disproportionate impact in a way that knocked me out of my socks. The study notes that while there’s a general understanding that meat has a higher environmental cost than plants, there isn’t a lot of information comparing the different types of meats on the same standards. The study authors sought to remedy that lack of comparative data.

They found that “beef production requires 28, 11, 5, and 6 times more land, irrigation water, GHG and Nr, respectively than the average of the other livestock categories.”  Let’s take a look at that fact in a more visual format. The study authors were kind enough to send me the numbers behind their summary graphs. I’ve reproduced them here (without standard deviation included).

Here’s the resources used by various meats and plants.

co2 and land

n and water

The study authors note that beef – the least efficient on all four counts – is the second most popular animal category in the average US diet “accounting for 7% of all consumed calories.”

So what’s the solution? In an interview with us Denis Hays, the author of Cowed, explains that while he admires vegetarians and vegans, his first priority is to convince meat eaters to reduce the amount of beef they eat. “If we can persuade those people to reduce their consumption from 1.6 pounds of bad beef every week to, say, one-half pound of good, healthy beef from the right sources, the benefits for human health and the environment will be profound.”

And Dr. Alon Shepon, one of the authors of the study agrees about the potential impact of curbing beef consumption. “Beef’s inefficiency in GHG, water, land and fertilization towers over all other” categories, he told us. “Exchanging beef with other animal products including other sources of meat reduce the environmental impacts associated with food production.”

If you’re reducing the amount of beef you eat, make sure you’re replacing it with other yummy foods. I particularly like savory apple recipes in the fall.

So for all you vegetarians and vegans — keep up the good work, and consider focusing on beef if you talk to your friends or family about meat consumption. For you meat eaters who want to make a difference, the “low hanging fruit” in your diet is beef — reduce that and make a world of difference.

If you’d like a more personalized analysis of your diet, take our food-print quiz to find out how you can make your diet even more climate-friendly and how you compare to other Americans.

Finally, don’t let yourself equate beef-reduction with depriving yourself of good food. Check out some of my favorite autumn vegetarian recipes here and here.

#GreenFest Snapshot: The Wonder of Aluminum Tabs

So, how many things can be made with aluminum tabs? Stop by Ten Fold Trade at the Washington DC Green Festival and see:

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#GreenFest Business Snapshot: JUST Designs

Company Name: JUST Designs

Vests ($55) and bags ($30) are two big favorites.
Vests ($55) and bags ($30) are two big favorites.

Mission: We’re a non-profit and in addition to paying the artisans a living wage, we have health, nutrition and finance programs in the villages we work with. We’re also Fair Trade certified.

Hand-made bags ($30) in all colors.

Bestseller: The hand-made bags ($30) are very popular.

Personal favorite: We love the vests ($55)! We love seeing traditional textiles meet modern designs.

Favorite thing about Green Festival: Personally, this is our first time at Green Festival. At other events, people will be surprised that we’re charging $55 for a vest and will assume we’re making a lot of money off sweatshop labor. No one has suggested that to us here — people at Green Festival understand what Fair Trade is. They are willing to pay a little more to make sure the people who make their clothes are paid a living wage.

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#GreenFest Business Snapshot: Evolve Skin Products

Company Name: Evolve Skin Products
How did you get started? Once I had my son, I was looking for products that were good for him, so I started making my own! We shouldn’t be attacking our bodies with chemicals.
Evolve Skin Products’ Biodegradable Deodorant ($7.50)

Bestseller: My biodegradable deodorant ($7.50) — it really works! Everyone I know is using it. It’s got five ingredients, no aluminum, isn’t tested on animals and is vegan.  It’s also made locally here in Washington DC.


Personal favorite: The deodorant again!


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#GreenFest Business Snapshot: Upcycle Joy

Brand new product: the antique photo scarf

Company Name: Upcycle Joy

Bestseller: The scarves with ties and suspenders appliqued onto them ($45 – $55).

How did you get started? I’ve always been a thrift shopper. Then I learned to sew and started changing my outfits. Friends asked me, ‘why don’t you sell these things?’

Personal favorite: I’ve just started making photo scarves — I’m going to start selling them soon.

Close-up of the photo scarf

Favorite thing about Green Festival: This is my first time showing my business. I’ve come before as an attendee. Love it!

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#GreenFest Business Snapshot: RNR Threads

Founder & CEO Courtney “Peach” McGeachy poses with the Karma Crewneck ($48) at the Washington, DC Green Festival.

Company Name: RNR Threads

Mission: “An environmentally conscious apparel and accessories brand.”

Why Green? “I studied environmental science in school and am really into fashion. I realized that the dyes and materials that made the things I love weren’t actually good for the environment. I decided to start making my own clothes — then other people started asking me to make things for them. That’s how we got started.

Bestseller: Our Karma Crewneck (48$) — aboveIMG_5492

Personal favorite: I’m partial to the eco v-neck ($30). I designed the tree logo so it will always have a special place in my heart.

Close-up of the RNR eco v-neck ($30), Courtney’s personal favorite.

Favorite thing about Green Festival: Meeting other like-minded people!

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