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Our Food Choices:
A Direct Connection to the Health of the Planet ­ and Ourselves

by Charley Korns

Every April, especially on Earth Day, we Americans are more likely to ponder our environment and what we might do to be more helpful. John Robbins, author of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, "Diet for a New America," founded EarthSave in the late 1980s. His book proposes a shift away from a meat-centered diet on environmental, nutritional, and ethical grounds. According to EarthSave Portland/Vancouver, which recently established itself locally, our food choices can make a world of difference.

Choosing not to eat bacon with breakfast, for example, is taking direct action toward cleaning up the earth, however indirect it may seem. In a Newsweek article last April 26, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., reported that North Carolina's hogs now outnumber its citizens (more than 7 million) and produce more fecal waste than the 22 million people in California. Although it is as virulent as human waste, hog waste is not required to be treated. A typical hog warehouse keeps 100,000 hogs in cages over metal-grate floors. Their waste ends up in open-air lagoons three stories deep, and millions of gallons of hog waste have been known to escape into rivers.

According to Department of Agriculture statistics, one acre of land can grow 20,000 pounds of potatoes. That same acre of land, if used to grow cattle feed, can produce less than 165 pounds of beef. Using land for cattle grazing is among the most destructive uses on earth. Agricultural run-off, predominately from fertilizers and pesticides, accounts for more than half of America's water pollution. In addition, farm animals internationally consume one-third of the world's ocean catch in the form of fishmeal, putting more pressure on the depleted stocks of fish worldwide.

While the environmental impact of meat and seafood production is severe, each of us is free to participate or not. Our food choices can't be underestimated for their connection to the future of the planet, not to mention our health. Changing our diet from a meat-based diet to one rooted in grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables usually doesn't come easily. However, eating lower on the food chain can be delicious, as demonstrated at EarthSave's monthly potlucks. And, thanks to established organizations, books and magazines, there is plenty of guidance and encouragement available. Web sites to visit are EarthSave International's earthsave.org and vegsource.org, an outstanding repository of articles and links.

Howard Lyman, author of "Mad Cowboy" and president of EarthSave International, will speak at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, April 19, at Kaul Auditorium on the campus of Reed College. A suggested donation of $5 will be requested at the door; free for students and seniors. For ticket information and directions call (503) 968-5838.

EarthSave's vegetarian potlucks are held on the second Sunday of every month at 5:00 p.m. at the West Hills Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 8470 SW Oleson Rd. All are invited. Bring a dish to feed 4-6, a card listing its ingredients, and a plate and utensils. Free. For more information about EarthSave Portland/Vancouver, call 503-968-5838 or e-mail espv@juno.com

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