Lower on the Chain

To produce one pound of US steak (less than 1,000 calories of food), 45,000 calories of fossil fuels are required. 70 percent of the antibiotics we make are used on our livestock. And while Africa starves, half of the food we grow in this country goes to feed our livestock.

There was a time when meat cost more than vegetables. Chickens were reserved for special Sunday dinners, and, even then, every part of the bird found its way into giblet gravy and leftover soup. Now, these birds come in perfectly-portioned, uniformly-sized pounded breasts that cook in ten minutes. As Americans, we spend a smaller portion of our family budget on food then any other developed country. This is probably why we're okay with the genetically modified wheat and under-tested pesticides that are banned in the European Union: It's cheaper.

A challenge to eat healthy and sustainably is a challenge to change the way we look at food. Take the meat off. Switch the plate around so that vegetables and complex carbohydrates are the foundation while meat is the rare treat. Eat whole foods. Eat more plants. You'll still get plenty of protein and fat, but probably in a form that is friendlier to your waistline and your arteries.

Other cultures have been doing this for centuries. Use them for inspiration. Mexico has its rice and beans. India has its red lentils and curried dal. Even our Native Americans shared corn and bean succotash.

Here we still have our grand images of the cowboy lassoing tonight's dinner in a heroic display of the hunter feeding his family a hearty meal. This is an idyllic image of the past, though. Our current image is the truth of claustrophobic factory farms filled with sick, mutated animals. Our image for the future is our choice, a choice we make three times a day, plus snacks. It doesn't have to be expensive or time-consuming. It just means a little extra attention and one simple rule: Eat lower on the food chain.

For more information, check out these worthy reads:

Michael Pollan's An Omnivore's Dilemma

Northwest Earth Institute's Menu for the Future