During just the past few hundred years in the western world, we have gone from eating mostly whole plants to consuming almost none. Today, in the United States, we derive far less than ten percent of our calories from whole plant foods (in nature’s package) — the natural diet for our species.
This almost total shift away from our natural diet has taken its toll on our health and has inflicted enormous damage on the fragile harmony of our environment. I would like to think that we could learn how to eat healthy again and correct the mess that we have created. But, sadly, I don’t think that our species has the will to take on a mammoth change like that all by ourselves — we’re going to need some help. And that help is on its way — disguised as the end of cheap oil on planet Earth. (the title of Chapter 5 in our book).
More on that in a minute; first, let’s take a look at the way various cultures are eating on our planet today. Believe it or not, there are far less than 2 billion of the world’s 7 billion people that eat the way we do. But the other 5 billion are doing their best to adopt our rich, damaging, inefficient and extremely wasteful diet-style — and that is not a good thing.
Scroll down through the following three pictures slowly — from Ecuador — to Egypt — to the United States. (Pictures and data from Rusty Lime, link below) Then, let’s talk about your observations.
What do we see here?
- The Ecuador food appears to be all plants with no packaging, no processing and no doubt locally grown.
- The Egyptian diet, while still heavy on fruits and vegetables, does include some processed and packaged goods, like soda.
- Then there’s the Americans — with their typical western diet — with meat and dairy three meals a day, almost no fresh fruits and vegetables and a plethora of highly refined — and unhealthy — food products.
- The majority of the calories in the first two photos were probably grown close to home; whereas in the U.S. and other western countries, our food does a lot of traveling before it reaches our dinner table.
What we don’t see here is that the people eating the more “primitive” diet have almost none of the chronic diseases we suffer. They are also living much more harmoniously with nature — inflicting far less damage on the environment. Since the people in Ecuador are eating much more of the nutritious whole plants and causing much less damage to the environment, what’s it going to take for us to begin moving in the direction of that healthier diet?
The End of Cheap Oil! Take a look at the American photo again — from an energy consumption perspective:
- Animal-based foods require, on average, 20 times more energy per calorie to produce than whole plant foods.
- The refinement and processing of even the plant foods uses a lot of energy, costs a lot of money and makes the product much less healthy.
- The packaging oftentimes costs more than the products inside and, of course, consume even more energy to manufacture them.
- Transportation. We spend 20 calories of energy to transport one calorie of lettuce from California to New York.
As for the end of cheap oil, the world has consumed roughly one trillion barrels of oil in the past century. While no one knows for sure how much oil is left, many scientists have concluded that we will soon reach “Peak Oil” production — meaning that the global production of oil will begin a steady decline that will likely continue for another century. Some experts believe that we are at “peak oil” now.
There are some disagreements among the experts on this topic, but there are some facts on which they all agree:
- The world oil supply is finite.
- We have extracted the easiest trillion barrels first.
- The global demand continues to rise. (See related blog)
- Prices will rise in the future. (More on “peak oil”)
- Our current energy model is grossly unsustainable.
- We must develop renewable sources of energy.
Try to imagine what $10/gallon gasoline would do to our choices in food. Quite simply, it would mean less of the energy-wasting foods and more of the efficient foods. It would mean less animal products, more whole plants, less processing, less packaging, more locally grown food and much more fresher, healthier foods.
Healthier, more efficient foods sounds great, but there will also be a HUGE adjustment period as we learn to live permanently with expensive oil. As we pay more for our energy, we will begin to consume less of it. That means smaller homes, more dense communities, more trains, less cars, more sources of renewable energy and fewer sprawling subdivisions out in the boonies. The good news here: As people move away from those sprawling suburbs, they will be freeing up the local farmlands of our future. And there’s more good news…
There will no doubt be a lot of pain as we make our move back to a healthier diet and a more efficient lifestyle in general. But, in the end, there is a silver lining in this picture — a better quality of life. To understand what I mean, I will ask you one question? Where would you rather spend your vacation? Houston or Paris?
For the complete series of the family dining around the world, click on this link from Rusty Lime. Family food expenditures around the world – Rusty Lime.
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—J. Morris Hicks…blogging daily at HealthyEatingHealthyWorld.com
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