How Big is Your Food Print ?

For those of us who are passionate about food, how we eat and what we eat is a topic of constant debate.  In fact, the politics of food is beginning to overwhelm all other types of food information. From organic farming practices to sustainable harvests, local;ly-grown food, the farm-to-table connection, free-range animals, rBGH free dairy products, school lunch programs, land-use practices, etc.,  all manner of vegetables, meats, poultry, dairy and farming practices have come under the microscope of discussion.

And the concerns can seem overwhelming.  But the issues don’t just end with the food itself. Add to the conversation topics about food packaging waste and the contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change that the production, processing, packaging, shipping, and storage of food generates. With som many voices wanting to be heard and so many issues to consider, the need to think, act and be better and do better by our land and our planet seems to beat to a louder, faster, more incessant drum each day.

So….what is the next flashpoint ?  By now must of us have heard about the notion of our individual Carbon Footprint ( how large or gently we tread on the earth ) but how many know about the Cornell University study called the Food Print ?  I just recently learned of this study, and it  is another cog in the wheel of ’cause and effect’ awareness.

The study looks at the issue of food production vis a vie land-use and food yield per acre. The question raised is this: is it better to grow vegetables or raise livestock for meat on an acre of land and how many people can that production feed ? For years debates have raged out West between farmers and cattlemen as to makes better use of the land for food production, etc. and who causes  the most damage to the land.  ( To anyone who wants to read about the greatest man-made land disaster in our country (prior to the ongoing land and water BP Gulf oil disaster) I suggest they read the riveting book: The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan. )

But I digress. The Cornell University study addressed the amount of land that it takes to feed an individual in a given year by specifically looking at various diets in New York and evaluating land-use based only on products grow within the state.

I encourage readers to follow the link below to read the full study. But in a nutshell, this is what their research discovered.  Someone who follows the low fat vegetarian diet needs less that a half acre of land per year to produce all the food they need. The one on the opposite end of the scale is the high fat, high meat, diet and in this case, each person needs 2.11 acres to produce their food.

But a diet that adds just a little bit of meat is still more efficient than the vegetarian one because of the type of land it uses, not only the acreage.

Fruits, veggies and grains need high quality crop land to grow, Meat and dairy products come from animals that can be supported on lower quality land which is also more available than the high quality land. In other words, although a vegetarian diet uses less land overall, it uses more high quality land than a diet with just a bit of meat added, making the meat added diet more efficient when all the variables are considered.

Wow.  To read the full report on the Cornell University click here: http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Oct07/diets.ag.footprint.sl.html

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