List of Foods by Environmental Impact and Energy Efficiency

This is a guest post by Praveen Ghanta, known on The Oil Drum as praveen. Praveen is an IT consultant in Atlanta, with degrees in economics and computer science. This was originally posted on Praveen's blog,

Which foods have the smallest (and largest) energy footprint, thereby having the most environmental impact? While most people probably realize that meat products have a larger energy and environmental impact, the degree of difference isn’t immediately clear. How much difference does it make if you’re a vegetarian, or if you’re almost entirely carnivorous? The following list provides a rough estimate of the energy required to produce different kinds of foods, in order from least to most energy intensive. David McKay’s Without The Hot Air is a source for many of the numbers below:

Table 1: List of Foods By Energy Required to Produce One Pound

Food Energy (kWh) to Produce 1 Lb
Corn [1] 0.43
Milk [2] 0.75
Apples [3] 1.67
Eggs [4] 4
Chicken [5] 4.4
Cheese [2] 6.75
Pork [6] 12.6
Beef [7] 31.5

Table 2: Energy Efficiency of Various Foods (Measured as Food Calories / Energy Used in Production) [8]

Food Calories / Lb Energy Efficiency
Corn 390 102%
Milk 291 45%
Cheese 1824 31%
Eggs 650 19%
Apples 216 15%
Chicken 573 15%
Pork 480 8.5%
Beef 1176 4.3%

The data above indicate the huge difference in energy required from one end of the food spectrum to the other. Roughly twenty-five times more energy is required to produce one calorie of beef than to produce one calorie of corn for human consumption. Dairy products are actually fairly energy efficient, as they are very dense in calories. Vegans may indeed be able to boast that their diets use 90% less energy than the average American’s, and even those who eat only eggs and dairy can lay claim to significant energy efficiency.

At the same time, food production and consumption amounts to only about 10% of first-world energy consumption, so even the most parsimonious eater can reduce their total energy footprint by around 9% through diet alone. The big culprits remain transportation, heating, and cooling, and while diet modification can help, energy conservation efforts should focus most heavily on these areas.

[1] It’s possible to estimate the energy involved in corn production very accurately, since corn energy intensity has been closely scrutinized by both proponents and critics of the corn ethanol industry. This Berkeley study compares energy intensity estimates from two sources, one pro and one anti-ethanol. Using an average of the two studies’ data yields an estimate of 30,000 BTU energy consumed per gallon of ethanol produced. From the same study, about 2.75 gallons of ethanol are produced per bushel of corn, which means that one bushel of corn required 82,500 BTU. One bushel of corn is 56 pounds of corn kernels, so one pound of corn kernels requires 1473 BTU for production. This is equivalent to 0.43 kWh.

[2] For milk, the estimates provided in Without The Hot Air Chapter 13 are utilized, with this conversion used for fluid ounces of milk to weight. The estimates for cheese are also taken from the above chapter, with the numbers simply proportionally adjusted from kg to pounds.

[3] From Table 3 in this study in Nature, we see that the annual energy input for a hectare of apple trees is 500,000 MJ, or 56,230 kWh at 3.6 MJ per kWh and 2.47 acres per hectare. According to this article, 800 bushels of apples per acre appears normal, which is 33600 lb of apples at 42 lb of apples per bushel. This equals 1.67 kWh per pound of apples.

[4] Here are the estimates for eggs, taken from Without The Hot Air page 77. Using a standard of eight eggs to a pound, convert from metric to English measures and arrive at the 4kWh estimate.

[5] Chicken is examined in detail on Without The Hot Air page 79, and I use that estimate, converted to kWh per pound.

[6] For Pork, I use McKay’s estimates from page 77, and convert them for each animal. McKay estimates that a 65kg human burns 3kWh per day, or 0.0462 kWh / kg / day = 0.021 kWh / pound / day. McKay uses a pig lifespan of 400 days, and thus notes that if you want to eat a pound of pork every day, 400 lb of pig must be alive at any given time (one pound for each day, so that the rate of pig production matches the rate of consumption). McKay further estimates that only two-thirds of an animal can be used for meat, so we actually need 600 lb of pig to generate one pound of meat per day. 600lb * 1 day * 0.021 kWh / pound /day = 12.6 kWh for a pound of pork.

[7] Beef is calculated exactly as for Pork above, except that a cow lives for 1000 days instead of 400 days. 1000 lb / 0.66 (wastage factor) * 1 day * 0.021 kWh / pound / day = 31.5 kWh for a pound of beef.

[8] Calorie data was taken from, and kcal (food calories) were converted to kWh for energy efficiency calcs. We simply convert the calories in one pound of each food into kWh, and then divide that number by the energy required for production of one pound of that food.

[9] How can corn have an energy efficiency higher than 100%? This means that the energy that human beings put into the process of growing, distributing, and eating corn is less than the energy provided to the human body by the corn. The hidden factor here is sunlight – corn plants are drawing energy from the sun for free, and storing that energy, which humans later consume.

The beef data is skewed by a grain fed position. If grass fed, another world emerges:,9171,1953692,00.html

We raise grass-fed American Milking Devons here.

Every time I get excited about some new article....thud.

I should have guessed by the laughable hyperbole of the title: How Cows (Grass-Fed Only) Could Save the Planet

(Question: How do grass-fed cows stem human population growth?)

None of this would be remarkable if it weren't for the fact that the people building the barn are two of the most highly regarded organic-vegetable farmers in the country: Eliot Coleman wrote the bible of organic farming, The New Organic Grower....

Heavy emphasis on the word "bible." I've read Coleman extensively. Some of his growing techniques are worthy of a hearing. But he is a crank with a capital "K." One of my favorite Coleman passages from the above-cited bible, a sentence-by-sentence Tower of Babble:

“…pesticides are superfluous and intelligent agricultural systems don’t need them.

“Not only is this concept documented in scientific studies [not cited, MB], there is ample practical confirmation from farmers’ experience [anecdotal "evidence," MB].

"For over a century a small underground of farmers and researchers have rejected the idea that plants are defenseless victims and pests are vicious enemies [Really? Who actually believes this?].

"In their experience well-grown plants are inherently insusceptible to pests [He says this with a straight face. If true, pests wouldn't have been able to evolve in the first place].

"They contend that plants only become susceptible to pest attack when they are stressed by inadequate growing conditions [Circularity: if you have pests, the conditions are "inadequate." How do you know this? Well, because you have pests, fool!]

"Thus, they see pests not as enemies of plants, but as helpful indicators of cultural practices that need to be improved [Judicious application of pesticide = cultural practice. Pest gone].

"Simply stated, insects and disease are bringing a message that the plant is under stress. [Yes. Plants that have insects eating them are under stress. We're supposed to be surprised by that?]

"That message is incomprehensible as long as we view pests as enemies. In essence, we have been trying to kill the messenger" [Maybe he should write a book called "The Hornworm Whisperer"].


"…the role of agricultural pests as de-selectors of substandard plants is clear, just as vertebrate predators like the wolf are known to target those animals stressed by illness, injury, or senescence. [False analogy: Potato plants can’t outrun Colorado beetles, stressed, ill, injured, or not.]

"I recently sent out a questionnaire to 50 of the best commercial organic vegetable growers in the U. S. ["Self-selected" sample. About as far from scientific as one can get.] I asked if they had observed a correlation between healthy, unstressed plants and reduced incidence of pests. All but one said yes. [But of course: if you had pests, you'd be stressed, too.]

"… our minds are trapped in a pest-negative world." [Translation: We have pests because we think bad thoughts.]

The "answers" are sometimes worse than the problems. I have yet to be talked out of my doomer stance.

Bottom line: farming, period, is unsustainable, no matter what spin one puts on it.

Then maybe you should do something else. -- Dan

Actually, I'll do what I want.

farming, period, is unsustainable, no matter what spin one puts on it.

I agree. How about a Buffalo Commons? Where we are currently growing grain and beef, we had a Buffalo population of 60 million, producing millions of pounds of nutrient dense food, sequestering carbon, and adding to the topsoil, in a diverse and healthy ecology.

This is an idea whose time has come.

The more I think about it, the more I like the Buffalo Commons idea. These small towns in the semi-arid west are dying, and the water tables are dropping trying to support modern agriculture.

Buffalo Commons would solve a few problems: give people money for their houses/businesses in these areas so they can relocate, arrest the dropping of water tables, restore a natural ecosystem, and create a much less ecologically damaging source of meat for the USA.


Great Plains Restoration Council:

News article:

I recently had a "pulled buffalo" sandwich at the US Native American museum in DC. It was delicious, although prepared in a kind of sloppy style.

According to Dale Lott, who wrote American Bison: A Natural History, the number of bison ever on the prairie has been greatly exaggerated. He says that the carrying capacity of the range is less than half of the 60 million figure which is often cited.

I highly recommend this book.
Even at 30 million it was a incredible resource.
This is the book on Buffalo.

30 million = something less than 1/10 bison per person per year. Actually, a lot less than that, because you aren't going to be able to harvest all of them each year - maybe it is more like 1/20 or 1/30 per person?

So that works out to - what? Maybe one bison burger per person every two or three weeks? I suppose that would be better than nothing but rice and beans - we could live that way. Let's not kid ourselves and think that bison meat is going to be everyday fare, though.

Certainly it cannot be everyday fare so long as there are 450 million of us in North America and 7 billion of us on this small planet. And your rice and beans won't solve anything either, unless the population problem is solved. All that putting everyone on a vegetarian diet will do, so long as you fail to address the real problem, is make the eventual collapse even worse because the peak population will be even higher.

Guestimate slaughtering weight 1000 lbs, 1/10 of that per year that's about .27 lbs a day -- a daily quarter pounder. A quarter pounder every other day at 1/20. I don't know how much of that 1000 lbs is actually edible meat.

Never fear-I tried the stuff and while it's actually quite edible if you are really hungry, but a very large part of the people in this country won't eat it.Our local buffalo farmers sold out for a very few cents on the dollar-the last I heard was that if you wanted a buffalo,you could get a full grown cow , ready to slaughter, for about a third of the price of a Hereford, pound for pound.

I never did hear what happened to all the frozen meat the buffalo co-op had in storage-probably it was sold for dog food or something.

So most folks will be willing to settle for a veggie burger-you probably can have some buffalo as often as you like.;)

Buffalo commons would be just another name for farming -a primitive sort of farming to be true , but farming of a sort nontheless, as soon as somebody shoots the first wolf or lights the first backfire to save the grass.

Got to leave the predators, or the whole thing collapses.
This needs to be an intact ecosystem.

I thought the suggestion was that we were going to be the predators. We do such a good job of it. . .

We run our free range cows with free range buffalo. The cows are as wild as the buffalo. Often I've tracked what I thought was a cow to come over the hill to find a buffalo. Hunters go after the buffalo in the fall and a blood sample is taken to check the health of the buffalo herd. Brucellosis has never been a problem and the cows and the buffalo seem to get along well enough. I would guess the energy input for our beef production is pretty small. Of course our steers are sold commercially and go to a feed lot where they are stuffed with grain. We prefer a steer that's spent 8 months on the grass pasture out back of the house. They're called Grassers and they taste like beef ought to. Best from the Fremont.

The 800 pound gorilla that no one wishes to discuss is population. Sustainability is a function of the stresses of the population on the surrounding ecology. Population control is the primary key to reducing ecological stress. If we fail to control population, there are no solutions. Given that almost none of the solutions put forward by various groups to various issues, ranging from energy to food to pollution, ever discusses population directly, I am not optimistic.

One way or another, this will be solved. Lets hope some intelligence and wisdom are involved in the process, a view that has no merit at this point.

Hi David,

The 800 pound gorilla that no one wishes to discuss is population

I talk about it constantly ( just ask OFM :-) ) along with my opinion that most religions in the world are a major impediment to population reduction. Support: (Separation of Church and State)

However, you will find very few people who believe there is any kind of pragmatic/humane mechanism for reversing population growth in any kind of time frame needed to avoid the issues you raise. My personal opinion is that it is technically possible to set and meet goals (like 3-4B by 2100) if religious/corporate/political leaders actually got behind such goals. My old farmer father-in-law used to say: "crap in one hand and wish in the other - then tell me which hand produced the most". I'm not going to hold my breath.

"Bottom line: farming, period, is unsustainable, no matter what spin one puts on it."

Whoa, Horsey! The above is true, but only in the same abstract sense that "EXISTENCE, period, is unsustainable, no matter what spin one puts on IT.".

Yes, existence us unsustainable, but that is not the full measure of sustainability. I have no illusions about living forever, but while I am living I do not want to live in a polluted and physically unhealthy environment.

Full article at

The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race"
by Jared Diamond, Prof. UCLA School of Medicine
Discover-May 1987, pp. 64-66
To science we owe dramatic changes in our smug self-image. Astronomy taught
us that our Earth isn't the center of the universe but merely one of billions of heavenly
bodies. From biology we learned that we weren't specially created by God but evolved
along with millions of other species. Now archaeology is demolishing another sacred
belief: that human history over the past million years has been a long tale of progress. In particular, recent discoveries suggest that the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we
have never recovered.

Thanks. I was looking for something to do!

In particular, recent discoveries suggest that the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we
have never recovered.

Which 'we'--'you and me?' Can't recover if 'we' never were and 'you and me' would have had very little chance of ever having been without agriculture. Science wouldn't have managed to get us to this time of the 'new self perspective' either.

That horse (hunter/gathering) fled the barn long ago--though the image is backwards--closing the door won't help now.

Jared has sold a lot of copy since that funky little essay--he was enabled to do so by the high platform agriculture put him upon, and he sold most of it after he attained an age well past what hunter gatherers live to. Interesting--wonder if he assigns any value to the new perspective all these developments have allowed him to attain? Tricky realm...don't bite too hard on what isn't and apparently couldn't have least as far as 'you and me' are concerned.

Come on MikeB, I was trying to decide whether to buy some Devon stock myself and now with the Oracle of Organic on the bandwagon I'm sold!

I'll sell the offspring to folks who want to milk a nice old line milk/meat/draft animal instead of talking smack about things they know nothing about with their mouth full of Super Cheesburger.


Nice to hear from you, Pops! (I'm aka "killJOY")

Good luck with those calves. We were thinking of training one as an ox, but time constraints disallowed it, so he was scheduled for slaughter. Our land owner freaked out: Abe was a "cunnin'" little bullcalf, as we say here in the northeast. The land owner looked everywhere for a buyer--on line, even. No takers.

Abe arrives back "home" later this week, in small packages. It really is a disturbing experience to eat your loved ones.

I'm taken by the milkers. They give just enough for a family, and they're very docile. Not to mention fetching, with those horns.

Hey KJ, I thought you were another MikeB (since I'm one too that makes 4 of us from you know where)

From what I can tell the Devons and old line shorthorns are pretty well concentrated up your way where they were kind of preserved. I'm hoping to find some heifers around the midwest and bring in my bulls a 'little' at a time...

Prof. James Lovelock says the three great threats are Cows, Cars and Clearing.

He forgot the Duggar family.

Hi mos6507,

You are right - he left out one the most important icons of our plight.

Our society would jail some poor guy for stealing a few loafs of bread. These morons are eating enough bread to feed many families of poor folks - and yet, we give them a tax break and permit them the right to "free speech" on the Internet. Why is not their web site considered terrorism against the planet?

"Judicious application of pesticide = cultural practice. Pest gone"
Mike, calling someone a crank because they are suggesting we might be misunderstanding how plant systems work is a bit....extreme?

Do you know what role pests play in a system? do you know why tomatoes actually get blight?
I would encourage you to check out the theory of trophobiosis - A Pest Starves on a Healthy Plant

While i agree with most of your comments on the whole organic industry that's sprung up, you are (even if you can't admit it) stuck in a "battle" mode of agriculture.

If a plant is not in balance, whether due to stress (which locks up minerals), over application of say nitrogen , which again locks up copper. or toxins which can affect the uptake of nutrients, it will be recycled. Simple as that.
This is how this system works in nature. Cursing moulds or aphids or whatever will not change that.

If you are using pesticides or fungicides or what have you, you're missing the bigger picture.

Rather than blast me out of it, why not consider reading the book about trophobiosis, heck i'll even buy ya one! I cannot stress how important a book this is for our understanding of how natural systems work.

Just the studies on how pesticide application can increase pest populations are worth the price of the book alone!

And more importantly why not try remineralising before supporting monsanto?

Maybe you're right. I don't have any esoteric knowledge of "natural systems," only 25 years of farming experience. A few spritzes of pesticide is a great boon to someone like me, with a big garden, no help, and less time.

All I know is I have soil that has been worked with manure, compost, and mulch during that time, and Colorado Potato Beetle love my big healthy potato plants. To blame pests on a gardener's attitude towards pests is the height of absurdity. We live in a competitive, Darwinian world, and if you grow plants the pests love, the pests will come to them.

The organic farm where I work has just as big a pest problem as I have. The difference is they spray "certified organic" pesticides instead of the malathion and carbaryl that I use at home.

Horn worms come to the tomatoes and peppers, no matter how they're grown.

Japanese beetles attack everything.

Cabbage loopers need to be eradicated, not "listened to," as Mr Coleman would have us believe.

Horn worms: A predator of this insect is the braconid wasp, which lays its eggs inside the hornworm. Create habit for the wasp and they take care of the hornworm. A hornworm loaded with such eggs is a most interesting sight.

Japanese Beetles: We hang JB pheremone traps in the Chicken tractors with a hole in the bottom of the bag. The beetles fall through and are consumed by the chickens, increasing their supply of very healthy food (which results in absolutely stellar eggs).

Find and enable the predators of the insects that pester you, and you won't have to pay homage to MonSatan...

Ah well, you see it doesn't have to be esoteric mike.. If you would read the book i'd love to hear your comments.

Trophobiosis is about chemistry.
When a plant has all the nutrients it needs available to it, and is not stressed it does not exist to most predators.

This simply means that the balance of nutrients does not suit the tastes of the fungi or aphids or whatever..most people burn their tomato plants when they get blight, i spray them with seaweed concentrate and they recover...
anecdotal? isn't science about observation?

i take your point about the organic farm. I am not certified organic myself mainly because i believe the organic organisations do not look at the subject of nutrients enough.

If the compost they make or the manure they bring in is deficient in say selenium, then so will their garlic...
Which is why it's not such a good idea to buy Chinese garlic as there are large selenium deficient areas in China, but it's where most of the garlic in the uk comes from...

it gets really interesting when you look into some methods like using copper for blight on potatoes or grapes... how it actually works is the copper brings the nutrient balance back to one in which the Blight(fungus) finds the plant sap unpalatable and literally starves...

I could go on but would really recommend you try's working on oak trees too with sudden oak death..

I sometimes wonder about dutch Elm disease, it's caused by a fungus which lives on the beetle which goes to these trees. Now copper is a great way to get rid of fungus, but it happens to be locked up by excessive Nitrogen, we have had how many years of large Nitrogen applications? Could this have led to the spread of Dutch Elm disease? Just a theory..
it's all minerals!

Ok so Coleman does not write well and at times is strictly illogical however the message that he is trying to make is real.

My next door neighbours cabbages are very susceptible to Cabbage White Butterfly caterpillars. When his plants get infested he has to spray them with an insecticide.

My plants are both healthy and do not get sprayed and no caterpillars have been observed. The plants are regularly inspected as the butterflies are regularly observed settling on the cabbages and other brassica. Especially on the flowers of brassica grown for seed. When in the vegetable garden I usually see 3 to 4 cabbage whites, and I visit the garden 2 to 3 times a day.

So that leaves two possibilities, my good looking cabbages leaves are unattractive to cabbage whites or some predator is killing the eggs or newly hatched caterpillars or the neighbouring plants are confusing the scent of cabbages. I grow a chaotic garden with many different herbs and plants in close proximity. I use no sprays or other pesticides or artificial fertiliser but do build up my soil using compost, grass clippings etc

Once in a while I may get a susceptible plant, these are fed to the hens, this has not occurred in over a year. Possible causes are water stress, poor growing weather or some random damage.

It is worth pointing out that cabbages were grown successfully for thousands of years prior to industrial agriculture. That they have been selected for resistance to pests and diseases otherwise we would have centuries ago discarded them as a crop. Medieval man did not have access to modern chemicals.

Ok so Coleman does not write well and at times is strictly illogical

is directly contradictory to your claim that

however the message that he is trying to make is real.

I don't know why your cabbages don't get bugs when your neighbor's do. Are you growing a different variety? Is it good luck?

In any case, what you have is an interesting ANECDOTE.

As I mentioned, I work at an organic farm that has hideous pest problems. Every farm is different, every crop is different, and every remedy is different. Treating pesticides irrationally and inconsistently (man-made, bad; "natural," good) is no help. Modern chemistry is something to be thankful for.

Ok so Coleman does not write well and at times is strictly illogical

is directly contradictory to your claim that

however the message that he is trying to make is real.

No it isn't. It may be quaint, but it's not directly contradictory. I had a physics professor that didn't write well and at times was strictly illogical. Newtonian Mechanics was still real.

I've seen the same sort of thing on a smaller scale. I had a circle of bricks placed for flowers by previous owners in my yard. I took a bucket of charcoal and mixed in some ashes, took a leak in it a few times and let it set for a couple of weeks. I dug up the ground and mixed the charcoal in with a couple of wheel barrow loads of leaf mold. I planted a single turnip green in it. There were some slugs on the leaves touched that were laying on the ground but nowhere else and no cabbage worms. Turnip greens in my adobe clay garden 25 feet away were ate up.

Well, plants have defenses in the form of secondary metabolites and they are affected by soil fertility. Check the levels of cannibinoids of C. sativa grown in poor soil vs that grown in fertile soil. Compare the susceptibility to pests between the two.

This is one of only a few few posts I have seen here that are of little value unless you have the time to go looking for all the info that is not included.I doubt if very many of us know what the ground rules were used in coming up with the figures given, and most of us are not going to take the time to go looking for them.

The subject is too big for the cubby hole.The article needs to be expanded; as it is, it creates more questions than it provides answers.It takes along time to crawl thru so many sites and make sure you are on the same page as the person who created that page.

It is called ENTROPY

Sunlight to plant (Photosynthesis) .... human eats plant

Each step beyond that ... less efficient .... more impact.

No only is the beef data skewed, I'm not totally convinced the about the "energy use" => "ecological impact" assumption as defined in the charts.

The Aalto University School of Science and Technology's Systems laboratory did a study of Finnish food items environmental impact using total life cycle estimates and converting various inputs (abiotic, biotic, water, air, soil, etc) into a single comparable TMR (total material requirement) index.

Here are some of the results (from 2008, for Finnish food systems):

You can also download the excel file

The same in graph format for quick comparison

As for the comment "food production and consumption amounts to only about 10% of first-world energy consumption" - this may be true, but it's not necessarily an accurate proxy for environmental impact.

In the Finnish household MIPS study the material impact of food (without all transports included in the LCA of food items) the average natural resource consumption of household's food consumption was 15% of all the natural resource consumption combined (traffic, housing, etc).

The results also make more sense, when you actually start to think about them (chain the inefficiency links together : plant photosynthesis -> soybean production -> shipping -> feed production -> transport -> animal feed -> cattle bio-synthesis -> meat production -> shipping/transport -> packaging -> consumption). The inefficiencies compound.

Even a decent LC assessment of all the inputs (energy AND biotic material AND loss of sustaining land) is a much better proxy than a mere energy input. Yes, boundaries cause issues, but even in the aforementioned Finnish study much of the transport energy inputs were left out (not to mention system embedded costs ala Pimentel), so one could also argue that they are somewhat optimistic.

If you can read Finnish, you can find all the results on the Google:

Only a few English language papers (partial results) are available:

If one compares Finland to other countries in terms of energy use / capita, the figures are as follows (in tons of oil equivalent / capita / year):

JAP 3.7
UK 3.7
FIN 5 *
SWE 5.4
US 8.2
CAN 9.6

So, the Finnish results are for OECD average a bit on the high side in terms of national consumption per capita basis. The OECD average might be slightly lower.

Unfortunately I don't have TER/capita figures for nations, they might shed more light on the issue.

"If you suspend a cow in the air with buckets of grain, then it's a bad guy," Harttung explains. "But if you put it where it belongs — on grass — that cow becomes not just carbon-neutral but carbon-negative."

Read more:,9171,1953692-2,00.html#ixzz0...

You are missing the point entirely. All farming is carbon neutral if you only look at the field or pasture and ignore the additional inputs, such as the farmers tractor, pickup-truck and vacation in Disney World. The point is that if you grow corn on the same acreage, you will get 25 times more food for similar inputs.

Yea, but you will be reducing topsoil, often drawing down aquifers, using Haber Nitrogen (and creating dead zones in the GOM), and practicing bio ethnic cleansing for a mono crop, and biocide of the environment.
Just like Peak Oil, farming is not sustainable, except in a few special circumstances.

A bumpersticker for the "sustainable" cow movement:

got land?

the plow destroys land. We would have a lot more available land if not for- poorly managed grazing and plowing soils that shouldn't be plowed (a lot of them). If we continue to farm the way we do, we won't got no land. When done properly (see the research of allan savory) grazing will improve the land and bring marginal, damaged land back into production.

Nothing is sustainable. That's why everything is constantly changing!

I'm not sure what your point is. Are you saying that the nitrogen is not removed from the soil via grazing and that cows don't drink? But I agree with you that all, or at least most, forms of food production are unsustainable, but a message of this article is that some forms of food production, such as grazing are far worse than others.

Grazing, when done properly, is the best use of some land, and adds to the topsoil, and sequesters carbon.
Unless you live in a flood plain (Nile, Yellow, etc, and these are history), and your soil is replenished through flooding, the results are obvious.
Farming at this point relies on inputs to a increasingly diminished medium.
You are producing more food per acre growing corn, but painting yourself into a corner.

I doubt that grazing is ever sustainable. Sure, buffalo grazing on the prairie is sustainable, but only when the buffalo dies and decomposes in situ (or a predator does the same). If you remove the buffalo you are farming the prairie via the buffalo since the nutrients taken by the buffalo from the land does not return and ends up in the Gulf of Mexico via your local sewage treatment plant.

Your not looking at the real data.
May I suggest an educational read?

What do you mean, there is no data in this book? It seems to be a philosophical treatise at best.

Indeed, the human waste/organic matter needs to be decomposed back to soils. I covered this in this post:

However, when done well grazing is less unsustainable than other forms of agriculture since is can manage its own nitrogen inputs, most micronutrients are scavenged from native soils, and soil organic matter is being built rather than oxidized.

I mostly agree, but this is all highly theoretical since A: most practiced grazing is very unsustainable and B: There is only enough grassland in the world to feed a fraction of the population. There is nothing magical about grazing, the main thing is that the soil is not excessively disturbed and some crops are similarly non disrupting to the soil, e.g. fruits and nuts and forms of no-till.

There's about 7 billion acres of prime agricultural land in the world, which is plenty to feed everybody. Much more exists as "marginal lands" that are now being tilled.


Now I don't doubt Praveen's numbers when applied to conventional agriculture and ranching, but one has to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Pastured ruminants simply can't be lumped in with conventionally raised meat.

I'm raising sheep (along with gardening and growing fruiting trees) for my family's needs. The flock eats grass and legumes all year, with some grain for lactating ewes and growing lambs. The grain is insurance while I figure the system out and get the pasture back to health. Each year, I use less grain per animal. Right now, the lambs get about a bushel of grain before they are harvested, the ewes get about a bushel of grain while they are lactating, and that's it. Other than that, the only fossil fuel inputs are for the electric fencing (embodied in the fence, energizer, and solar-electric system that powers it) and winter feed (about 700 pounds of hay per wintered animal). As our pastures improve and we learn how to manage them better, our hay budget is coming down as well. Baled hay also serves as shelter as we have no barn. The animals are outside year-round. Lastly, bought feed brings much needed nutrients to our land. I'm happy to buy hay and even feed it in a semi-wasteful way (bale-grazing) because of how badly nutrients are needed. But if things get dire, I've got more than enough land, time, and expertise to put up the winter's feed with a scythe. (Remember, I'm talking less than 10 animals over the winter.) In fact, I alway put up some hay by hand, partly to keep in practise, but mostly for how much it shocks the people who drive by while I'm at it.

When I contrast my operation to the conventional cattle barn and feedlot operation down the road and realize that I'm being lumped into the same category, I can only shudder. There is little to compare between the two systems.

What I take from Praveen's article is that I need to get myself some dairy goats or get into dairy sheep.

However, when done well grazing is less unsustainable than other forms of agriculture since is can manage its own nitrogen inputs, most micronutrients are scavenged from native soils, and soil organic matter is being built rather than oxidized.

Yep, but we can't do it with 7 billion people on the planet.

probably, but continuing to grow food the way that we do it now will further decrease the earth's carrying capacity, while properly managed grazing will increase the land's carrying capacity in the long term, but probably could not produce enough food for everyone. Either way, we do need to work on population reduction.

The problem is that the carrying capacity, as you call it, can not ever keep up with the population that expands to reach that capacity. Better utilization of the soil will only lead to further increases in population. It would be fine if we simultaneously limited numbers.

I am a vegan but am under no illusions that veganism will make one wit of difference in sustainability. Our attitude and psychological makeup and need to breed is what is at the root of unsustainability.

Every innovation in agriculture has been met with increases in population. This way, when the crash comes, things will be much more horrific than if nature had taken its course earlier.

It is questionable whether schemes to feed people beyond their existing abilities is actually the moral approach given the ultimate immorality involved in sucking even more resources out of a resource starved planet.

Actually, the planet was a more pleasant place with less people. More land available for the beauties of nature for those who have the ability and inclination to appreciate such.

I doubt that grazing is ever sustainable...

Actually only 10% of P and K and other micronutrients are retained by ruminants with the balance passed through in manure, being nonvolatile they are readily available in the soil, with only the N volatilizing as ammonia.

By coincidence legumes can fix N from the air back into the soil and deep rooted plants like alfalfa which is also a legume, can bring up deep minerals like P & K.

Using rotational grazing to disperse manure, a good mix of plants in the pasture including legumes - especially alfalfa, can go a long way to making a more sustainable pasture.

Might want to research before posting lies.

I live on the Mississippi River and my city takes all "solids" and gives them to local farmers. In the spring the trucks are backed up to fill up on free "fertilizer". Its spread on non food crops. Have you ever heard of "Milorganite"? Also "waste" that is recycled. "Waste" is a huge problem and needs to be returned to the land, not to the oceans.

In reality your toilet should have a chute that flies right out the side of the house onto the garden.

I would argue that you are missing the point.
1.) Even if you ignore inputs, conventional corn farming is carbon-positive because of the decomposition of organic matter and the release of nitrous oxide.
2.) Grass farmers almost universally use less inputs. Example: very few use synthetic nitrogen because all of the needed nitrogen can be supplied by legumes. Proper grazing eliminates the need for herbicides, tillage (large tractors) and almost all fertilizers.
3.) "25x more food" is highly misleading. 25x more calories, perhaps, but you will die fairly quickly eating only corn. Many people (ex: the masai) have been very healthy eating only grass-fed meat and milk. Furthermore, commodity corn (that gets the 200+ bushel/acre yeilds that your calculation is based on) is not fit to eat.
4.) Sucsessfully practiced managed grazing has produced 1 inch of topsoil per year in some locations. Corn harvests on the other hand, erode more bushels of topsoil than bushels of corn. 10 tons per acre per year annually has been sequestered. Corn farming has consistently led to decreases in soil fertility and organic matter levels.

I would like to add to Carbonfarmer's notes...

Ruminants don't just cycle the nutrients in a grassland environment -- they actually add to them. There is actually a net gain in nitrogen, as some of the nitrogen which is dissolved in the blood (from breathing) makes its way out through the urine, and can become incorporated in the soil. They're also bacterial innoculant factories, as the manure they deposit is loaded with organisms and nutrients which assist in breaking down soil minerals and enhancing fertility.

A grassland without ruminants will typically not be a healthy grassland (and in many environments will not stay a grassland). Ruminants, whether buffalo or cattle, sheep, etc, are critical to healthy farming as well as healthy soils.

Chemical fertilizers (as used by most corn farmers) are known to decrease soil fertility over the long term. Take that away, and a corn farmer will still need sources of fertilizer. Up until 50 years ago, the obvious answer was animal manures, but nowadays that idea seems to be lost on most people.

Chemical fertilizers alter soil physical properties but do not lower fertility. If they lowered fertility 5 billion people would not be here today. There is not and never was enough manure and legumes to grow enough food to feed even a 1900 level of population before the use of chemical fertilizers. Starvation was common in China until nitrogen fertilizers were used there in quantity in the 1970's, despite the fact that China practiced intensive organic agriculture.
Hunger existed in Europe and even in the US until after WWII. Food was rationed in the UK after the war and it was difficult to get enough to eat, based on whit I was told by people who experienced it.

Most fertilizers acidify soil, which is corrected by liming. The nutrealizing amount of lime for various fertilizers can easily be found in many tables on the internet:

What happens to soil with continuous cultivation is that organic matter is lowered. Using organic fertilizer would keep the organic matter higher. It is the loss of the organic matter that harms soil physical properties. Also, compaction from farm equipment is a problem.

Toward the end of the 21st c. we may run out of phosphate; however we will run out of many important metals and fuels long before then.

Hunger existed in Europe and even in the US until after WWII.

My understanding is that 'hunger exists' to the tune of ~2 Billion people today and the trend is that this number is increasing. There may be more radical breakthroughs in the Green Revolution, but they'd better come quickly.

You've basically made my point for me without stating it outright. Chemical nitrate fertilizers stimulate soil microbes, which in the absense of any applied organic matter, work to destroy the organic matter within the soil. So a soil which has been repeatedly dosed with nitrate fertilizers will have lower organic matter content and reduced fertility as a result. Such a soil will have lower water retention capacity. With water being the single biggest growth limiting factor in most environments, a soil which provides less of it is less fertile.

Granted, nitrogen is one of the most limiting nutrients for most plant growth, and adding it to soil willl ove the short term enhance growth (although other studies have shown that the plants are often lacking in other nutrients important to their well being as well as ours).

But, if you take two soils, one which was treated with chemical nitrates for an extended period and another which was not, the latter will almost invariably be more fertile after the nitrate application has worn off (assuming all other things being equal at the start).

Fertility comes from nutrients, weather organic or inorganic. Crops can be and are grown without soil or in sand with a solution of fertilizer water.

You are using the term fertility and meaning yield potential. Given a soil with low organic matter and a similar one with high organic matter, both having the same nutrient levels, the one with the highest organic matter would have the highest yield.

Here along the Gulf of Mexico coast you cannot grow anything without some type of fertilizer. There never was much organic matter in the soil here. The early settlers got 10 bushels of corn per acre in this area. Now yields are closer to 100 bu/ac.

I am quite skeptical that animals can fix atmospheric nitrogen dissolved in the blood and pass it in urine. Reference?

I'm mostly putting logic together to come to this conclusion, and don't have any good reference on the subject. I do know that a small amount of the nitrogen we breathe does enter the bloodstream, and that much/most of the nitrogen in our bloodstream exits via urine in the form of ammonia.

This isn't exactly a peer reviewed and published paper, but here's a link which suggests that this process exists:

Nitrogen absorbtion by the lungs is greatly increased at higher pressures. This is why divers need to decompress slowly, or the dissolved nitrogen in the bloodstream will return to a gaseous state and cause "the bends" within their body. The amount absorbed at typical atmospheric pressures wouldn't be nearly as much as that experienced by divers though.

The biological fixation of nitrogen is discussed in "Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production" by V. Smil, highly recommended read to anyone interested in the subject.

If any nitrogen gets fixed in animals it is insignificant. Material balances have beed done on food intake and excrement and I am not aware of any nitrogen gains.

You are comparing exceptional grazing practices with typical farming practices. The point of this article is that meat production, as it is done today, is very energy intensive. If you have figured out how to do it more efficiently, good for you.

The problem as I see it is that this article lumps all forms of production together, and paints them accordingly. Those of us who are doing things correctly just take offense to being grouped with a majority who doesn't. Articles like this can change minds, which leads to legislation that hurts small producers who are doing it right.


Corn accounts for 1/4th of all crops grown in this country. As far as I can tell, very little of it is directly used for human "food." Eighty percent is used for animal feed, twelve percent is for corn chips or high fructose corn syrup. (I would argue using energy and good farmland to raise crops for junk food is not a benefit to the human race.) Another sizable portion of the harvest goes into ethanol. (Source:

There are many, many crops that can be grown that provide much more actual nutrition per acre of land and per energy input than corn.

Hi Taoman,

It is true that corn is not much used for food in this country, but is is actually a crop that turns off a huge amount of calories and is fair amount of protein and oil , given the yield.

It is thus quite suitable for a food crop ,so long as complimentary sources of protein are available, as serves as such in some places today.My family has relied on it as a staple for going on ten generations at least, and i still make corn bread at least twice a week-real corn bread, not the awful stuff that passes for it at most tables.

Furthermore corn is really a very versatile crop, well suited to cultivation over a wide range of siols, climates ,and cultures.It is simply easier to deal with than wheat, rice, or soybeans, in almosr every respect, in a simplified system of farming-for instance most years it can be left to dry on the stalk, self storing,and it requires but little in the way of tools and equipment.

You can't get your green beans to climb a rice or wheat plant, and you can't gather those crops with nothing but a sack.The stover if shocked by hand is very good chow for a cow if there is no grass or hay available.

If you have a few apple trees, a big corn field, a cow and a pasture, a couple of pigs, and a big vegetable garden,plus some chickens,you are set for a long healthy life.Until my Mom passed recently at eighty two, due to long term complications of diabetes and a broken hip, nobody in my family direct line has died at less than eighty eight for four generations back, thru my great great grandparents, other than by violence or accident.

(Of course I realize that luck, plenty of exercise, and genetics play a big role in longevity.We have been very lucky in living so long, no doubt about it.)

Hi Oldfarmermac,

I agree, corn could be part of a healthy diet and a healthy agricultural system, but what we do with it in the US is quite the reverse. When I lived in Iowa it made me sad that such beautiful, productive farmland (coming from California, I was astonished it needed no irrigation!) was dedicated to producing Big Mac's (via feedlots) and soda pop (via high fructose corn syrup) served at the drive-up window (via ethanol.) If the corn we grew was actually used for tortillas, grits, and cornbread, I would have no problem with it.

"There are many, many crops that can be grown that provide much more actual nutrition per acre of land and per energy input than corn."

Not if the corn is consumed as a staple like it has been for centuries.

The protein and calorie efficiency of rabbits
Br J Nutr. 1958;12(1):13-8.

The estimates for rabbit and chicken in this article, about 12%, roughly match the results given here.

Mervin Harris ("Cows, pigs, wars & witches; the riddles of culture") says food efficiency is the main reason behind dietary restrictions - beaf banned in India or pork banned in middle east.

Interstingly Milk in India was not banned - but considered almost sacred. The reason for the difference is that in India bulls are used to farm. So the main purpose of cows is to breed bulls - milk is a side benefit.

Re. milk, most of the world's population is lactose intolerant. It's mainly Europeans, particularly northern Europeans who can digest milk.

That's horrible. Non-Europeans should be more tolerant of lactose! What has lactose ever done to them?

Not really. In my experience most of the Indians are lactose tolerant. All of them drink coffee/tea with milk - without problems. From the time of Vedas 3,500 years ago, milk has been a staple diet. It is mostly east asians who are lactose intolerant.

I have several east asian friends that are lactose intolerant, but they seem to do okay on modest amounts of dairy products. A cup of milk or a small ice cream cone no problem, can't handle a big milkshake.

Hi evnow,

I don't know if it is still true, but, a few years back the idea of home delivery of milk (the milkman) in some places in India, meant a guy showing up with a cow and you watched him milk it for your "delivery". No question about freshness or adulteration.

Nutrition has been completely left out of this post.

Man can live on eating nothing but moderate amounts of grass fed beef. Be healthy, strong, grow big, live reasonably long life.

Man can not live eating just corn.

What is your point? Nobody eats either corn or beef to the exclusion of anything else.

If you want to compare meat-inclusive vs vegetarian diets, you have to average out the yields of corn and soybeans to get the full complement of amino acids (soy gets a lower yield) then add in the land and resources needed to grow the vegetables to add in all of the necessary vitamins and minerals. The point is that these numbers would look different if efficiency was measured in terms of protein, vitamins or micronutrients rather than simply calories.

Yeah, what he said.

What about Potatoes?

growing root crops by hand is the most energy-efficient activity known to science. My friend (an ecological economist) cited the figure that for every work calorie in, you can get 40 out. 4000% efficiency rating. I don't know where he got these numbers from, though.

Sweet potatos are a very under utilized food. They are high yielding and full of vitamins.

Peanuts are another underutilized food. Peanuts are almost as high in niacin as meats.

In looking at energy efficiency of producing food, I've looked not just at fossil fuels, but my own laziness.

One winner I've found is breadfruit trees in the tropics. I think a breadfruit tree can be well planted with less than a day's work for a single person (including starting them if you're doing a number of them at a time). From that one day's worth of work, over the tree's hundred-odd year life it will probably produce hundreds of tons of edible starch, available for picking 24/7/365. Of course it needs to be in a spot with good water and sun, and you'd want to recycle the nutrients within reach of its roots for the most part, but the food-calorie return on energy investment is potentially humongous.

Doesn't taste bad either. Of course, there are a lot of other trees which produce various things well; I'm currently having an avocado salad from the back yard; we probably get 400 lbs of them a year in a tiny tropical backyard with no effort whatsoever, and they're pickable 8 months of the year. And the coconuts keep falling, but you get sick of eating coconuts pretty quickly. Still, a vegetarian can get a lot from tree crops in a tropical area with very little energy besides the sun.

Hi Greenish,

Uhmm... do you need a migrant laborer - say Dec thru Feb? Room and board and time off for cycling will do just fine.

While touring on some country roads in India, we would come to "fast food" places. The sole proprietor would have a table full of coconuts and a machete. You picked out your coconut and then with great flare, this guy would hold the coconut at arms length and cut off the top with one precise swing of the razor sharp machete. He put a straw in it and handed it to you with great wide smile! After drinking the milk, one would just throw the coconut on the roadside where a wandering cow would chew it up. I really felt guilty about throwing away a perfectly good coconut, but I was assured that that cow would treat it with respect!

"growing root crops by hand is the most energy-efficient activity known to science"

Except growing Corn by hand

which I did for over 13 years

In the Americas, it is the most energy-efficient plant.

It is how it is used , that is the problem

Interesting post. In France we are used to calculate this in CO2 weight or C weight equivalent ( ratio 44/12 between the two) instead of kWh. This is the carbon footprint in fact…For those folks interested a very good technical document is available for free downloading.
Go there:
And download the Emission factor manual V5
There you can find from page 139 Carbon footprint for food . The other part of the document is also very interesting for carbon footprint evaluation as it is a “round trip” of all what is contributing to GHG emissions….
The other document in English is related to an Excel spreadsheet made for calculations and reporting. The excel file is not available for download….sorry! For those really interested please contact me.
Good reading.

If you want to read a peer reviewed academic study on this topic, using Life Cycle Analysis, see the paper by Weber and Mathews I cite at the top of this post:

The trouble with all these studies is that they provide a snap shot of what is, on average, rather than what is possible with best practices. For example, the meat industry is about as bad as it gets. Growing grains for ruminants is going to give you horrific numbers for efficiency. From food web theory we should expect about a 10-fold decrease in net energy between trophic levels, so if corn is 1:1, then herbivores will be 1:10. Furthermore, confining animals will necessitate all sorts of terrible energy and environmental costs for antibiotics and waste processing.

On the other hand, a diverse organic pasture with multi-species rotational grazing will need no nitrogen inputs (the largest on-farm energy expense, typically), no-tillage and associated fuel use, typically no or minimal irrigation, no pesticides or herbicides, usually no antibiotics, etc.

So basically, the process runs on sunshine, with very few fossil fuel inputs, and so what's the energy return on it compared to corn, which is pretty much break even?

The difference between annual cropping systems that require up-front energy inputs and perennial pasture systems with little energy inputs will be seen in gross calorie outputs per area. The pasture systems will provide steady returns with low inputs but require more land, whereas the annual systems are land efficient but energy intense.

The point is not to set up an either-or dichotomy, but to realize that the annual crop systems need the perennial pasture systems. Pastures will build the topsoil that is always depleted in annual cropping (even with best practices).

I cover these points here:

And here:

Good summation.

Rotational pasture systems provide the best we can do at this point in the snapshot. Which is all we have to work with.

The problems with corn bulge so far beyond energy inputs/yield. More evidence against Atrazine this week, with Syngenta disputing them tooth and nail.

Since Allan Savory has been mentioned here, I'm wondering whether you share his views on short-term intense rotational grazing? At what point does "well-managed pasture" (the kind that builds soil) become "overgrazing" (the practice of grazing throughout much of human history), and what's the difference? Any stocking density estimates?

You're comparing apples to oranges here. For corn you correctly use the fossil fuel input per calorie output. This includes the energy to make fertilizer, plow the field, harvest, and transport. In the case of ethanol it also includes energy to process into ethanol. This energy is not included if the corn is for chips and salsa.

The analysis for the meats is completely different and not comparable. You are taking the metabolic rate of animals and saying that is the energy cost. The correct calculation should be the external energy input per pound of meat. This would include transport, meat processing, refrigeration, and especially the cultivated feed cost, such as feedlot corn.
If the meat is totally grass fed and the grass is just wild mountain grass, then the energy input (especially from fossil fuel) is zero.
You would find then that completely grain fed meat (which is the typical super market beef) is about 5 times more energy intensive than corn.
This 5x factor comes from the food chain reduction of about 5x per level of the food chain.

As an alternative you could use metabolic cost for both corn and meat, and then you would have to know the metabolic rate of corn. In this case it would be fairly irrelevant since the energy in both meat and corn is completely from the sun as sugars made by photosynthesis.
This forum. being the Oil Drum is interested in the fossil fuel cost.


RK, I agree that the technique used to derive both numbers is slightly different, but it is by no means incomparable.

The corn number is indeed quite accurate, as it is derived from studies on total external energy inputs needed to grow corn. I did not include energy need to convert the corn into ethanol - as this is not part of the lifecycle in getting it to the table.

The meat numbers are a proxy, but a reasonably accurate and conservative one, as the energy required to sustain the life of a cow is the energy provided by the external inputs - grain in this case. There are other inputs missed here, but it's a good first order estimate. And indeed, it turns out that the number is 25x times higher than that for corn. Note that the 25x number that I provide is when measured in terms of the number of calories provided to the human eater in the end.

This is simple thermodynamics. To grow the cow, I must feed it grain (for typical supermarket beef, as you say). The energy in the grain must at least equal the energy needed to grow the cow (actually more, since energy is lost in the cow's digestion efficiency). So I stand by my (actually David McKay's for the most part) calculations. Please indicate if you find a factual error in my calculations, and I'd be happy to fix it.

The error of you article is not one of "facts" but of logic. Your article is similar to what is often done in attacks on ethanol where energy (EROEI/Net energy) is used as the only criteria to determine which form of fuel we should produce and consume. In this case energy is being used to evaluate which form of food to produce and consume.

This approach to food is as much nonsense as when it is used to dis ethanol. Energy is an abstraction. It is not finite like oil. Peak Oil is about a finite form of energy. That does not mean all energy is finite. A new supply arrives from the sun each day.

And all BTUs of energy are not the same. Just as with other forms of energy, all the BTUs in food products are not the same. Foods have other characteristics that are important and which can not be ignored. If we were only to produce/consume food where the BTUs in and out have the "best" ratio, the rate of diabetes would sky rocket even higher that it has.

I am diabetic and know corn is one of the worst things I can eat as well as other grains and sugars with high energy content. Low energy content and proteins like eggs and meat is how I keep my blood glucose reading in check and it is a constant battle.

Just as fuels with different characteristics can not be compared, so it is with food. Corn can not be compared to meat. They are different. Different amounts of energy may be needed to produce them, but it doesn't matter. Corn is a carbohydrate and meat is protein.

A balanced diet needs protein. And it needs vegetables and fruit as well as carbohydrates.

It is wrong to compare things that are different for just one characteristic (energy efficiency) and disregard all else. Food has other important characteristics. One is price. Another is vitamin content. Still another is availability. These matter and can not be ignored in a simple minded analysis using an ill defined abstraction like energy to evaluate concrete forms of food.

In order for an argument to be true both the mathematical "facts" and the logic must be valid. The mathematical facts for this article may or may not be true, but the logic is definitely false.

The whole concept is wrong. And the implications of the article are false.

Things that are different can not be compared. When they are the result is silly nonsense. This article is silly nonsense.

You are correct that there is a 25x reduction of energy from corn to beef (5x) then from beef to human energy (x5) but that is only if you are then going to eat the human.
(It's good to start you humans young as free range and then fatten them up for slaughter at age 12 while still tender <== humor )

There is a more fundamental issue that is the ecological and fossil fuel cost of keeping a human alive. In terms of oil, given current mass production of corn and beef, the grains are much more efficient. A more organic (a term co-opted by two huge companies in the USA that produce all the 'organic' food) is almost as bad. A place like Polyface Farm goes 'beyond organic' and there you have both grains and meat being produced almost completely from sunlight at very low ecological cost.

The real problem here is our society is mentally ill and addicted to foreign oil and the huge agro buisnesses.

There is also a fundamental issue that us humans evolved to be high energy, unstable, omnivores and do not do well eating a vegetarian diet and trying to be cows.
In fact, keeping a human alive (whether vegetarian or omnivore or meat eater) requires a lot of death of other life forms. Even a vegetarian diet entails death in the field of mice, pheasants, insects, etc. Maybe a broader question is which method of food production fosters a richer ecology or maybe pounds of life per acre.

of course 'richer' is a value loaded term, good luck trying to sort that all out

Francis Moore Lappe caused quite a stir with Diet for a Small Planet, first published in 1971. Subsequently she had something of a feud with Garrett Hardin and his followers. There was also a related book Recipes for a Small Planet by Ellen Buchmann. Both of these books emphasized complementary proteins. One if my family members was influenced to became an excellent vegetarian cook.

The answer to the "sustainable" farming model is pretty complicated. Here would be my experience after 3 years of silvaculture practice.

My 3 acres at 2000 feet on the Big Island is completely capable of producing 8 to 10 tons of produce an acre. I grow, coffee, tea, papayas, taro, sweet potatoes, chayote, poha berries, bananas, and mixed citrus, mostly grapefruit. Asparagus, basil, and green beans as well. The goal in silvaculture forest farming the key isn't so much tilling as building a very fertile ecosystem that one is capable of perpetually harvesting from. These plants I'm cultivating live below the canopy of ohia trees and quite a number of rapidly growing koa which provide large amounts of leaf litter. It rains compost here. Is such farming sustainable? Absolutely. Could it be profitable even? Absolutely--but food delivery business models need to change. I'm locally working on that and it's coming along, but even the "farmer's market" model isn't very good for sustainable farming. Why? Mostly because you produce small quantities of a wide variety of things every day. There really isn't a "harvest" season that allows for efficient marketing of a crop. I think there's ways around that, but it will take some cooperation and creativity.

There's simply no way one can "complete the nutrient cycle" without some type of animal inputs. Chickens in my case, but they're absolutely as critical to the sustainability of my "ecosystem" as the dirt.

As someone pointed out, farming is only sustainable without population growth. So saying what you are doing is sustainable is silly. And then you throw "profitable" in the mix! Profit is NEVER sustainable!

And you are also assuming that the climate will stay the same on the Big Island. Have you noticed how bad the droughts were getting there?

And that might be sustainable for you, but what about the other 300 million people in the U.S.?

I lived on the BI for a while, and I think I saw you in Sirius Coffee in Pahoa once. :^) I left the islands because people are too individualistic and hedonistic. (But I am finding this is true most places) Individualism and sustainability do not mix.


Actually, I'm only worried about sustainable for me. Those other 300 million people need to figure it out for themselves. I figure if someone can demonstrate a possible means of sustainable living, it's worth a lot more than not demonstrating anything. If a dozen or so of those are 300 million are smart enough to look at the model I'd advocate, and are bold enough to give it a try, I don't mind giving them a hand and helping them get started.

I agree, however, that there's a lot of wanking going on, especially in Pahoa.

I'm only worried about sustainable for me.

That is what I was talking about regarding "individualism". Do you think the drugged masses will keep to Kehena beach and not bother you when food runs short? Those hippies can be pretty strong when they are high.

And the very fact that you think you "own" those "3 acres" is also a laugh.

His neighbors can help him out. No need to get too many people involved.

You obviously do not live on the Big Island. :^)

You obviously do not live on the Big Island. :^)

Whatever, dude. LOL. Good luck with your non-technical, non-thinking, non-solutions. . .who knows, that non-approach may well save the world. Let me know when you've got something to show for it.

Ah, the technician till the end! "Give me some results! "Some findings! Some conclusive evidence! Let me put it on my spread sheet and balance out the tables! (Oh no, Excel crashed on me! I must stop to download a patch!) Do you not see how hard I work as a technician! I am saving the world from all the failures of the past technicians!"

Let me ask you, what solutions has humanity yet to find? Have our past solutions ever ended not needing some sort of patch, another solution? Are these technicians building their own job security? Or have we built this delicate house of cards only because of our own vanity?

I know I am saying some difficult things for you to accept because you are under the illusion that you have some sort of control over life. Sorry about that, but it does not change reality.

I do not need any luck because I am not looking to fix anything. I am doing absolutely nothing. It produces absolutely nothing and so it needs no patches. It is done. Finished. The problem is solved because there never was a problem. We are the only animal on the planet who sees life itself as a problem to be solved.

I am doing absolutely nothing.

Correction: you are bothering us.

Maybe you didn't see the subscript at the top of the page: "DISCUSSIONS about our energy and our future."

If you want to not discuss something, why come to a forum? By all means, don't discuss. You don't need a forum, or a patch, for that.

I am the wrench in the machine. The only purpose of my discussion is to end all discussion. And in fact what I say includes ALL discussions. Thought is the root of our energy addiction, For our energy use to change our thought will have to change. As a technician of thought you have categorized everything down, separated it, and filed it. If an idea jumps from opne folder to another you say that it is "bothering" your sense of order.

Why come to a forum? I do not need an explanation for that because I am just doing it. I need no reason or justification other then the fact that I exist. Why would one reason be better then another? How could you possible know whether or not my being here and writing this material will have a positive or negative outcome? I claim I do not know and I act.

I see you are a college teacher, so I am sorry I if I offended you about the uselessness and destructiveness of knowledge. A very insightful man once said; " Everything you read isn't necessarily true, even when written by an expert."

But, if everyone else agrees that I am bothering them then I will leave. Because, yes, it truly does not matter.

Don't let the door hit you on the way out!

Why are you being so mean to me?

It truly does not matter.

Was that an apology?

Actually, Christian cracks me up and I hope he sticks around.

Still, I find his non-coherent non-informed non-propositions non-persuasive. But perhaps that's his point. Whoops, but I'm assuming he has one, which is probably my non-comprehension of his non-position.

Christian, my chickens are wholly capable of technical solutions to problems by the way. It's completely obvious. We humans hardly are alone in thinking. That doesn't mean I won't eat them. I might eat them completely out of spite, as they can be superlatively annoying at times.

my chickens are wholly capable of technical solutions to problems by the way.

This is the crux of the misunderstanding of what I mean when I say "thinking". And that is my fault, I need to use different words to express what I mean in this group.

Your chickens are not solving an existential problem. They are acting on present hunger and not future hunger. Yes, their bodies do evolutionarily understand "well, when I scratch the ground it helps aerate the soil and makes it better so then there will be more food later to solve our grub shortage", but they have no mental thought about it. And that outcome took thousands of years to come to fruition. They are not saying "screw the future", they are just unconcerned about it.

Chickens do what they do and evolution dictates how everything else turns out. Which turned out OK since they have you spending months making a perfect environment for them! :^) They spent spent all that time trying to taste good to you so now you are a slave to your chickens!

Life does not pick which trait will succeed evolutionarily, it is always a random mutation that can go either way. You do remember who the last big guy was who thought he knew the right way humans should exists to succeed evolutionarily, yes?

What I argue is, using thought to solve problems we have not yet faced will alway lead to more problems. If you are hungry now, go get food. Humans have the notion of "future hunger", or fear, which dictate present actions. That helped us surpass other species in the short term, but will fail us in the long term. Our fear fetish went so far that we even invented "supra-natural" beings that we think can control the natural environment because we failed to do it with our technology.

People on the oil drum are here because of a fear of future events. I have found that when I stopped being afraid of the future everything fell into place naturally and I live simpler now.

And on your other comments, you can patronize and tease me but it is an ignorant position and you will find only the following of the simple minded. I am not assuming that my ideas are correct, but at least I have some thoughts and I am willing, and will continue, to speak on them regardless of ridicule. If my ideas are wrong, and least I will be in the graveyard of other who spoke up because they felt they were right, and then stood up for their belief even though it went against the prevailing tide of thought.

Mr Bonanno

Very few things push my buttons

Nihilism is one of them. You sir are one who is a card carrying member of that train of thought.

I will not dignify your wasting peoples time with an apology - nor will I respond to any post you will do in the future.

I am not a nihilist and people often mistake non-action for nihilism. I am in fact fighting for the meaning and the beauty of the world. I want to give it more room so people can see them and be blessed.

Ending the conversation on your assumption that I believe in something you assume I hate has no basis in logic. So I can only surmise that it is cognitive dissonance on your part.

Oh, and I do not have a Mr. in front of my name.

That was just weird.

Thanks for the warning.

Why did you think it was weird?

Say, this may be inappropriate - moderators feel free to delete - but I'll note that my wife and I formerly planned to move to Jay's neighborhood - actually, Jay's lot - but are having to get rid of the several lots we got for our family there. We have one left and need to move it cheaply, so if what Jay's doing sounds good to you as a lifestyle, feel free to drop a line. I think the example he's setting is great.

Hi, Greenish, be sure you keep me posted, as I'm always finding someone looking. Square or skinny?

I had 2 acres on North Shore Maui that produced a huge amount of food, mostly bananas, but also citrus, macadamia nuts, star fruit, mangos, lychee etc.
I could not find a market to sell it, except for the co op.
I also lived in Kula, and was able to market avocados grown there. Coffee? Way to labor intensive. Lettuce, broccoli and asparagus did well in Kula.

It rains compost here

I was talking to a young researcher a while back and if I remember the conversation right: he found that the epiphytes do the lions share of the soil building work in the rain forest (at least in the part of Costa Rica he was studying) as they are able to build their rhizoid structures very cheaply and quickly thus utilizing rainfall more efficiently than about anything else in the neighborhood. I believe he found the mass they contributed dwarfed that produced by other soil contributers...unfortunately he is not quite ready to publish yet and my memory is a poor source substitute.

(Deleted, duplicate post)

"Protein complementarity" is an unnecessary practice for most normal people. The American Dietetic Association says :

Plant protein can meet protein requirements when a variety of plant foods is consumed and energy needs are met. Research indicates that an assortment of plant foods eaten over the course of a day can provide all essential amino acids and ensure adequate nitrogen retention and use in healthy adults; thus, complementary proteins do not need to be consumed at the same meal.

It's almost impossible to devise an otherwise adequate plant food diet without enough protein. (Alcoholics eating little but alcohol, cassava-eaters, etc. can be deficient, but you have to work at it.) Most plant foods contain more than enough of all the limiting amino acids.

I think you miss my point about the chickens. They're more important for soil health and pest control than for a protein source. The fact that you can eat them, is, well, just gravy. LOL.

I really have been forced to accept that some form of animal husbandry is likely necessary to complete that sustainable farm "ecosystem."

Uh, I think you're responding to the wrong thread. My comment was in response to Robert Wilson and was strictly about nutrition.


Maybe you are all addicted to thought, I don't know, but you are still falling for the old technology trap. We are always working with incomplete information so no solution will be the final solution. The only way to go is to act WITHOUT information, without knowledge, without thought.

Technology (farming, writing, etc) is the problem. Technology is a lever which creates extracts future value for current consumption. That debt will always have to be repaid.

The politicians will not save us and neither will the technicians.

I love this blog because it is entertaining, but it is completely useless in the grand scheme of life.

Hmm, I'll have to think about that one. . .LOL.

I do think, however, that discussions around here have a tendency to be theoretical verging on the ethereal at times. While I believe in thinking things through--our issues here have two elements: 1) The first element is largely psychological--we consume too much and we're destroying ourselves, others, and the future of the planet in our mad scramble to stuff our faces. This element needs to be dealt personally and with introspection. The second element 2) we've waited too long getting started curing our addiction--now we've got a real material problem. This element is a practical issue and it requires a practical solution.

This element is a practical issue and it requires a practical solution.

Ha, there you go again. "if we just find this one last solution we will be fine!" Just one more fix pusher man!

Humans are the most noticeable population on the earth because of our thinking, but does not mean that thought has any long term benefits. Short term it allowed us to explode in population, but I am seeing thought as our evolutionary downfall.

Nature is a dictator. So we either need a human dictator to keep us in line or we need to give nature back her job.

A non-thinking, non-technical, offering no solutions dictator sounds a lot like Sarah Palin.

Ha, good one!

But I am afraid Sarah is offering up a lot of solutions.

"Dedicated to building America's future, supporting fresh ideas and candidates who share our vision for reform and innovation. "

But don't you agree, being as close to earth as you are, that if we anthropomorphize nature she would be a dictator?

naughty, naughty...even suggesting such a human mind game as anthropomorphizing...shame on you ?- )

Addicted to thought are you ?= )

that's why a lot of folks drop by TOD, it helps them gather together a fix


of course denial is a big part of many addictions...enjoy

Bonanno - if you have something else to do - that might please a lot of people. But, I suspect that being annoying is your chosen mission.

I think most of us come her to sort out what is most likely to happen in the future - and perhaps see if we can mitigate potentially painful scenarios - both for our own families and future generations. Your chatter does not seem to have any redeeming value in this context.

Thank you if you chose to go away.

Because you are annoyed by what I say does not mean that I am the source. And it does not mean that what I am saying has no validity. I seem to have walked into a church and started to talk about Buddhism. Unwelcome, maybe, but useless? Is this board becoming a church? I would not be here if I did not care about the plight of my nieces and nephews and the birds and the mammals. You just think I have a different view then you on how to mitigate the painful scenarios that are ahead. But we do not.

You feel that "it is technically possible to set and meet goals (like 3-4B by 2100) if religious/corporate/political leaders actually got behind such goals."

Yes, I am going to deconstruct that sentence to show you that we agree with each other. You say A would be possible if B happens. Well, is B really going to happen? No. There is no way humanity, with all of its' diversity, would unify behind that goal before it is too late. It is utopian, and could only happen by the rule of a world dictator, which is where I come back to nature being that dictator, ultimately. So, in fact, it will happen, whether we do something or nothing.

So you in fact offered up a hypothetical, useless solution. It gives the appearance of action, or the want of action, but it is doing nothing.

You mentioned in another post; "From my POV the issue is not how much intelligence we have, but rather how can we get rid of the mental viruses that prevent this intelligence from being used to its fullest potential."

I agree with you. What I am doing by saying that we need to "do nothing" it to try and break the meme of "doing something" which we have been doing since we first plowed the land. "People are starving, we must do something!" Really? What if we let people die when there is not enough food in the ecosystem? It was the problem solvers and technicians who have created the debt that we are now repaying with massive interest. By doing nothing I do not recommend we just keep using oil and eating crappy food. I suggest doing none of that' I mean we do NOTHING.

You even said "The delusion I'm suggesting is the apparent ingrained belief, held my most humans, that we are somehow "special" in the scheme of life and are not subject to the same rules of nature that govern chickens, rabbits and monkeys."

I agree with you! But what makes you think we are so special that " we can mitigate potentially painful scenarios - both for our own families and future generations"? What makes you think humanity is so special that it should be allowed to not feel pain?

If you want humanity to rise above these delusions you must rise about the delusions. I suggest meditation for quite a few years. It worked for me. ~:^)


Well, I'm impressed that you read and thought about some of my posts so carefully!

in fact offered up a hypothetical, useless solution

Maybe you are right - time will tell. But, I if I thought my suggestions were completely useless, I would not bother making them. There is one major action that I think would in fact help mitigate the worst consequences of our predicament - humane population reduction (like 3-4B by 2100). And, I further suggest that we need a real separation of church and state because religious beliefs are a major impediment to this goal.

I choose to be vocal about this in the hope that my tiny voice might get a few more folks to think about this and perhaps be moved to support the organizations I've listed. I feel that this is indeed more useful than meditation.

I see your POV a bit more clearly about doing nothing - I guess you are saying to do nothing that aggravates the problem. However, it does not seem to me that I'm advocating something aggravating when I suggest that we STOP breeding so much and STOP believing in fairy tales.


I seem to have walked into a church and started to talk about Buddhism. Unwelcome, maybe, but useless?

Perhaps for your next trick you could walk into a lion enclosure and start shouting 'dinner's ready'. Both welcome and useful.

Just stumbled upon this newly published thesis: The Story of Phosphorus, Sustainability implications of global phosphorus scarcity for food security.

Can be downloaded here:

A ‘hard-landing’ situation could involve further fertilizer price spikes, increased waste and pollution (including eutrophication), increased energy consumption associated with the production and trade of phosphorus fertilizers, reduced farmer access to phosphorus, reduced global crop yields and increased food insecurity. A preferred ‘soft landing’ situation will however require substantial changes to physical and institutional infrastructure, including improved governance structures at the global, national and other levels, such as new policies, partnerships and roles to bring together the food, fertilizer, agriculture, sanitation and waste sectors for a coordinated response.

Good find!

The Nature of Phosphorus in Soils

Its complicated, but suggests there is lots of sequested phosphorus currently unavailable to plants fixed in soils. Sweet clover can utilize phosphates unavailable to grasses and other types of clover, and then there's arbuscular mycorrhizae phosphate transport.

I'm not vegetarian, and indeed the purpose of my post was not to espouse a particular view on what one should eat, but simply to note the energy consequences.

Having said that, I should note that a large portion of the world's population (Billions of people) are effectively vegetarian, as they cannot afford to eat meat. And yet most of these people (except the poorest among them) are quite healthy from a diet perspective, far moreso than those who subsist almost entirely on meat alone (until it made a hard push to diversify its peoples' diets, Finland had the highest rate of heart disease in the world).

From a sustainability standpoint, a diet that uses less energy is more sustainable than a diet that uses more energy. I note in my post that diet isn't the biggest factor in world energy usage anyway - but as energy gets more expensive, you can count on people eating more low-energy foods, and less high-energy foods. That's simple economics.

80% of the worlds food calories are grains, which are degrading the environment on a horrific level, need huge resource inputs, that are mostly finite. We are just getting further out on a limb, that is about to be sawed off.
This is a predicament, not a problem. This is not looking at the material problem of what is happening. This is like checking your fuel level, as you go over the cliff.

...(Billions of people) are effectively vegetarian, as they cannot afford to eat meat. And yet most of these people (except the poorest among them) are quite healthy from a diet perspective...

While it is possible to be healthy and a vegetarian, there are some nutrients, like iron, that are difficult to maintain in a non-supermarket-rich environment. I also suspect that some people require more than others (and that is outside of the additional requirements for pregnant women.) This article ( notes that in adolescent females in India, "prevalence of anemia was found to be 59.8%." This is in line with other figures I have seen about Indian women. The study suggested that the strongest predictor of anemia was a vegetarian diet, and one analysis of the data suggested that socioeconomic status and BMI were not significant contributors.

I am reminded of the catch phrase from Michael Pollan's excellent book "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto":

"Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much."

Note that he says "Mostly plants."

Having said that, I should note that a large portion of the world's population (Billions of people) are effectively vegetarian, as they cannot afford to eat meat. And yet most of these people (except the poorest among them) are quite healthy from a diet perspective, far moreso than those who subsist almost entirely on meat alone (until it made a hard push to diversify its peoples' diets, Finland had the highest rate of heart disease in the world).

I've heard this anecdote a number of times. As I recall, the study from which this assertion springs does not control at all for sugar and refined carbohydrates. As a control, one might consider Eskimo groups who, before many adopted the 'Western' diet, were quite healthy on a heavily meat-oriented diet. Also, though I don't have immediately available references, I've read that many vegetarian people who are vegetarian because of circumstances more than choice are not all that healthy.

In short, I don't think the 'low fat/high fiber' diet is the ideal it has been made out to be, especially when one realizes that it ends up being a low protein/ high refined carbohydrate diet.

Hi ET,

don't think the 'low fat/high fiber' diet is the ideal it has been made out to be

The book "Good Calories, Bad Calories" supports your argument. I thought this book made some very valid points - I wonder if anyone else has an opinion about this book?

Just to make sure the other side is represented, take a look at Big Fat Take.

Hi Keith,

Thank you very much! I've been hoping to see a discussion of his book. I read the piece you linked and will probably read the reply by Taubes.

My personal opinion has been the position stated several times in Furmento's piece that weight gain/loss is primarily related to calorie intake regardless of where they come from. But, beyond the gain/loss issue, I'm more interested in the issue of fat (various types) as relates to artery disease. Does eating certain fats, assuming appropriate calorie level and sufficient exercise, actually represent a danger for accumulation of plaque in the arteries? It is often pointed out that Eskimos used to eat lots of fat (blubber) but did not seem to suffer much artery disease (at least this seems to be the common wisdom). Of course, they got lots of exercise and probably not an excessive amount of food. Or, is it possible that my Irish/French/German genes don't give me the same protection as Eskimo genes?

The Inuit do have high rates of coronary disease, but its seldom the cause of mortality. Their life spans are 10-15 years shorter than other N Americans and they typically die of something other than heart problems.

Check out the book "The Jungle Effect". Indigenous diets of a diversity of plant foilage, tubers and berries with small amounts of meat seems to be the winning combination for typical health indicators. The Ya̧nomamö have been a target of study in this regard.

Thanks barrett - book is on my Amazon list now.

What about Chocolate?

and coffee ?- ) as an aside I didn't realize the beer alchies I knew where so energy conscious ?- )

There's a lot more to food than calories. Apples might take more energy to produce than corn, but they also provide a lot of nutrients that corn don't. You can't survive on a diet of "corn and corn alone."

Yeah but try eating 2000 calories of apples in a day.

Life before cooking, crops, and hunting tools

Cooking is something we all take for granted but a new theory suggests that if we had not learned to cook food, not only would we still look like chimps but, like them, we would also be compelled to spend most of the day chewing.

Without cooking, an average person would have to eat around five kilos of raw food to get enough calories to survive.

The daily mountain of fruit and vegetables would mean a six-hour chewing marathon.

I'll give up beef when you pry it from my cold, dead mouth.

I'll give up beef when you pry it from my cold, dead mouth.

Thanks? for doing your part in minimizing healthcare expenditures.

"If you are eating meat twice a day and can cut back to once a day there's a big benefit. If you cut back to two or three times a week there's even more benefit. If you eliminate it entirely, there's a little more benefit, but the big benefit is getting away from everyday red-meat consumption." Walter Willett, a nutrition expert at the Harvard School of Public Health

This topic is essentially addressing the supply side of the food issue. But I have to agree with other commenters that population is the critical issue - the demand side.

Similarly with many - if not most - of the topics on The Oil Drum related to energy, the focus is on various aspects of supply, rather than the demand side.

I do find many of the supply-side discussions here interesting, but ultimately they are beside the point. Greater supplies of energy or food per person are only going to make the crash bigger when it comes.

Population: Don't go there.

I get so bored by all these hypothetical discussions of the calorie value of beef, or the EROEI of fracking, or the baseload efficiency of nukes, or the pollution of coal, while the posters tippytoe around the real problem, which is that there are too many people in the world, and the only way to sustainability is to get them to stop breeding or kill them one way or another.

When will all this brilliance and invention turn to the real problem? Who will bell this cat?

These discussions are necessary to spread the knowledge to at least us the engineers as we want to know how this delicious “T bone steak “ landed in our plate!
It is right that these billions of people arriving on our planet is more than a problem. You might do something in going there:
and look at your bank account to see if you can afford to help our future!
It is absolutely necessary for the classic TOD man to read the last four books of Jared Diamond…everything is there.
Beautiful sun rise this morning....

Population dynamics are very sensitive to energy inputs and always have been, taking into account a lag period as changes in those inputs translate into changes in population. Population growth rates have been decelerating in most of the OECD for the past couple of decades - people are marrying later, and are having fewer children. Outside of the OECD it's a different matter, though the big limiting factor there is both rising infant mortality rates and reduced life expectancies, and as those areas become more stressed, both of these factors will become stronger.

As the oil depletion accelerates, life expectancies will drop dramatically. However, this is a Fibonacci problem - even though rates are dropping, the first derivate is still positive (for now). In 20-30 years, it may very well shift negative (I do not believe we will hit 10 billion people on the planet ... maybe eight tops, and at that there be a significant overhang compared to the energy inputs). However, that second derivative will be turning more negative over time, and I'd say that by 2060 there's a very good chance that the population will be closer to two billion than ten billion. At that point, ecologically overstressed areas will succumb to desertification, while others will "revert" back to grassland or first stage forest (though revert here is perhaps the wrong word - the environment will superficially resemble the way it was in pristine conditions, but would likely have far more toxic chemicals in the soil, higher mutation rates in plants and animals alike and

Energy used in the kitchen may be greater than on the farm. There has been little mention of cooking in the foregoing discussion, beyond the point that it is more difficult to get the food calories quickly from a raw food diet. But there is considerable scope both for eating more raw food than is common in the Western diet and for using more energy efficient cooking appliances.

pre-soaking and fermentation are great traditional no/low energy ways to unlock more nutrients in foods.

Damn, every time I read theoildrum lately I get hungry. Gone to IHOP for breakfast. Two eggs, bacon, grits(corn), toast, and coffee. A human can't eat vegatables alone and be healthy or happy.

Hi Folks,

On the subject of meat and sustainability here are two more interesting links:

This one on the history of the cow entitled "Beef".

And of course the ever popular 'organic' alternative:
Polyface Farm who seem to be producing an awful lot of quality beef, pork, eggs and chickens.


I'm not sure why David McKay used 400-day/1000-day lifespans for pigs/beeves, respectively. In the US, "industrially" farmed hogs are usually slaughtered at about 5 months of age; pigs older than that put on too much backfat, which, since these days few people cook with lard, is considered a liability by the industry. Feedlot-produced steers for beef are usually slaughtered around 15-20 months.

Native Americans and Vegetarianism
By Rita Laws, Ph.D.

"How well we know the stereotype of the rugged Plains Indian: killer of buffalo, dressed in quill-decorated buckskin, elaborately feathered headress, and leather moccasins, living in an animal skin teepee, master of the dog and horse, and stranger to vegetables. But this lifestyle, once limited almost exclusively to the Apaches, flourished no more than a couple hundred years. It is not representative of most Native Americans of today or yesterday. Indeed, the "buffalo-as-lifestyle" phenomenon is a direct result of European influence, as we shall see.

Among my own people, the Choctaw Indians of Mississippi and Oklahoma, vegetables are the traditional diet mainstay. A French manuscript of the eighteenth century describes the Choctaws' vegetarian leanings in shelter and food. The homes were constructed not of skins, but of wood, mud, bark and cane. The principal food, eaten daily from earthen pots, was a vegetarian stew containing corn, pumpkin and beans. The bread was made from corn and acorns. Other common favorites were roasted corn and corn porridge. (Meat in the form of small game was an infrequent repast.) The ancient Choctaws were, first and foremost, farmers. ...... "

Hunted food has almost zero energy cost, so it should be encouraged as much as possible.

We have a bit of a hunter:game ratio problem if applied on a large scale.

Or would that be a predicament instead of a problem?

It's a predicament.

Overhunting in prehistory is credited with the extinction of numerous species. Human population at the beginning of agriculture was maybe about 3 million, less than 0.1% of today's population, and this was essentially as large a population as could be supported on hunting and gathering. This limitation was a primary reason for the rise of agriculture in the first place.