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It's #TimeToChoose Climate-Friendly Food


It's #TimeToChoose Climate-Friendly Food

Michael Pollan

When the international climate negotiators assembling in Paris next week sit down for dinner, they might reflect on the climate impact of their meal.

Indeed, in the midst of a growing - and very encouraging - global conversation on how to address the common threat of climate change, far too little attention has been paid at the highest levels to the impact of our diets and farming practices on planet-warming emissions.

To put it another way: if we are serious about changing the climate, we need to get serious about changing agriculture.


"But while energy is indeed the top source of greenhouse gas emissions, the food system is #2. "
I don't argue with his premise that we need to reform, in the original and positive sense of the word, agriculture. I do wonder if these statistics include military data. Anyone know? And regardless, of whether they do or not, the military ought to be mentioned as a top contributor every time there's a discussion of global warming issues.


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Great article! However, meat production is the number one source of greenhouse emissions, not fossil fuels. See the movie Cowspiracy. Most of the people who comment here on CD are meat eaters. An environmentalist who eats meat is a hypocrite. They spend all their time demanding marches, demanding that politicians and corporations do something, all the while refusing to do anything themselves.


We can't enlighten society as to how their diet is ruining the planet by chastising them. Leading by example is the best way and when they inquire as to why we make the choices we do, we can explain how meat production is devastating our ecosystems and adversely affecting our climate. Hopefully they listen.


"... meat production is the number one source of greenhouse emissions, not fossil fuels."

It would be helpful for you to link a source when you make this assertion, so others can assess the validity of your assertion. You quite obviously adopt the most extreme estimate you can find for the relative greenhouse gas impact of meat, because it fits your ideology. Pollan's assessment is more credible than yours:

"The best available estimates suggest that industrial agriculture and livestock account for as much as a third of the total emissions causing climate change. This situation has its roots in decades of unsustainable agriculture, particularly excessive meat consumption (more than a quarter of the Earth's land is now used, directly or indirectly, to raise animals for human consumption), monoculture farming and the overuse of nitrogen fertilizers. As I've noted elsewhere, "Approximately one-third of the carbon [now] in the atmosphere had formerly been sequestered in soils in the form of organic matter, but since we began plowing and deforesting, we'[ve] been releasing huge quantities of this carbon into the atmosphere... the food system as a whole--that includes agriculture, food processing, and food transportation--contribute[s] somewhere between 20-30 percent of the greenhouse gases produced by civilization--more than any other sector
except energy." "

i've previously cited the work of GRAIN and La Via Campesina, whose assessment (based on published estimates from multiple sources) is that the total greenhouse gas impact of ALL INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE, including meat, is roughly 50% of all greenhouse gases. Like all such estimates, this includes transportation, storage, refrigeration, artificial chemical fertilizers and pesticides etc., all of which are fundamentally FOSSIL FUELED. The primary reason that meat production produces so much greenhouse gases, is because meat production (and all of industrial agriculture) is INDUSTRIALIZED, and FOSSIL-FUELED.

i don't drive (never have). i don't fly (never have). i don't buy meat (i eat no mammals, just occasional wild-caught fish and less-industrial fowl that others offer me, and i've practiced veganism for long stretches of my life). i keep my house around 60 degrees F in the winter, and have never used home cooling. My house currently has seven people using one refrigerator. i also march, and protest, and demand, and communicate with everyone in my life about what we can do on all fronts to face this omnicidal, existential crisis.

When you make blanket smears about hypocrisy, you do not reach anyone. Perhaps instead you could approach readers with respect. BUILD ON the work of Pollan, who (see above) denounces industrial meat and advocates a plant-based diet. Or write about your own hypocrisies, which all humans have, instead of coming across as a self-satisfied lecturer.


That is A damn good question....


This can be a very polarizing issue. But one thing most can agree on is ending farm subsidies and corporate welfare.


Pollan, too, succumbs to the desire to make false claims to, he thinks, bolster his case.

He claims

which is entirely false. It's carbohydrates that cause obesity and T2D, something that's been known for at least ~150 years. If I were still a carnivore, I could stop eating carbs and get by like the Inuit and Yupik, on flesh and fat. Then I wouldn't be obese, or have cataracts growing almost by the day, nor peripheral neuropathy. But I'm not still a carnivore, and so I do have those problems.

It'd be nice if the Pollans and their ilk would play it straight.


It's not in the economic interest of the food industry for us to stop, or even think about it.


Vilsack says ag contributes 9% of greenhouse gases in the US. Not bad, not bad @ all. Tried to put the link here but that's apparently not allowed for new users. Google Vilsack Drake University greenhouse gases. Should come up.


" It's carbohydrates that cause obesity and T2D, something that's been known for at least ~150 years."

That's simply not true. The leanest, healthiest and longest-lived people on earth get the overwhelming majority of their calories from whole food carbohydrates like rice, sweet potatoes, wheat, and other grains (and have for thousands of years). The confusion over carbs and diabetes results from the fact that Americans eat far more fat than is healthy, and that decreases insulin sensitivity, increases insulin resistance, and thus impairs the body's ability to process carbs. Although blood sugar levels do go up temporarily after eating a specific meal with lots of carbs, when people eat lots of carbs over time, their overall blood sugar levels go down. Of course, the other reason for confusion is that we eat so many highly processed carbs, and that's simply not healthy, but the problem isn't eating carbs--it's eating highly processed foods.

The nutritionfacts.org website has hundreds of brief research-based videos on nutrition-health linkages, and you can go there and search for diabetes or carbohydratess and clear up this common misconception.


PLEASE do some research before trying to spread that destructive one-size-fits-all fairy tale. If you don't, you might be responsible for killing some people.

Read Banting's Letter on Corpulence.

Read the work of Richard Bernstein MD, himself diagnosed with T1 at age 12. A former engineer, he used the scientific method (and a then-new device to instantly measure blood glucose) to figure out that carbs are the problem, and then got an MD to help others. He's now 81, having outlived all expectations for someone with that diagnosis, and who has maintained normal glucose for 50 years by almost completely avoiding carbohydrates.

Look at the different rates of diabetes among the Akimel O'Odham ("Pima") who eat a traditional diet and those who eat a carb-rich diet. The latter have the highest rate of diabetes in the world.

Look for the correlations between diet and diabetes by ethnic group.

The fact is that there are groups who can't metabolise carbs successfully, and if they try they die. Many aboriginal Americans are in that group, as are many Africans. Even some Europoids still have a mild version lurking in their genetics despite the weeding-out over the centuries since grains became a diet staple. It manifests first as difficulty losing weight, and then, when they slow down with age, as "metabolic syndrome" and T2.

Most researchers still persist in getting the cart before the horse. They talk about populations such as the Yupik suddenly getting diabetes at a higher rate, and they even document that changes (more carbs, more booze, less activity), but they don't connect the dots. To them it's a mystery! It would be laughable if the consequences weren't so awful. They treat obesity as one of the causes when in fact it's first an effect. People who avoid carbs avoid obesity, and therefore don't allow their defective insulin metabolism to run out of control.

Please, do the research. Connect the dots.



You wrote, "PLEASE do some research before trying to spread that destructive one-size-fits-all fairy tale."

Actually, I've read a TON of research on the matter.

I have a PhD in educational psychology, but I've done more research on nutrition than I ever
did on my doctoral dissertation. I actually spent a good chunk of one of my
sabbaticals reading nutrition research, and much of my research on education
revolves around how people get fooled by research, so I've applied what I
learned there to my study of nutrition.

Much of my research on education revolves around how people get fooled by research,
and I've applied what I learned there to my study of nutrition.

1) T1 diabetes is a very different
disease, and the overwhelming majority of Americans suffer from T2, not T1, so
a case study of someone with T1 isn't really relevant to our discussion here.

2) Although there may well be isolated
groups of peoples who evolved over time to thrive on a high-fat and
high-protein diet (due to local scarcity of carbs, e.g., on rocky Pacific
Islands), the vast majority of peoples on earth have gotten the majority of
their calories from grains and potatoes and some nuts for a very long time.
It's become increasingly clear that archaeologists in the past have
substantially overestimated the role of meat in diets of the past (due to
cultural bias and because bones last a long time and get unearthed later, but
plants decompose rapidly). One archaeologist recently stated
that it would be more accurate to describe humans as "starchivores,"
given the prominent role of starches in keeping us most peoples going.

3) Some of those populations who
supposedly were quite healthy on high protein and high fat diets were actually
not very healthy. For example, superficial expeditionary accounts described the
Inuit as healthy and free of heart disease, but actual medical examinations
revealed high rates of heart disease, osteoporosis, and early mortality.


4) If you are talking about the effects
of "carbs," you have to distinguish between whole food carbs and
processed foods and alcohol. People who get sick after switching to processed
carbs and alcohol don't really disprove my point.

5) Why are Americans confused about the
effects of carbs? First, people don't distinguish between whole food carbs and
processed foods that have lots of other junk in them, and the two categories
(eating cake vs. a sweet potato) have very different effects. Second, we eat
such an unhealthy diet that we have mislabeled as "low fat" diets that
would be more accurately labeled medium fat or even high fat. Most traditional
diets were around 6-20% calories from fat, but most Americans eat somewhere in
the neighborhood of 25-40% calories from fat, and the research studies
supposedly proving that low fat diets don't work are overwhelmingly on diets
with 20-37% calories from fat and lots of processed foods. If you don't believe
me, do what I've done--look up all the research studies in one of those
meta-analyses supposedly showing that "low-fat" diets don't work, and
see how much fat folks were eating. Those researchers are claiming that
low-fat diets don't work but they never actually studied the truly low-fat
diets that have characterized eating for most peoples for most of our history
on earth.

6) Because we eat a diet so far from
the traditional diet for most of the peoples we descended from, we have come to
take as normal a diet that is far higher in fat and protein than was the diet
most of our ancestors ate, and seem unaware of what happens inside the body
when you eat too much fat and protein (This problem also plagues most nutrition
with serious restriction of range problems--there aren't enough people eating a
healthy diet to identify the real patterns between nutrition and diet). Back to
excess fat and protein: Too much animal protein ramps up cancer and kidney
disease, as well as other diseases. Too much fat and cholesterol causes
systemic damage. Because we're eating excess fat and cholesterol, the body
looks for dumping grounds for all that excess, and that excess fat and
cholesterol accumulates in the coronary arteries (heart disease),
arteries in the brain (dementia), nerve arteries (nerve pain and neuropathy),
cholesterol stones (gallbladder), arteries that should be supplying
nutrients to our disks (back pain, disk degeneration), in our muscle tissues
(diabetes), and of course, in the large amounts of visceral fat we carry

7) T2 Diabetes involves an interaction
effect between fat consumption and carb consumption, as excess fat in the
muscles reduces insulin sensitivity, decreases insulin secretion, and increases
insulin resistance. There are more 70 brief research-based videos on the
NutritionFacts website that relate to diabetes (and address reversing it [and
even reversing diabetic retinopathy] with a very low fat plant-based diet), but
here are some of the better ones:





Yes, obesity also contributes to diabetes, in part because of the aforementioned build-up of fat in muscles, and who are the leanest people? Vegans and those who eat the least fat (with BMI
and diabetes increasing with the more animal foods people eat).

From the PCRM website…

“Diets lower in total fat led to lower total body weights, compared with diets higher in fat, according to a new review published in the British Medical Journal. Researchers analyzed 43 studies with more than 180,000
participants from developed countries and determined that the lower the fat intake, the lower the body mass index (a measure of body weight adjusted for
height), the smaller the waist size, and the greater the weight loss. Lower fat intake was also associated with lower levels of total cholesterol, LDL
cholesterol, and blood pressure.”

Hooper L, Abdelhamid A, Moore HF, Douthwaite W, Skeaff CM, Summerbell CD. Effect of
reducing total fat intake on body weight: systematic review and meta-analysis
of randomized controlled trials and cohort studies. BMJ. Published online December 6, 2012.

And regarding BMI…

Diabetes Care. 2009 May;32(5):791-6. doi: 10.2337/dc08-1886. Epub 2009 Apr 7.

Type of vegetarian diet, body weight, and prevalence of type 2 diabetes.

Tonstad S, Butler T, Yan R, Fraser GE.

“Mean BMI was lowest in vegans (23.6 kg/m(2)) and incrementally higher in
lacto-ovo vegetarians (25.7 kg/m(2)), pesco-vegetarians (26.3 kg/m(2)),
semi-vegetarians (27.3 kg/m(2)), and nonvegetarians (28.8 kg/m(2)).”

As a middle-aged educational
psychologist, I dropped 75 pounds when I switched to a very low fat (~10%
calories from fat) plant-based diet that is largely whole food. Research
studies also show that the same diet can prevent and reverse heart disease, as
retired Cleveland Clinic doctor Caldwell Esselstyn has demonstrated in two
different studies. See http://www.dresselstyn.com/site/articles-studies/

The same diet works amazingly well for
preventing, treating, and even reversing a variety of major chronic diseases
(which is perhaps why it is recommended by Kaiser Permanente, America's largest
HMO) If you want an overview on how diet relates to major diseases, across
peoples and continents, I highly recommend Dr. Gregor's year-end reviews




Take care, -Karl


Read more, because you clearly haven't read enough. I'm currently fasting because as a veg I don't have the luxury of eating without eating carbs (that's an abbreviation, not an identifier for some special form of carbohydrates), and as someone with a T2 diagnosis and its dehydration/cataracts/neuropathy trimmings, I have no patience at all with nitwits who push bogus ideas.

How nice for you. And of course your training in science taught you that your personal experience always generalises to everyone when you want it to, and if they don't get your results they're just not trying hard enough and so it's all their fault. Where did you get your training - Liberty U.?


Yes maybe I'm a nitwit who has no idea what he's talking about, but maybe, just maybe I've looked at the results of over a thousand research studies, and know some wrinkle that you haven't heard of.

I sincerely suggest visiting the NutritionFacts website and watching some of the videos on diabetes. It's probably the most authoritative website there is, with over a thousand videos on nutrition-health linkages, and each video just reporting just the facts from 3-10 research studies on a given topic. Dr. Gregor's new book "How Not to Die" came out today, and it apparently has ~100 pages just for the research references, with over 1000 references listed.

As for my personal experience generalizing, I believe I clearly said that the conclusions I was stating were based on hundreds of research studies on millions of people.

So I'll say again, across hundreds of millions of people on all continents, the lowest rates of major chronic diseases (including the lowest rates of obesity and diabetes) are found among those eating a whole food plant-based diet that is usually very low in fat--one third to one sixth of the fat that most Americans consume daily.

I'm sorry you think I'm a nitwit, but if you're calling me names, I'm guessing that means you haven't tried what these research studies suggest, which means you can't know whether or not what I'm suggesting will work for you. Many vegans and vegetarians actually eat pretty high fat diets with lots of processed foods, and both those factors will sabotage what I'm recommending. Now maybe you really ARE a genetic anomaly, and maybe your diabetes is so serious that what I'm suggesting only provides some relief. However, there is lots of evidence that people eating this way lose weight and the vast majority of people reduce their insulin (or get off it entirely), and this pattern has been observed across the practice of multiple doctors and numerous research studies.

Decades ago, Walter Kempner at Duke showed that diabetes could be reversed with a very low-fat rice-based diet (most patients dramatically reducing their dosage or or getting off their insulin entirely), and that was with incredibly sick patients. His even stop progression of and reversed diabetic retinopathy:


And I posted before and will post again four other videos on the research on diet and diabetes:


There are at least 70 more videos at the NutritionFacts site, just on the research on diabetes.

So what does this diet look like?

For obesity and diabetes, it's critical to understand that the effects of carbs depend on how much fat one is eating. (I study systems effects a lot, and this is the kind of system effect that routinely gets overlooked when a field is dominated by reductionism, as nutrition research is). So it is critical to get fat consumption very low because 1) obesity is lowest among those eating very low levels of fat, 2) obesity creates complicating effects for diabetics, 3) excess fat in the muscles reduces insulin sensitivity, increases insulin resistance, and reduces insulin secretion, 4) Under those conditions, eating carbs DOES seem to cause worrisome spikes in one's numbers. Thus, the recommended diet/lifestyle includes lots of salad and veggies, whole grain foods, whole potatoes or sweet potatoes, no-fat dressings; low-fat soups, stews, and main dishes, some fruit, and regular daily exercise (30-60 minutes of walking).

The fat-carb interaction effect is so powerful that past studies have found that people just eating bread all day actually lost weight and their blood sugar numbers improved (conducted at one of my three alma maters, Michigan State). Along those lines, the Bedouins traditionally ate around 25 slices of wheat bread a day, and were very lean and didn't suffer from diabetes. I'm not a Bedouin (more German really), but eat a lot of whole grain bread.

Now it can seem hard to break our addiction to fat, but research by Monell labs indicates that while people retain their craving for fat at around 20% calories from fat (or more), but when they get to 15% calories from fat, that craving/addiction seems to go away. It takes the taste buds a couple of weeks to adapt, but I too found my fat cravings disappeared, and that is critical to long-term success. Trying hard often won't pay off if people are eating higher levels of fat, but if they can get their consumption low enough, then they see the benefits, and it actually gets much easier to stay on the diet.

Finally, there is evidence that neuropathy and diabetic nerve pain are related to the plaque buildup in the arteries caused by a diet higher in fat and cholesterol (and even many vegans and vegetarians are still eating a LOT of fat). At the 11:55 mark in the video below is a study in which patients with diabetic nerve pain from their neuropathy were fed a low- fat (10-15%) vegan diet with zero cholesterol, and 17 of the 21 patients had complete relief of their nerve pain in just 4 to 16 days. These dramatic results parallel that rapid reduction in angina observed in serious heart patients who adopt a very low fat whole food plant-based diet.


I hope this helps.


Go away! You're just another webkook and fanatic, and your received ideas if followed would be a medical disaster for anyone with a defective carbohydrate/insulin metabolism.


Numerous research studies show that these ideas worked dramatically well for lots of people with severe diabetes, dramatically improving these people's lives. If you're retired, what's the harm in reviewing the videos and the research they contain?


You're trolling. Go away.