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Whether you're out for a candlelit sit-down or a quick bite from the salad bar, green restaurants that serve organic produce and buy local, small-farm meat—among other locally grown and organic food products—make for fine green dining.

Find it! Organic restaurants and dining establishments serving local food

The following sites provide national and international databases so that you can search for and find environmentally friendly restaurants in your area that serve local and organic goods. Most restaurants offer a variety of organic and locally grown goods—including produce, meat, seafood, wine, coffee, and chocolate, among others. To search regional databases, check out: the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project Local Food Guide or the Growing Small Farms Local Guide to Restaurants in North Carolina; the Heart of Washington restaurant list for restaurants in Washington state; Farm Fresh Rhode Island in New England; the Pennsylvania Buy Local Food Guide map; the New Hampshire Farm to Restaurant Connection; the I Heart Farms California restaurant list; the Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture Restaurants Who Buy Local list in Western Massachusetts or Local Organic's Chicago-area restaurant list. Or, you can always call around to restaurants in your area and ask if they serve local and organic foods.

Choosing restaurants that serve local and organic food helps you go green because...

  • Restaurants that serve local food and drinks cut down on fuel-intensive, pollution-ridden transport from farm to table.[1]
  • The support to local farms helps preserve rural open space and reduces pollution.[1]
  • Organic food and beverages keep dangerous pesticides, insecticides, and genetically modified organisms out of the environment.
  • Organic farming combats global warming through carbon sequestration.

Local vs. meatless

A study by Carnegie Mellon University scientists has concluded that eating less meat will reduce carbon emissions even more than purchasing food locally.[2] The study found that transporting food is responsible for only 4 percent of food-associated greenhouse gas emissions (1 percent for meat emissions), while production contributes 83 percent.[3] Researchers say that means that buying all local food is like driving nearly 1,000 fewer miles in your car annually. Greater emissions savings can be achieved by simply cutting dairy and meat from your diet one day per week. Go totally veggie and you'll slash a whopping 8,000 miles in vehicle emissions.[4]

Why is meat-eating more problematic than driving a car or purchasing far-flung food? The production of meat and dairy products creates a high amount of nitrous oxide and methane emissions, from fertilizers, manure management, and animal digestion. Methane, which is much more potent than carbon dioxide, is produced both during digestion in cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, and camels, as well as during the anaerobic decomposition of livestock manure.[5] Nitrous oxide results from the nitrification and denitrification of nitrogen in livestock (most commonly of cattle) manure and urine.[6] Stats like these have led to questions like: "Can going vegan do more to slow global climate change than shopping my local farmer's market?"[7]

Eat Local, Think Global: Transport

In addition to watching how much meat you eat, also pay attention to the distance it's traveled to get to your table. Gasoline—a petroleum-based, non-sustainable resource whose extraction and production has caused major environmental damage to soil, surface and ground waters, and local ecosystems—fuel the trucks that transport food from source to restaurant.[8] Petroleum refineries are major contributors to toxic air pollutants, like carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide.[9]

Twenty pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2)—the leading contributor to global warming—are released for every gallon of gasoline burned, making the transportation sector responsible for about a quarter of overall US CO2 emissions.[10] In fact, the US transportation sector alone emits more CO2 than all but three other countries' total combined emissions from all sources.[11] And because no combustion is perfectly clean, this trucking of goods is also a primary source of local smog- and soot-causing air pollution.

When you dine at a restaurant serving locally produced fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and wines, you are cutting the distance your meal had to travel to reach you up to 27 times, according to Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture researchers. The Leopold study found, for example, that an apple grown and sold in Iowa is transported an average of 61 miles to reach its buyer, compared to 1,726 miles for a conventionally grown and distributed apple.[12] Meats travel an average of 1,500 miles from production line to table.[13]

Factory farm pollution and open space preservation

Local-buying restaurants support small farms, which can decrease pollution, conserve resources, and preserve precious open space—especially where small-farm meat is concerned.

Air and water pollution

One large-scale, industrialized factory farm creates as much pollution each day as a town with a population of 25,000 people.[14] Livestock factory farms—known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)—for example, have polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and groundwater in 17 states, according to a 1998 report from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)[15]—feeding algae growth and killing fish and other aquatic life by depleting water oxygen levels.[16] These facilities also release ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, volatile organic compounds, and particulate air pollution.[17] The 291 billion tons of wet manure that is produced annually at CAFOs[18] releases 30 million tons of methane,[19] meaning that the pollution cost of producing one steak is equivalent to driving a car 25 miles.[20] In fact, a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization found that the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions (in terms of CO2) than transport.[21]

Energy and land use

An immense amount of energy and resources are needed to raise the large quantities of livestock reared on large-scale farms in the US.[22] The Food Revolution estimates the amount of water that goes into the production of a single pound of meat: 1 pound of chicken takes 815 gallons of water; 1 pound of pork takes 1,630 gallons of water; and 1 pound of beef takes 2,500 gallons of water.[23]

Livestock-rearing uses 30 percent of the earth’s land surface, including 33 percent of arable land used to grow feed for livestock rather than food for human consumption. The search for new pastures is also a major contributor to deforestation. In Latin America, 70 percent of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing. Once on the land, livestock herds cause major land degradation—about 20 percent of pastures are considered to be degraded due to overgrazing, compaction, and erosion.[21] This land degradation and overuse leaves less land on which to grow food, contributing to food shortages and hunger, especially in the third world.[24]

Antibiotics in livestock

Large-scale farms both in the US and around the world also feed healthy animals antibiotics as growth promoters. In fact, nearly 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the US are fed to healthy pigs, poultry, and beef cattle.[25] By introducing a large amount of antibiotics into the food chain, this practice transfers drug-resistant microbes from meat to humans, creating human resistance to the medicines that were developed to treat serious health problems.[26] Already, in the US, 25 percent of the salmonella infections in humans are resistant to drugs.[27]

Small farms, on the other hand, make better use of natural resources, preserve biodiversity of seeds, animals, and land, and can even be more productive than large-scale farms.[28] And, when you consider that a land mass the size of half the United States is used for factory farm production worldwide, it becomes clear that, as Robert Anderberg, vice president of the Open Space Institute (OSI), said in an interview, “…when you protect (small) farms, you protect open space.”[29]

Apple pie a la pesticides

Organic produce, wine, coffee, meat, and other food and drink keep dangerous pesticides and insecticides out of the environment, so supporting restaurants that buy from organic farms decreases the toxic chemicals released into the environment. To be certified organic by the USDA, food must be grown in soil free of toxic pesticides and fertilizers and cannot be genetically modified or irradiated.[30]

Chemical pesticides and fertilizers are not only believed to be harmful to animal health, but they also pollute ecosystems and waterways.[31] For example, it is estimated that approximately 670 million birds are exposed to pesticides used in farming annually. Ten percent of them die as a result.[32]

Global warming

Organic farming may also be key in fighting global climate change. A study of conventional versus organic farming methods by the Rodale Institute discovered that organic farming combats global warming through carbon sequestration.[33] In agricultural applications, the more organic matter that is retained in the soil, the more carbon is sequestered. While conventional farming depletes organic matter through the use of chemical fertilizers, organic farming uses animal manure and cover crops, which actually build soil organic matter.

Organic farming further reduces atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) by using 37 percent fewer fossil fuels than conventional farming.[34] The Rodale Institute estimates that if all 160 million acres of corn and soybean farmland in the US were switched to organic farming methods, it would be equivalent to removing 58.7 million cars from the road, and would satisfy 73 percent of the proposed US Kyoto targets for CO2 reduction.[35]

Did you know?

The New Oxford American Dictionary recently chose locavore as its 2007 word of the year. A locavore is someone who seeks out locally-produced food whenever possible, preferring to eat that which is fresh and seasonal—qualities inherent in local food.[36]

Related health issues

Some of the chemicals released from petroleum refineries are known or suspected carcinogens, and cause developmental and reproductive problems. They are also believed to aggravate childhood asthma and other respiratory conditions.[37]

Studies have shown that people living near CAFOs reported experiencing more tension, depression, anger, fatigue, confusion, and less overall vigor than others. A study by the University of North Carolina found that people living near CAFOs suffer from gastrointestinal and upper respiratory ailments, such as bronchitis and asthma.[38]

A report by Pesticide Action Network North America found that American consumers are exposed to toxic chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) as many as 70 times a day due to pesticide use. POP exposure has been associated with immune system suppression, nervous and hormonal system disorders, reproductive system damage, and various cancers, including breast cancer. The two leading POPs found in food are dieldrin and DDE.[39]

Children are particularly susceptible to the health effects of pesticide ingestion due to their lower body weights and higher metabolisms. Every day, more than 1 million children between the ages of 1 and 5 eat an estimated 15 pesticides on contaminated fruits and vegetables alone. Six hundred thousand of these children eat dosages of pesticides deemed unsafe by the government.[40]

Glossary

  • carbon sequestration: The process by which carbon is captured (in the form of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas) from the atmosphere and incorporated into soil, ocean, and plant matter.

External Links

Footnotes

  1. Environmental Defense - An Eco-friendly Mother’s Day
  2. Discover News - Eating Green: Food Type Trumps Distance
  3. Science News - It's the meat, not the miles
  4. NewScientist Environment - Food miles don't feed climate change - meat does
  5. US Environmental Protection Agency - Where does methane come from: Livestock enteric fermentation & Livestock manure management
  6. US Environmental Protection Agency - Where does nitrous oxide come from: Livestock manure management
  7. About.com - What does eating meat have to do with fossil fuels?
  8. US Geological Survey - Environmental Impacts of Petroleum Production: Initial Results from the Osage-Skiatook Petroleum Environmental Research Sites, Osage County, Oklahoma
  9. EnviroTools - Environmental Impact of the Petroleum Industry
  10. Fueleconomy.gov - How Can 6 Pounds of Gasoline Produce 20 Pounds of Carbon Dioxide?
  11. Union of Concerned Scientists - Cars and Trucks and Global Warming
  12. Science News Online - Local Foods Could Make for Greener Grocers
  13. Sustainable Table - The Issues: Fossil Fuel and Energy Use
  14. Sierra Club - Clean Water and Factory Farms: Frequently Asked Questions
  15. Grist - Ag Reflex: Factory farms let off the hook for water pollution, activists say
  16. Sierra Club - Clean Water and Factory Farms Reports and Factsheets: Air Pollution and Factory Farms
  17. Grist - A Big To-Doo-Doo: EPA offers air-pollution immunity to factory farms
  18. US Environmental Protection Agency - Environmental Assessment: Proposed CAFO Rule
  19. Nutrition Action Healthletter - Eating Green Page 1
  20. Nutrition Action Healthletter - Eating Green: page 3
  21. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - Livestock a major threat to environment: Remedies urgently needed
  22. Kneidel, S. and Kneidel, S.K.: "Veggie Revolution", page 40, Fulcrum Publishing, 2005
  23. Robbins, J.: "The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help You Save Your Life and World", page 236, Conari Press, 2001
  24. International Food Policy Research Institute - Research Results: Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda
  25. Environmental Defense - McDonald's Says No More Playing Chicken with Antibiotics
  26. Common Dreams - Cheaper Meat Doesn't Equal Happier Meals
  27. Mother Earth News - Breeding an Epidemic: Antibiotics and Meat
  28. Food First - Policy Brief No.4: The Multiple Functions and Benefits of Small Farm Agriculture
  29. Open Space Institute - The Two Farms Campaign: Working with Local Partners to Protect the Land
  30. Seattle Post-Intelligencer - Are organic fruit, veggies worth the extra cost?
  31. Modern Brewery Age - Hops in beer often laced with pesticides, writer says
  32. Pesticides and Birds Campaign - The Problem
  33. Food and Society Policy Fellows - Organic Farming Fights Global Warming
  34. Straus Communications - Organic Farming Sequesters Atmospheric Carbon and Nutrients in Soils: The Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial® Findings
  35. The New Farm - Organic farming combats global warming … big time
  36. Oxford University Press - Oxford Word Of The Year: Locavore
  37. EnviroTools - Environmental Impact of the Petroleum Industry: Environmental Hazards of Petroleum Refineries
  38. Sierra Club - Clean Water and Factory Farms67Reports and Factsheets: Air Pollution From Factory Farms
  39. Pesticide Action Network North America - "Nowhere to Hide" media release
  40. Environmental Defense - Challenge: Ensuring Public Health by Protecting Food and Drinking Water Supplies