Save the Planet: Look at Your Plate

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Tompkins Weekly 9-29-14

By Amie Hamlin

The Coalition for Healthy School Food (formerly known as New York Coalition for Healthy School Food) is a state-wide non-profit. We’ve taken the New York off of our name because increasingly, our recipes and resources are being used all over the country. We have a partnership with the Ithaca City School District Child Nutrition Program (ICSD CNP). Our signature program is called Cool School Food, a partnership of the Coalition for Healthy School Food, Ithaca City School District Child Nutrition Program, Moosewood Restaurant, Cayuga Pure Organics, and Wood’s Earth. Each partner plays a significant role in bringing healthy plant-based entrees to students in all Ithaca public schools. The CHSF coordinates the program. The ICSD Child Nutrition Program provides the kitchen and the students! Denise Agati, the Food Service Director, attends virtually all of the taste tests and serves the children personally. Program Manager Jennifer Doolittle and Tina Belden, the school cook play significant roles in bringing the program to life, along with the help of many others on their team, Moosewood (represented by Chef Nancy Lazarus) helps to develop recipes. Cayuga Pure Organics provides free beans for recipe testing and then provides beans at a very good price that enables the schools to purchase local organic beans. Wood’s Earth both grows and sources vegetables for our entrée recipes. We also have our Cool School Food program in New York City, working in partnership with New York City public schools. In addition to our Cool School Food programs, we also create resources and curriculum to educate about healthy food.

We are co-sponsoring a Benefit Dinner for our partner Wood’s Earth at the Just Be Cause Center at 1013 West State Street. The local and organic dinner will feature delicious plant-based recipes from The Great Life Cookbook, which is written by Priscilla Timberlake and Lewis Freedman, RD, who also host the well-known Friday Night Macro Dinners that have been ongoing for over 17 years. Priscilla and Lewis will be special guests and will briefly discuss the community they created that inspired them to write the cookbook. For the date and more information and to reserve:

We are inspired to work with students and school meal programs because of health and environmental concerns. Students come to school to learn, and learning how to have vibrant health and how to avoid the diseases that are the biggest killers of Americans, is a valuable life lesson. In addition, trying new multi-cultural recipes opens up students to new worlds of healthy tastes! This article focuses on the food/environment connection.

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle! We are told to use a low-flow showerhead, turn down the heat, walk, bike, drive a hybrid, get energy efficient appliances, and live in a smaller house.  These are all great ways to live more sustainably. Yet there’s one way you can help the environment and reduce global warming that still doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Look at Your Plate.

Two major reports emphasize the serious problems with raising animals for food (and drink). The United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization, reported back in 2006 in their report Livestock’s Long Shadow that animal agriculture accounts for more global warming (18%) than all transportation combined (14%).

Then, in 2009, the lead environmental researchers from the World Bank published a report in Worldwatch Institiute’s Journal: Livestock and Climate Change: What if the Key Actors in Climate Change Are…Cows, Pigs, and Chickens? It stated that all previous figures were severely underestimated and that the production of animals and their products for food to a whopping 51% of global warming.

No need to argue over numbers. Whether it’s 18%, or 51%, or somewhere in between, this is an opportunity to help the planet, and by extension, our health. Yes, we can recycle, use a low-flow shower head, and all the rest, but by reducing our consumption of animal products, we have an opportunity to make a much bigger difference every time we sit down to eat. Choosing what we eat is also much easier (and more possible) than downsizing our home or buying a hybrid car, two other actions that can make a big difference, but which may not be possible for many.

And grass-fed, “humanely” raised animals are no exception.1 They contribute to these figures. Grass fed animals take up more space, live longer, and produce more methane and other greenhouse gases, and generally use more resources and cause more pollution than raising plants for food. And while local foods are appealing for many reasons, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University found that what you eat matters more than where it’s grown. Transportation is responsible for only 11% of greenhouse gasses related to food, while delivery from the producer to the retailer contributes only 4%.

The results of a major study by Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin show that comparing meals that have the same number of calories, a meat based meal produced 24 times as much C02 as a plant-based meal.

If one person exchanges eating animal products for a plant based diet, they could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 1.5 tons per year.2 If every American had one meat free day per week, it would save the same amount of CO2 emissions as taking 19.2 million cars off the road! 3 Can you skip a hamburger once a week? Do that for a year and you’ve helped fight global warming the same amount as not driving a car 520 miles.4 The water savings are huge, too. You could go six months without a shower to save as much water as you would by not eating four hamburgers.5

By reducing the number of meals that include animal products, we can make a pretty big difference! It has been said that if all people in the world ate the way we do in the United States, we would need 4 planet earths by the year 2050 to produce the food. Yet we have plenty of space on the planet for a plant-based diet for all inhabitants of planet earth.6

And what’s better for the environment is also better for our health. The 2010 US Dietary Guidelines now tell us (in the pictorial form called My Plate) to make healthy plant foods— vegetables, fruits, and whole grains—at least ¾ of what we eat. The meat category was renamed the “protein” category to deemphasize meat. And online, click on the protein category at the My Plate website, and you will see that 29 out of the 78 items listed are plant-based proteins.7 The Dietary Guidelines even devote a whole page to vegan diets.8

People who eat vegan diets are slimmer than their meat-eating counterparts—by an average of 40 pounds, according to a study of thousands of vegans, published in the journal of the American Diabetes Association.9 So the new decline in meat consumption in this country is good news not just for the environment, but in the battle against obesity as well.

So look at your plate. Because the most powerful step we can take to avert global warming is to stop – or at least reduce – consuming animal products.

Amie Hamlin is the Executive Director of Coalition for Healthy School Food, a statewide non-profit that introduces plant-based foods and nutrition education in schools to educate the whole school community. Links to two of the major reports referenced in this article can be found at

  6. note: despite the name of the link, reading will reveal that it’s 4 planets if everyone in the world eats the way we do in the US.
  8. note: pages 52-53 and 82.


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