Mark Bittman on the externalities of fast food

Mark Bittman’s latest New York Times article, which focuses on the externalized health costs of the fast food industry: The True Cost of a Burger


Stockholm Food Forum: Nutrition, Health, and Sustainability in Our Global Food System

The first annual EAT Stockholm Food Forum brought together over 600 world leaders and experts earlier this month to “help develop goals, strategies, and guidelines to meet the interconnected challenges of hunger and malnutrition, chronic disease, climate change, and environmental degradation,” all while attempting to bridge the divides between business, science, and politics. Pretty awesome, multidisciplinary approach to some of the key problems that have arisen with our ever-evolving global food system. This video with professor Timothy Lang of City University London touches on some of these important issues. In this clip, he states that without significant changes in consumer dietary habits, we will not be able to live within our environmental limits or ensure public health. He underscores the importance of governments in promoting this vision through policy such as sustainable dietary guidelines – which would be somewhat similar to the nutritional dietary guidelines that were created decades ago.


Recently released paper outlines nuances of a sustainable global diet

Since the release of Tara Garnett’s discussion paper in April entitled What is a Sustainable Healthy Diet? there has been a healthy discussion of this important issue on the Food and Climate Research Network (FCRN). The paper is definitely worth reading, as it calls for both nutrition and sustainability in our global food system, with a focus on the need to assure access to food, to reduce food wastage, and alter global eating habits. The chart below contains an apt characterization of how we might think about diet and sustainability:

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Freak Storms, De Blasio, and the Food-Climate Issue in NYC

Typhoon Haiyan and the increasing occurrence of other extreme weather phenomena in recent years are evidence of the impact human activity has on the climate [see IPCC report]. This underscores the dire need for collective global action to slow and even reverse climate change. Incidentally, delegates from around the world are meeting in Warsaw this week for COP19, the main UN climate change conference of 2013; the destructiveness of Haiyan underscores the importance of these talks.

But if past climate talks are any indicator of the progress we can expect out of Warsaw, then prepare to be underwhelmed. One problem with these talks is that nations tend to be unwilling to compromise their economic growth (or the business interests of their companies) for climate mitigation, even though climate change will put an immense strain on future economic activity and cost more to mitigate down the road. In other words, nations are willing to pursue short-term gains, even if it means jeoporizing the well-being of their future economy and the future world in general.

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Yes, Sustainability is Still Possible

Worldwatch institute raises the relevant yet startling question in the subtitle of this year’s State of the World Report (2013) “Is Sustainability Still Possible?” In the first chapter of the report, Robert Engelman calls attention to the many uses and abuses of the term ‘sustainable development,’ questioning the extent to which human activities could truly be considered sustainable in terms of the commonly agreed upon definition that came out of the UN’s Brundtland Report of 1987: sustainable development “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.”

If one used this definition as the litmus test for true sustainability both in developing and developed countries, one might find that most economic activities commonly considered to be sustainable are not so green – in fact, one would probably find that the environmental footprint of even the most ecologically-minded of us in the developed world is far from sustainable as a global model.

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Meat and Development in Liberia

Originally posted on Brighter Green

Meat consumption correlates with income; poorer individuals and countries tend to consume less than their wealthier counterparts. This applies to Liberia, one of the poorest nations in the world, which has an annual per capita income of about 374 dollars and an annual per capita meat consumption of about 10.4 kilograms/kg (22.9 pounds/lbs).

Three decades ago Liberia was one of the more prosperous nations in Sub-Saharan Africa, but the violent, fourteen year civil war (1989 to 2003) devastated the country in countless ways; it claimed 250,000 lives, displaced over 600,000 people, demolished infrastructure, and ravaged the economy.

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Livestock Intensification as a Misguided Response to Liberia’s Food Woes

Originally posted on Brighter Green

Like much of Sub-Saharan Africa, Liberia struggles with malnutrition and food insecurity. While finding solutions to these problems is a major developmental goal for the country, unfortunately, the government and its international partners’ response has included a strong emphasis on livestock production. This is problematic given the negative impacts animal agriculture has in terms of sustainability, food security, climate change, and animal welfare.

The problems of malnutrition and food insecurity in Liberia are quite distinct from those of East Africa, where there have been repeated climate change-related droughts in recent years. At the height of the 2011 food crisis in the Horn of Africa, 13.5 million people were facing food shortages and 3.2 million were on the brink of starvation due to a lack of food and water. Liberia, on the other hand, gets plenty of rain – in fact, during the wet season the rain can be too abundant for certain crops to thrive (the capital, Monrovia, can get up to 5,000 millimeters of precipitation annually). In the lush tropical climate of equatorial West Africa, where banana, palm nut, and mangoes grow everywhere, Liberians may not be starving, but many are not eating as much as they would like to eat and even more are lacking in certain key nutrients such as protein, iron, and vitamin A.

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