Interesting data on energy, food, and meat

On a whim I borrowed In Defense of Food from Kelsey last time I was up in Maine; I’d read Second Nature and one or two other of Pollan’s books but not that one. I liked Kelsey’s verdict – ‘It’s good – a Michael Pollan book that’s not too long.’ The proposition: formulating increasingly processed “food” products in accordance with an ever-changing list of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ nutrients has at once enriched agribusiness interests, spoiled our food culture, and ruined our health. The prescription: Eat Food (as opposed to food-like processed products), Not Too Much (employ/enjoy time-honored cultural practices to avoid routine gorging), Mostly Plants (eating a lot of meat is bad for you – and for the planet).

On that last subject, I was interested to read an interesting account on the blog of Cambridge prof David MacKay, whose online book Sustainable Energy – without the hot air is a refreshingly clear and straightforward assessment of what a transition to renewable resources might look like. He pointed to an industry study that estimated the energy in the typical UK diet, and presented the data in a pretty striking way. Here’s the energy in a week’s food, compared to the energy needed to produce and distribute it:

The energy (mostly fossil fuel, presumably) that it takes to produce, process, package, and deliver the average UK resident’s food is fully 5 times the actual biological energy content of the food. The primary culprit – you guessed it, meat, with dairy a distant second:

This is all pretty much in line with what I proposed here – one of the most powerful (and perhaps least painless, compared to giving up climate control, extensive driving, or air travel) ways to do the planet some good is to become a vegetarian.

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2 Responses to “Interesting data on energy, food, and meat”

  1. Carla Says:

    Hmm…these are the sorts of arguments that made “Diet for a Small Planet” such a compelling argument for a vegetarian diet years ago. However, an equally compelling argument along the same lines can be made for grass-fed beef, which take less energy/calorie to produce than even organic mechanized farming.

  2. Urban Homesteading – meh « Five Islands Orchard Says:

    […] I’ve done the math in several previous posts, on industrial meat, crop area requirements, and energy requirements to grow food. Living in the city can potentially have very low environmental impact in a lot of ways, but food […]

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