Six Arguments for a Greener Diet
A new book by Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., and the Staff of the Center for Science in the Public Interest
August 1, 2006
For 35 years the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest has published hard-hitting studies exposing the dreadful nutritional content of movie theatre popcorn, fast foods, and restaurant meals. Its latest book is SIX ARGUMENTS FOR A GREENER DIET (CSPI, ISBN: 0-89329-049-1)—a meticulously researched examination of scientific studies that finds that eating more plant foods and fewer fatty animal products can lead to extra years of healthy living. Happily, explains lead author and CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson, that same diet also leads to much less food poisoning, water pollution, air pollution, global warming, and animal suffering.
Americans consume over 1 billion pounds—and one trillion calories—of food each day. To produce the grains, meat and poultry, and fruits and vegetables that feed a country of nearly 300 million people, our agricultural system consumes enormous quantities of fuel, fertilizers, water, pesticides, and enormous tracts of land—not just for growing food for people, but mostly for producing food for livestock. And ultimately, a diet rich in fatty animal products and poor in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables consumes the consumer: Higher rates of heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes, and obesity cause hundreds of thousands premature deaths each year. SIX ARGUMENTS FOR A GREENER DIET exposes those and other underreported facts and carefully connects the dots between a healthy diet and a healthy planet.
CSPI calls it Eating Green—and is launching a new project with that name to help Americans toward a diet much richer in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Consider Eating Green by the numbers:
• 16 percent: the decreased mortality from heart disease associated with eating one additional serving of fruit or vegetables each day;
• 24 percent: how much lower the rate of fatal heart attacks is in lacto-ovo vegetarians compared with non-vegetarians;
• 50 percent: how much less dietary fiber Americans consume than is recommended;
• 100 percent: how much fattier meat is from a typical grain-fed steer than a grass-fed steer;
• 19 percent: the proportion of all methane—a potent greenhouse gas—emitted by cattle and other livestock;
• 140 million: the number of cattle, pigs, and sheep slaughtered each year
• 14 trillion gallons: the amount of water needed to produce feed for U.S. livestock.
CSPI’s fact-filled but engaging SIX ARGUMENTS FOR A GREENER DIET is as suited to students and professors as it is to consumers and policymakers. Jacobson and CSPI take long even-handed looks at the academic literature on everything from chronic disease (Seventh-day Adventist vegetarians live longer than non-vegetarians) to soil science (American croplands lose 2 billion tons of topsoil to erosion annually) to animal welfare. It offers consumers practical advice on changing their diets, and includes food pyramids for vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets.
A major difference between SIX ARGUMENTS and other recent books about America’s food system is that it not only describes the problems and offers advice to consumers, but also proposes a menu of creative policy recommendations to improve the public’s health, the environment, and the welfare of animals.
“Recognizing that not everyone would or should become a total vegetarian, we suggest means of both obtaining healthier animal products and improving how animals are raised,” Jacobson writes. “Nutrition- and environment-based food and farm policies could improve diets directly and indirectly.”
As former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman says, “While there are serious differences of opinion about issues relating to the animal foods component of the American diet, the provocative policy discussions in this book should be must reading for anyone interested in the future of food and agriculture.” And, writes Robert S. Lawrence, M.D., director of the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, “SIX ARGUMENTS FOR A GREENER DIET is a great guide to the powerful impact that our dietary choices—especially high meat consumption—have on our environmental footprint.”
In addition to citing previous research, SIX ARGUMENTS breaks new ground with its own calculations. For instance, the authors estimate that the saturated fat and cholesterol in animal products are responsible for about 65,000 fatal heart attacks every year.
Making several little changes quickly adds up to an overall healthier diet. Replacing one 3.5-ounce serving of beef, one egg, and a 1-ounce serving of cheese each day with a mix of vegetables, fruit, beans, and whole grains would:
• increase the person’s daily consumption of dietary fiber by 16 grams (more than half the recommended intake) and reduce the intake of fat by 22 grams (one-third of the recommended daily limit) and saturated fat by 12 grams (more than half the recommended limit); and
• spare the need for 1.8 acres of cropland, 40 pounds of fertilizer, and 3 ounces of pesticides each year. It also would mean dumping 11,400 fewer pounds of animal manure into the environment each year.
Multiply those improvements by millions of people and it’s easy to see the dramatic improvements in health and reductions in pollution that dietary changes could bring about.
A web-based companion to the book, www.EatingGreen.org, will let consumers take an animated tour of the food supply, calculate the environmental impact of their food choices and the impact their changes may have, and score their diets on the basis of health, environment, and animal welfare.
How a More Plant-Based Diet Could Save Your Health and the Environment By Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., and the Staff of the Center for Science in the Public Interest
Publication date: August 1, 2006
About the Authors:
Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., is co-founder and executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the publisher of the world’s largest-circulation newsletter, Nutrition Action Healthletter. Jacobson has written or co-authored Restaurant Confidential, Marketing Madness, What Are We Feeding Our Kids?, and The Fast-Food Guide. He has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’s The Early Show, Oprah, and all major network newscasts, and is frequently quoted on nutrition and food-safety.
Jacobson’s reputation is that of an aggressive, relentless reformer and critic of the food industry. But he’s also highly respected, having been honored by the supermarket industry (the Esther Petersen Consumer Service Award), the restaurant industry (Nation’s Restaurant News 50 most influential people), and the Food and Drug Administration (the Commissioner’s Special Citation and the Harvey W. Wiley Medal.) Jacobson, who is not a vegetarian, says that the single most important dietary advice is to change your diet in a healthy vegetarian direction.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest advocates safe and nutritious diets and campaigns for policies to protect the public health and environment. It led the efforts to win passage of laws requiring Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods, including trans fat labeling, and for the laws defining “organic” foods and requiring warning labels on alcoholic beverages. It publishes attention-getting studies, including famous exposés of the nutritional quality of movie theater popcorn, Chinese food, and other restaurant meals.