Tag Archives: food

America’s obesity issue

The heart of the American obesity issue (epidemic?) is the simple idea that Americans consume more calories than they burn off. The excess calories are stored by the body as fat. This happens when either too many calories are eaten or when too few calories are exercised away. In the case of Americans, the answer is both. Americans are consuming more calories than they have in the last 50 years. According the USDA’s Agricultural Fact Book 2001-2002, the average American consumes roughly 2,700 calories per day. This is 530 more calories per day than Americans consumed in the 1970’s. Americans are consuming more meat and more cheese than ever before. There is also a trend of eating more refined and processed foods. More than half of the cheese that Americans eat comes in commercially manufactured and prepared foods, such as nachos, tacos, and fast-food sandwiches. What’s more, Americans are eating more fats and oils per capita than ever as well. In the 1950’s, added fats and oils contributed 41% of the total fat consumed by Americans. By 1999, this number had risen to 53%, probably due to the higher consumption of fried foods.

This increased consumption would not be so bad if Americans also increased their activity, but this is not the case. Only about 25% of Americans get the recommended 30 minutes of daily leisure physical activity. Even children are less active than they were before. A child between the age of 5 and 15 in 1995 would walk and bike 40% less than a child in 1977. There are many reasons for this. According to a video released by the Center for Disease Control, people are not active because it is dangerous to be active. Many cities lack bike lanes to bike and jog in, and also lack public transportation, which encourages people to drive to their destinations. Technology has also played a role in the sedentary lifestyle Americans. Americans today also sit in front of screens more than past generations both for work and pleasure. Americans work all day on computers then go home to watch television.

If America’s obesity problem is to be fixed, both consumption needs to decrease and activity needs to increase. Resolving one issue will not make America healthy again. We need to watch what we eat and exercise more. That is the only way.

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How Changing Your Diet Can Reduce Carbon Emissions

In the modern times, the world has seen a shift in public opinion as well as government policy concerning emissions. The two main areas that are emphasized are the Energy sector as well as transportation. One example of how government policy is changing is President Obama’s National Fuel Efficiency Policy. It states that the average fuel economy must be 35.5 mpg in 2016 [1].

However, there is one sector that very few Americans think about when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, that is the Agricultural Sector. Just living in the US it is easy to see that we live a life of luxury compared to most places. As a result of that we are able to afford large quantities of food that we inevitably waste. This waste of energy was detailed in a post by HIRSCH2013 titled “When we waste food we waste energy” (link provided below) [2]. However the energy used, and the resulting emissions, from that energy production needs to be accounted for as well.

From the ten years spanning 2002-2011, the United State averaged more than 27.2 billion pounds of annual beef consumption [3]. In a life cycle analysis of greenhouse emissions for common foods conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Beef was shown to have emission of about 27.0 kg of CO2e (Carbon Dioxide equivalents) per kilogram of beef. The following graph was also produced by the EWG [4].  Those 27.2 billion pounds of beef translates to 462.4 billion pounds of CO2e per year.

Source: EWG [4]

Source: EWG [4]

This source of emissions in never really talked about, yet adds significantly to the about of greenhouse gases produced. Now, while the US government will not likely mandate how much food we eat, we Americans can take it upon ourselves to be conscious about our food choices. Now, I love steak as much as anyone else, but research shows that eating too much read met can have harmful side effects.  Eating read meat could increase the risk getting heart disease, kidney disease, osteoporosis, and cancer. This risk increases as people being to eat more processed meat such as bacon and hot dogs [5]. In a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, they found that each additional serving of meat increased the chance of death among the participants, and advised that people should eat red meat only about two to three times in a week [6].

Based on health and energy research, changing ones diet to reduce the intake of red meat in favor of poultry or fish (or other protein providers) would aid in keeping ourselves healthy and reducing our carbon footprint, both of which can be taken as very positive things.

Sources:

1: President Obama Announces National Fuel Efficiency Policy. (2009, May 19). Retrieved February 17, 2013, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/president-obama-announces-national-fuel-efficiency-policy

2: https://webberenergyblog.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/when-we-waste-food-we-waste-energy/

3: USDA ERS – Cattle & Beef: Statistics & Information. (n.d.). Retrieved February 17, 2013, from http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/animal-products/cattle-beef/statistics-information.aspx

4: Climate and Environmental Impacts. (n.d.). Retrieved February 17, 2013, from http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/climate-and-environmental-impacts/

5: Are You Eating Too Much Meat? (n.d.). Retrieved February 17, 2013, from http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/are-you-eating-too-much-meat.html#b 

6: Harding, A. (2012, March 13). Study: Too much red meat may shorten lifespan. Retrieved February 17, 2013, from http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/12/health/red-meat-shorten-lifespan

 

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Urban Agriculture?

Food and energy are inexorably linked to each other on many levels.  As the U.S. economy has become fully industrialized, so too have our systems of food production.  As we learned in class, we currently expend about 10 units of fossil-fuel energy inputs for the production of one equivalent unit of food energy.  While “food miles” are typically portrayed as the main energy culprit, the majority of this energy expenditure actually is used during food production processes.  While we may not experience any revolutionary shift in the way we produce our food any time soon, there seems to be a growing consciousness in the US related to the nexus of food and energy- and a related growth towards urban agricultural systems. Several areas are interesting to examine.

Growing Power

One interesting group focusing on developing urban agriculture projects is called Growing Power.  This group aims to transform communities by developing Community Food Systems that  provide local and healthy food that is accessible to everyone in the community.  Their method appears to be functioning, and has been highlighted in a variety of publications from ABC News to the New York Times.  In addition to functioning at the community level, Growing Power hosts training sessions and conferences to teach people how to utilize urban spaces for agriculture.   Based in Milwaukee, the CEO Will Allen recently received a Macarthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship to help broaden the reach of the program.

Detroit

Businessman John Hantz views urban agriculture as a possible way to help revitalize Detroit, as well as make a profit.  He has set up Hantz Farms Detroit in order to make this happen.  His goal is to use underutilized land in the city to create the world’s largest urban farm which will “transform Detroit into a destination for fresh, locally grown natural foods, create a viable, beautiful environment that will enhance the City, attract tourism, increase the tax base, create jobs and greatly improve the quality of life in Detroit.”  While Hantz appears to be ready to invest up to $30 million into the project, as of now it has been delayed due to zoning and regulatory issues at the municipal level.

Vertical Agriculture

The idea of vertical farming appears to be the most far-fetched (or least energy efficient), but does at least make for an interesting concept.  Columbia University Professor Dickson Despommier is the leading proponent of this concept, which proposes to produce food in large closed-loop skyscrapers in urban centers.  While none of the many designs have actually been constructed, they claim to be able to produce food 4-6 times more intensively than current systems, while being an overall energy saver.  This last claim seems to fail to take into account the total energy costs of building a skyscraper, but the life-cycle assessment of the entire system would be interesting to find out.

Aero Farms

AeroFarms is one company focused on urban agriculture that proposes some technological innovations that would enhance efficiency and lead to a more viable system.  The main idea is to grow food indoors in closed trays of crops being supplied with mists of water and air, and placed under specially designed LED lights.  These LED lights would use specific wave lengths of light to maximize the efficiency of the photosynthesis process.  The system would use 20% less water than conventional agriculture without using any chemical based herbicides or pesticides.  However, off the bat, I can’t help but see the sun as much more efficient than any LED light bulb.

In Conclusion…

These examples show the wide range of systems, programs, and technologies people are developing to enhance the prospects for urban agricultural systems.  It appears like there are a lot of good ideas out there, but the overall net energy impacts remain to be seen.   Issues related to policy, efficiency, scalability, and economics are just a few of the many hurdles any of these ideas needs to overcome in order to significantly change the way we currently produce food and reduce the associated energy costs.

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