May 23, 2008

Diet and the Environment

Do you agree that our dietary practices affect the environment?


We certainly do! The consumption of animal flesh foods has a very powerful effect on the environment. Additionally, the use of irrigation and fertilizers and pesticides also has enormous impact on the environment.

It is calculated that the production of one pound of animal protein costs multiple times more than the production of vegetable protein in resources such as water, land usage, and fertilizer. Individuals switching to vegetarian diets might seem to have little impact, but whole shifts by large populations would have much more effect. Huge industrial-type farms for poultry, pigs, and beef produce massive quantities of concentrated animal waste that are nightmares of sewage disposal. Water utilization in the production of animal food products versus that needed for plant food products is about threefold greater—2,400 versus 800 liters per person.
The need for individual responsibility when it comes to conservation of the environment is greater than merely our dietary habits. Many of us have an energy consumption habit that needs to be modified—perhaps driving a vehicle larger than our needs truly require, therefore using a large quantity of gas. We also recognize that a single flight from Europe to Los Angeles will produce five-and-one-half tons of carbon dioxide.
But though we might feel we should curb our travel, let’s also consider the transportation of our foodstuffs, which requires enormous energy utilization. My supermarket sells oranges from South Africa, rice from Asia, grapes from Chile, and raspberries from Inter-America. One might cogently ask how we can feed the world’s population without increasing these pollution effects.
We should also carefully consider the issue of population control—a matter that is receiving less attention today than it did some years back. The world’s population continues to burgeon and is projected to reach 9 billion by 2020. When one considers that a mere 40 years ago the world’s population was less than half that number, clearly population control would be one of the most important brakes on runaway energy consumption.
It is time for concerned study into how we can address these environmental issues, recognizing that our concern has to address the whole slate of our behaviors, not merely diet.
The Bible plainly states that the Lord will destroy those who destroy the earth. As Adventists, we can argue individual issues of environmental change, but we need to be strong supporters of environmental protection and depoliticize the issue because it belongs to us all, regardless of our political persuasion or national identity. Surely the earthly future for our children is clouded, and action today impacts their tomorrow.
Allan R. Handysides, M.B., Ch.B., FRCPC, FRCSC, FACOG, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department; Peter N. Landless, M.B., B.Ch., M.Med., F.C.P.(SA), F.A.C.C., is ICPA executive director and associate director of Health Ministries.
Send your questions to: Ask the Doctors, Adventist Review, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, Maryland, 20904. Or you may send your questions via e-mail to [email protected] While this column is provided as a service to our readers, Drs. Landless and Handysides unfortunately cannot enter into personal and private communication with our readers. We recommend that you consult with your personal physician on all matters of your health.