Plants are Sustainable Food

This is Brendan Brazier, a successful endurance athlete who is also a long-time vegan. This video is from his Thrive 30 program, which is a free set of video lessons on leveraging a plant-based diet for optimum performance.

I found Episode 11 particularly interesting because Brendan succinctly explains the sustainability issues surrounding the consumption of meat. Sustainability is the idea that in any given system, the way it is structured can continue over the long term. For example, the use of petroleum is not a sustainable fuel source because the consensus is that it will run out. Its supply is finite and it can not be recycled. Hemp, on the other hand, is a sustainable fuel source because once the fuel produced from one crop is exhausted, another can be harvested. Solar energy is sustainable. Natural gas, not so much, because there is a finite supply.

Brendan notes that the supply of arable land is falling. As much as 70% of that land is dedicated to producing feed for animals, Brendan says. It can take 7-9 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat. The rest is effectively lost. Additionally, cows that eat grain instead of grass are a significant source of methane emissions to the atmosphere. These emissions may lead to climactic changes. But Brendan explains it better than I can. So check out this short and informative video.

This is important to me because one of my goals is to live sustainably. I want to contribute to a future where people are free, empowered and not exploited. But I also want a future in which human beings can be human beings. This requires the same natural environment we have evolved in, or something close to it. We are not just eating through our grandkids’ income in the form of excessive private and government debt, we’re also eating through their planet by over-consuming in dirty ways and not recycling. We’re exhausting resources. It’s not sustainable. The disaster we are creating will not be a fun place to live in, unless we make some changes immediately.

On a side note, I’ve completed 4 days on a strict vegan diet of no eggs, meat, dairy, extracted oils, nuts or excessive refined products really of any kind. I’m eating legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Around 50% of what I’m eating is raw food. I was inspired, oddly enough, by Sanjay Gupta’s CNN special on how to become heart-attack proof. I lost a lot of respect for Sanjay over his stance on the TSA issue, but clearly his medical cred is still good.

Most impressive was the interview with Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, who claims that people can become heart-attack proof in as little as 28 days by following the diet I mentioned above. I encourage you to google him. Do your own research. I was pushed over the top by his health-related claims but I have wanted to abandon meats and oils for years. In college, I was mostly vegan out of poverty. For years when I lived in Japan, I hardly ate meat. In 2008 I tried a raw foods diet and failed. I am concerned about the ethics of consuming fellow earthlings, especially from a factory farm setting. I am concerned about the sustainability (or, lack thereof) of consuming meat. But with Esselstyn et al’s health information, and resulting realistic diet recommendations, I can finally do it.

I’m loving this diet. I’ll report on it more soon.

By George Donnelly

I'm building a tribe of radical libertarians to voluntarize the world by 2064. Join me.

9 replies on “Plants are Sustainable Food”

Meat is sustainable as well. A person needs to eat more fruits and grains to be satisfied than meat. However, I agree with you that meat purchased from farms that feed their animals grass instead of grain are much better for us and the environment.

Meat might be able to be more sustainable, but even in the best case there is only so much grain or grass. In a 7 or more billion person world, I have my doubts.

Unfortunately, the only we can know is if the government would get out of the way, since governments skew the costs of food. If it costs more to be satisfied with meat as opposed to vegetables, I would guess that more vegetables would get consumed…

I’m confused.

In your post, you say: “Hemp […] is a sustainable fuel source because once the fuel produced from one crop is exhausted, another can be harvested.” However, in an earlier comment, you said: “Meat might be able to be more sustainable, but even in the best case there is only so much grain or grass.”

If “plants are sustainable food” for humans, why aren’t they so for cattle?

Plants are probably sustainable food for a naturally sustainable number of cattle.

Humans maintain huge stocks of cattle however. This number may not be sustainable.

The context is, is cattle a sustainable food source for humans. Given how much they eat and given how much people seem to want to eat them, I doubt it.

Does that make sense?

“Plants are probably sustainable food for a naturally sustainable number of cattle.” … with the key word being naturally.

The point I’m driving at is that we’re talking about a difference in degree, not in kind. We can’t simply say that plants are sustainable and meat is not. If there were twice as many humans, would plants still be a sustainable food source?

Based on my current (admittedly, limited) knowledge of the subject, I would agree that plants are “more” sustainable as a food source than meat, but not necessarily that they “are” (in the absolute sense) sustainable.

Even if you’re convinced that it is possible to produce some meat in a sustainable way, the way most meat is being produced now is definitely not sustainable. So that might influence your purchasing decisions.

Also, if the amount of meat that is sustainable is radically smaller and more expensive than that which is available today (seems likely), then wouldn’t it make sense to start moving towards that point of what is likely true market equilibrium?

My views are evolving as I gain more information and have more conversations, but I don’t think I was ever trying to say that plants are the only sustainable food source. Or maybe I was and I stand corrected. Not sure.

Thanks for your comments, John.

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