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Eating Healthy: Good for planet

by Berna Bass, S & E, editor

Newsflash for nonvegetarians: by consuming meat, chicken, fish, as well as dairy products, people are “eating up the Earth.”

According to a workshop presented by the Sierra Club’s Hawai‘i Chapter, people’s eating habits affect both their health and the planet’s. The free session, held Feb. 15 at the YWCA on Richards Street, was a part of the Sierra Club’s monthly sustainable-living series.


Dr. William Harris, a retired Kaiser Permanente ER doctor and the author of The Scientific Basis of Vegetarianism, described ways people could lessen the impact on the Earth by eating conscientiously.

“All essential nutrients come from plants, not animals,” Harris said. Animals give only secondhand nutrients derived from what they eat. “We don’t need animals as food for nutrition,” he added.

Energy loss, Harris said, occurs at every stage of the food chain. “Bug eats plant, mouse eats bug, owl eats mouse.” At each exchange, the energy of the original food source, the plant, is reduced. Cows, Harris said, consume a lot but produce very little. According to various sources, individual cows need between 25 to 50 gallons of water and about 100 pounds of grass each day, but can only produce so much beef and dairy products: up to eight gallons of milk a day. And of course, approximately 65 pounds of manure daily, which also contains potentially harmful greenhouse gas, methane. According to, 80 percent of U.S. agricultural land is used to raise farmed animals such as chickens, cows, and pigs. According to Harris, 70 percent of U.S. crops are used to feed animals, not humans. According to, if Americans could reduce their meat consumption by 10 percent, “it would free 12 billion tons of grain, enough to feed 60 billion people.

According to a July 2003 article from the Web site, sustainable food systems shrink our ecological footprint. That is, sustainable eating reduces our impact on the environment.

“The way the food system provides food often severely damages the health of the biosphere through soil and aquifer depletion, deforestation, aggressive use of agrochemicals, fishery collapses, and the loss of biodiversity in crops, livestock, and wild species.” Because our current food systems are sustainable, the article says “we consume more resources than nature can regenerate and create more waste than nature can recycle.”

According to Harris, people can shrink their ecological footprint by becoming vegetarians and vegans because feeding humans grains, fruits, and vegetables requires less land and fewer resources.

According to the Redefining Process article which is titled “Eating up the Earth,” the food footprint consists of four components: cropland, pasture, fisheries, and energy. These “account for all of the meat, fish, grain, and vegetables that are consumed directly by humans, as well as all of the meat, fish, grain, and energy that is used to feed, harvest, and ship food products to consumers.” The article pointed to the footprint’s growth: In 1961, 27 percent of the earth’s biocapacity was occupied with proving food to humans; today the food system requires 40 percent, 47 percent if nonedible crops such as tobacco and cotton are included.

According to a January 2005 Consumer Reports article, “You are what they eat,” humans are, as a result of being at the top of the food chain, “vulnerable to pathogens, drugs, and contaminants consumed by the animals we eat.” The article reported that each American ate “an average of 137 pounds of beef, chicken, fish, and shellfish … in 2002.”

Harris added that we can get more nutrition from 400 calories of spinach, eggplant, and peanuts than from 400 calories of chicken or 400 calories of oil.

Harris has been a vegetarian since 1950, is a board member of the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii‘i (VSH) and gives lectures for the VSH on Thursdays on Olelo channel 52.

For more information on the Sierra Club, contact For more information on Bill Harris and his book, visit and


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