A Sustainable Diet Must Consider Physical and Ecological Health

In a culture that is increasingly saturated with vegan “life-style influencers,” it is hard to ignore the assumption that a sustainable diet is one that is plant-based, and one whose products use as few natural resources as possible in order to lessen the global impact of climate change. However, a sustainable diet in such strict terms ignores a more comprehensive consideration of human physical health. An answer for what such a diet looks like might be better understood in relation to a continuum with the following extremes: a fully plant-based diet compared to a diet rich in animal products.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition defines sustainable diets as “those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are … nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources.” It is important to note that some diets are more sustainable than others, but one’s diet must include deliberate considerations of both physical and ecological health to sustain both human life and the earth simultaneously.

The EAT–Lancet Commission expresses in their extensive report on healthy diets within sustainable food systems that “plant-based foods cause fewer adverse environmental effects per unit weight, per serving, per unit of energy, or per protein weight than does animal source foods across various environmental indicators,” while also cautioning that studies have shown that a total vegan diet – that is to say, one that is completely without consumption of any food or product containing animal products – has links to higher risks of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease, specifically plant-based diets that include less healthy plant food such as “refined grains and sugar-sweetened beverages.” With this information, it then becomes important to delve deeper into the carbon and water footprints for various foods  – with special attention to meat products in comparison to plant food – to more appropriately determine a diet that is effective in terms of health for both humans and the earth.

Considering the aforementioned definition of a sustainable diet from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which indicates “low environmental impacts”, one must look at what natural resources are used (and/or wasted) in plant-based agriculture versus animal agriculture to understand why moving away from meat and animal products is important. This becomes more obvious when comparing specific effects from carbon dioxide, and overall greenhouse gas emissions.

The Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change directly compares the carbon footprint – which includes both production emissions as well as post-production emissions such as transportation – of meat and animal products, with various plant-based foods. According to their findings, it is clear that overall production of emissions from meat and associated animal products far outweigh those of plant-based foods. The values range anywhere from 3-35 kg of CO2 emitted – depending on the meat or animal product compared to the various plant foods researched, shown in the following chart. The meat and other animal products mentioned here are those that would otherwise replace the necessary nutrients for a physically healthy diet. It is also important to look at the water footprint of many of the same animal and plant foods to determine an effective sustainable diet that considers humans and the earth.

For added clarity, according to the U.S EPA Annual Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, the United States’ agriculture practices make up for 9.5% of total greenhouse gas emission, of which raising livestock accounts for 41%.


While the data show that crop cultivation makes up half of the CO2 emissions – 10 percent more than livestock – up to 70 percent of all grain produced is fed to the livestock raised in the United States. Producing a kilogram of beef emits 26 kilograms of carbon dioxide, and the average person ate 98 kg of red meat and poultry in 2017. So, if Americans decrease their consumption of such foods, it would decrease overall greenhouse emissions.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has found that beef is about “34 times more climate pollution-intensive as beans and lentils, pound for pound”; if beef were entirely cut out of the American diet, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 46 and 74 percent of the reductions needed to reach the goal made in 2009 at the Copenhagen Summit by former President Barack Obama of 17 percent reductions by 2020. This would still be the case, even if other animal products were kept in diets such as chicken, pork, eggs, and cheese.

A healthy diet that is mindful of physical and ecological health instead is one that focuses on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, with minimal amounts of animal products to add much-needed nutrients and proteins. The EAT–Lancet Commission offers what that diet might look like on a daily basis. They define such a diet as consisting of: Nuts: 50 g (1 -3/4 ounces) per day; legumes (pulses, lentils, beans): 75 g (2-1/2 oz) per day; fish: 28 g (less than an ounce) per day; eggs: about 1 egg per week; meat: 14 g (1/2 an ounce per day; chicken: 29 g (1 ounce) per day; carbohydrate: whole grain bread and rice, 232 g carbohydrate per day and 50 g / day of starchy vegetables like potatoes and yam; dairy: 250 g (8 oz. glass of milk), vegetables: 300 g (10.5 ounces) of non-starchy vegetables and 200 g (almost 1/2 a pound) of fruit per day.

While plant foods have less greenhouse gas emissions, and overall need less water to produce than animal meat and products, one does not need to completely eliminate animal products from one’s diet.

-Posted by Brooke

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Composting Dairy Manure with Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting is the process of using worms to compost organic materials such as vegetation, cardboard, and kitchen scraps into vermicast fertilizer. The worms consume this material and then excrete that material into worm castings, which is a phenomenal organic fertilizer for all plants. A vermicomposting company, Worm Power, decided to take on a major problem as the result of animal production: dairy manure. When the company was deciding where to locate in the eastern US, they chose Avon, NY for a few reasons. It is a major agriculture area, focusing on grape and apple production, and dairy cattle. 675,000 cows are currently in production, making this the 3rd largest dairy producer in the nation. These cows are producing an excess of around 16 billion lbs of manure a year! Not only was there an excess of manure, but dairies are also located 5 miles away from two major shipping facilities to ship the finished compost product.

Dairy manure is a major issue that America is struggling to dispose of properly.  One cow can produce 82 pounds of manure per day per 1000 pounds live weight. The average Holstein dairy cow weighs 1300-1400 lbs and could potentially produce around 115 lbs of manure A DAY.

Manure lagoons

Manure lagoon where liquid manure is spread

Farmers typically use the traditional method of spreading manure on fields that need fertilizer (any production field). The problem is, cow manure is HOT from all the nitrogen which will burn the plants if too much is mixed in. A cow produces manure with approximately 210lbs of total nitrogen, 84lbs of phosphorous and 166lbs of potassium every year. Therefore, the manure must be distributed properly or it will have negative impacts on the plants. The liquid manure is separately distributed into dedicated “lagoons” to soak back into the ground.

Production process

Entire process showing how Worm Power converts manure to compost

logoWorm Power created a process to turn composted dairy manure first into worm food and then into a profitable fertilizer product. Typically, raw manure would not be fed to worms, but when it is composted and mixed with other materials it provides a good diet for worms. The building where the worms are housed is equipped with automatic ventilation, water, heated/insulated, and a direct lighting system to discourage the worms from crawling out.

aeration bays

The process begins in a covered facility where the raw manure is stored and then mixed with other materials in specific ratios using tractors. The manure mix is housed in aeration bays where the thermophilic composting phase begins. Thermophilic composting is the process of breaking down waste (grass clippings, wood chips, or sawdust) in a large pile using thermophilic bacteria. The material sits here for 14 days, being turned with machinery once. This ensures a few things: weed seed reduction, pathogen reduction, and stabilization of materials. During this process, oxygen and temperature are measure while continuously checking air flow-rate and volume controls to ensure the thermophilic process is working properly.


Diagram of how the worms are strategically fed

flow through system

Where the worms live in a flow through system

The red wiggler worms are housed in a flow through system as pictured above. They are strategically fed to ensure all the material is composted and harvested properly. If the worms are not happy and not in the correct habitat, they will not feed off the material or breed. Without these two actions, the material will never compost. Therefore, it is important to maintain the correct conditions for bedding, moisture, amount of food, etc.  The farmers taking care of these worms keep a log book with all necessary information and recommend using your nose to investigate, as the compost should not smell.


Diagram showing how the vermicompost is harvested

After six weeks it’s time to harvest the worm castings. The castings are carefully strained from the bottom layer using a hydraulic machine. These castings will be delivered through three product lines and packaged in bulk or for retail sales. The market focus is on a local and nationwide scale. Residential consumers (gardening/home use) and commercial farmers alike purchase these products with good success.

Worm Power has been awarded nine research grants from Federal and State agricultural agencies to continue developing vermicomposting techniques for large scale environmental challenges such as manure.  They partnered with multiple departments at Cornell University for a long-term project that researched the many ways vermicomposting can consume portions of the extensive amounts of waste generated in the US.

-Posted by Kelli

*All images are from Principles and Practices of Commercial Scale Vermicomposting and Earthworm Husbandry

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Feeding Your Body and Mind

Do you often experience a mid-day energy crash? Do you have a hard time keeping a regular sleep schedule? Do you often have difficulty concentrating for long periods of time? You may attribute these issues to high stress or figure that it is normal to experience these shifts in energy level and cognition throughout the day, but have you considered your diet?

Many people do not actively think about the link between the nutritional value of the food they eat and the state of their mental health. Most of us only think about our diet in terms of physical health and changing our eating habits to achieve some physical goal of losing weight, gaining muscle, or improving physical performance. I too thought this way for many years, only really considering my nutrition when trying to lose weight. This resulted in years of yo-yo dieting, due to misinformation on nutrition and not listening to what my body needed. This past fall, I began yet another diet, but this time approaching it not only as a means to an end, but as a complete lifestyle change. In doing so, I came to discover the power that my poor nutrition had had not only over my physical health, but over my mental health as well.

Overly processed convenience foods, high carbohydrate and high sugar diets, and huge portion sizes are all too common in the U.S., and it is hurting us more than we know. There is a growing body of evidence showing a link between poor nutrition and an individual’s mood, energy level, and cognitive function. Changing your diet, to include more vegetables, healthy fats, and proteins and fewer refined carbohydrates and sugar, as well as practicing mindful eating, can drastically improve your mental and physical wellbeing.

In 2019, U.S. News and World Report came out with its ranking of the top diets in the U.S., with the Mediterranean diet ranking at number 1 for overall health. The Mediterranean diet and those similar, are plant-based, focusing on a having a well-balanced diet, consisting of more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats, and reducing intake of refined carbohydrates, sugars, and heavily processed meats. These diets have been linked to long term heart health and reduced risk of cognitive decline, but also benefit short term issues dealing with mood, energy level, and ability to concentrate.

To boost energy and cognitive function here are the most important nutrients you should be getting daily from your meal plan:

  • Protein: Foods high in protein are important for feeding your muscles, increasing your energy throughout the day.
    • Good Sources: leafy greens, lean meats, fish, and eggs.
  • Healthy Fats: Monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fatty acids help with mood, and have been shown to decrease risk of depression. Studies also show they decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
    • Good Sources: Nuts, fish, seafood, chicken, and olive oil,
  • Fiber: Foods containing higher amounts of dietary fiber help regulate blood sugar levels and fill you up more than foods containing little fiber, so you don’t feel as hungry or tired.
    • Good Sources: leafy greens, whole grains, berries, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds.

Not so good for you:

  • Refined Carbohydrates: Refined or simple carbohydrates are not a good source of nutrition because they are stripped down of the essential nutrients that fuel the body.
  • Sugar: Diets high in sugar cause brain function to decline over time, and decrease one’s energy, mood, and ability to focus.
    • What to avoid/limit: Sugary drinks, sweets, and anything with high amounts of added sugars.

Following a nutrient-rich plant-based diet as outlined above has been shown to improve memory, attention skills, energy level, and mood, as well as protecting long term cognitive function.

Improving your diet for your mental health is not only about choosing the right foods to eat, but how you eat those foods. A combination of eating the right foods, cooking meals, practicing mindful eating, and planning ahead of time ensures that you sustain your healthier diet, instead of reverting back to old, unhealthy habits. Once I implemented these changes into my life, I found it easier to eat healthy and stopped craving sugar and highly processed foods.

Good nutrition is not just about providing your body with enough energy to get through the day, but protecting your mind, vital organs, and overall wellbeing. I began eating healthy with the goal of getting in shape, but through changing my habits and the foods I consumed, I discovered I felt more happy, energized, and overall healthier. I have no intention of ever returning to my past eating habits, and I hope you decide to do the same!

-Posted by Chloe

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Becoming a Backyard Farmer

Have you ever wanted to start your own garden, but excuses stopped you before the thought became a real idea? I’ve known it would be an enjoyable hobby and environmentally friendly to grow some of my own food but I thought “it’ll cost too much” or “I don’t have the tools.” These thoughts had me stuck for years, but I have now finally decided to start a garden on my student budget.

Beginning the process – Start with considering some simple spatial questions like how much outdoor space do I have to utilize? and do I have outdoor space that receives adequate sunlight throughout the day?

I don’t have a fenced backyard, but I do have a south facing front yard that begins to receive sunlight early in the morning and doesn’t fade till the sun sets. I have a space roughly 15 feet by 5 feet to the left of my front porch with plenty of space so I decided to start there. The next thing I decided was that it would be wiser to build a planter box since I’m renting and I don’t know the soil history of the yard. After these questions are addressed, it is time to start making some moves.

Acquiring supplies – It doesn’t take much to create a nice garden and if you don’t need a planter box, the list of components is even shorter.

In order to build an 8’ x 3’ x 1.5’ planter box, you will need:


Table listing materials, price, and quantity.

Beginning the build – First things first, I measured, marked and cut the 2 foot posts and the 10 foot boards into 6 – 3ft 3in long boards. I then began with the short sides. I put the 2 foot posts, a couple inches short of 3 feet apart, placed a 3 foot board at the top, made sure they made a 90° angle and screwed them together. After the first was on, I simply placed the other two on and screwed them into place.

photo #2

The 3-foot sides attached to the 2-foot posts.

After I had constructed the two short sides, I stood them on their sides and attached the 8ft boards to make a rectangular box.

photo #3

Attaching the 8-foot boards to the sides of the 2-foot post to make a rectangle.

Because the planter box is going to be sitting outside, I decided to apply wood stain to help the wood last longer in the elements.

photo #4

Planter box after two coats of Varathane Brand wood stain.

Most wood stains are toxic if directly ingested, but when given the proper amount of time to dry, it becomes safe to add your dirt and seeds! If you are curious for more information, check out some woodworking related websites like Popular Woodworking.

Next step – Buying soil for your garden. This is the step that can often be costly if you are purchasing your garden soil from a well-known landscaping company that insists on delivering the soil to your home. I decided to see if I could find an alternative, cheaper option, so I jumped on the web. I found a local, family owned company called Rio Rancho Tractor Service, that keeps topsoil, manure and mixed soil for $30 a truck load if you can haul it yourself.

photo #5

Loading my truck was super easy and quick, thanks to Steven Espinosa at Rio Rancho Tractor Service.

If you are an aspiring gardener, or have any dirt/manure related projects, I definitely recommend checking out Rio Rancho Tractor Service’s Facebook page.

Placing the planter box – I dug holes for each post, placed the planter box and then backed my truck right up to it.

photo #6

Once the post holes are dug and the planter box is in its spot, start shoveling!

Choosing and planting – Now comes the fun part, planting! If you are a beginner and don’t quite know what to start with, check out your county’s extension agents. If you’re in New Mexico, utilize the Bernalillo County Cooperative Extension Service!

I chose to plant some garlic, potato, and shallots bulbs, along with tomatoes and leafy green starters from Rehm’s Nursery and Garden Center. After everything was in the ground, it was time to water and watch them grow!

The area where I live hasn’t seen its last frost yet so I bought a wall-o-water set to ensure my tomato plants would survive the cold nights. The wall-o-water is a simple way to utilize passive solar energy to keep warm climate plants comfortable through the frosty days.

Good luck, now it’s your turn! – Hopefully I’ve proven the point that starting your own garden isn’t that hard. In total, constructing my planter box took one weekend and it cost just under $120. If a busy, full time student like myself can accomplish completing a project like this in my budget, then you can too. Just don’t forget to water daily!

-posted by Jason
*all photos by author

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The Top Three Reasons Why You Should Switch to a Plant Based Diet

Sustainability is such an important concept that we need to be incorporating in all aspects of our lives.  Recycling, carpooling, and turning the lights off when you’re not in the room are all great starts, but we need to take it a step further. Taking a look at what we eat, where it comes from, and its impact on the environment can make a huge difference in our carbon footprint and the overall health of the planet. Plant-based diets are often intimidating, but they can come in many varieties that still meet your family’s needs, are great for your health, and great for the environment. These are the three real reasons why we should all make the switch to more plant-based diets.

Plant based diets come in many different varieties. Plant based and vegan are often used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing. While being vegan could be the end goal as the most sustainable version of the plant based diet, it is not always the most realistic when starting out. Plant based diets can come in many forms that start by cutting out as many animal products as you can without sacrificing everything you love all at once. Plant based diets can range from vegetarian, pescatarian (still eating fish), only cutting out dairy, or only cutting out eggs. Any of these changes is a great first step into transitioning to a plant based diet. However, the beef industry is a huge contributor to the rapid climate change crisis and the emission of greenhouse gasses. If there is any one thing that would make the biggest impact immediately it would be cutting out all beef products from your diet.

Animal agriculture is one of the largest man-made polluters. Animal agriculture has exploded in this country at such a massive scale that it is hurting our environment in an alarming way. Animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of climate change, deforestation, water and air pollution. The biggest way animal agriculture is contributing to climate change is through emissions of greenhouse gasses. The production of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide is so large that it accounts of 18% of greenhouse gasses, which is more than all global transportation combined. This breaks down to 9% of total carbon dioxide emission, 37% of total methane emissions, and 65% of total nitrous oxide emissions – globally. Changing your diet and lifestyle can be intimidating, but the impact it can make is great for our planet. By switching to a plant-based diet we can cut the emissions coming from animal agriculture almost in half, and reduce land use, and water and air pollution coming from this industry.

Eating more fruits and veggies can have amazing health impacts.  Increasing your intake of fruits and veggies can help reduce your risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and help increase blood flow that can help aid in healing preexisting health issues. Eating more plant based can also aid in losing weight because you are eating foods with fewer calories that are packed with nutrients. While eating plant based you may be tempted with meat and cheese alternatives, which can help you transition your diet, but sticking to unprocessed fruits, veggies, grains, nuts and legumes will provide your nutrition needs without any unnecessary fillers.

Figure 3; Plant based pyramid

How the food pyramid would be modified to fit a plant based diet. Source: http://www.matthewkenneycuisine.com/plantfood-pyramid-

There are plenty of other ethical and health reasons why we should all be eating more plant based. The three reasons discussed above are great starting points to help kick start a new lifestyle that can help the environment and improve your health. Plant based diets can help lower the high rates of cancer and obesity we have in this world, and reduce the damage that has already been done to our planet because of climate change.

-Posted by Jade

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Food + Insecurity = Chronic Diseases

Let’s first start by asking what is food insecurity and how is it linked to chronic diseases? According to the Economic Research Service, food insecurity is categorized in two groups: low food security is reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet with little or no indication of reduced food intake, and  very low food security is multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake. This study found that households that experienced frequent or chronic food insecurity had different economic and demographic characteristics than those that experienced more severe food insecure conditions of shorter duration. The study also found that greater food insecurity is associated with higher probability of chronic diseases such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, hepatitis, stroke, cancer, asthma, diabetes, arthritis, COPD, and kidney disease.


ERS Food Security Status probability of any chronic condition among adults.

Hunger and food insecurity are closely related but distinct concepts. Hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the level of the household. Food insecurity is not an isolated issue, as low-income families are affected by overlapping issues such as health problems, medical costs and social isolation. This cycle of food insecurity and the extending consequences make maintaining a healthy lifestyle extremely difficult.


The cycle of food insecurity relating to chronic disease.

Many people in the Land of Enchantment are affected by food insecurity. In New Mexico, 21 percent of the total population, and 30 percent of children live at or below the federal poverty level. New Mexico is a poor state, with some of the highest rates of food insecurity and many adults and children suffering from nutrition related illnesses.


NM working family’s incomes below 200% of the poverty level (2013)

The strong link between food insecurity and obesity can be counter-intuitive, but studies show that cost constraints often force low-income individuals to decrease their intake of costly lean meats, dairy and fresh produce while increasing their intake of cheaper and more satiating foods containing processed grains and added sugar and fats. In addition to obesity, food-insecure individuals with poor nutrition are more likely to have chronic conditions.

There is also strong evidence that eating more fruits and vegetable can offset these chronic diseases for low and very low food secure people particularly, and with the help of government and local programs that provide access. Some programs have even expanded their reach to facilitate a partnership with low income people and farmers via farmers’ markets.

So how does New Mexico address accessibility for those who are low or very low food secure?  There are several nutrition programs that are bridging the gap to offset food insecurity and prevent – or reverse – chronic illness among adults and children.


FFVP through New Mexico PED

One of these initiatives is The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), a federally assisted program through the New Mexico Public Education Department. It has been successful in introducing school children to a variety of produce that they otherwise might not have the opportunity to sample. The goal is to increase overall acceptance and consumption of fresh, unprocessed produce among children. The FFVP also encourages healthier school environments by promoting nutrition education.


Roadrunner Food Bank,  assisting New Mexicans for over 35 years.

Roadrunner Food Bank is a part of a 200-member network of food banks and currently assists 70,000 hungry people in New Mexico every week. Roadrunner also provides an onsite Healthy Foods Center, a medical referral food pantry providing healthy options to those affected by the cycle of insecurity. In its 18-month pilot phase, more than 455 households were served. To support nutrition education Roadrunner provides a demonstration kitchen with cooking activities and easy recipes to share.


Who is hungry in New Mexico? RRFB assists many families and seniors each week.

Another Federally-assisted program, SNAP, is the largest domestic hunger safety net for low-income people. Through the EBT financial card system, participating farmers’ markets and grocery stores have incentivized card users to purchase local fruits and vegetables with the Double Up Food Bucks program. If you spend $30 from your EBT card SNAP benefits, you will receive a matching $30 for local fresh produce. As of 2018 this program is available at 80 outlets in New Mexico, making access easy and affordable. The goal is to have low-income consumers eat healthy, support local New Mexican farmers and help food dollars stay in the local economy.


ICAN through NMSU supports the community by offering nutrition education through cooking lessons and food management.

New Mexico State University’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences created a program called ICAN that offers free cooking classes to adults and youth. The focus is on preparing quick and nutritious meals using healthy foods, while ultimately saving money at the grocery store.  The program also promotes eating more whole grains and being physically active.

New Mexico is well on its way to fighting food insecurity.  It will take increased access to statewide partners, and a shift in cultural attitudes to sustain these programs. At some point, someone we know – or even ourselves – may need help.

-Posted by Saudika

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Why are Cattle in the Desert?

New Mexico is a desert biome subject to drought, a place where water is a sacred commodity. Monitoring residential usage while ensuring equitable dispersal of water are common concerns in our region. New Mexico directs 78 percent of its water budget exclusively to irrigated agriculture. According to the Office of the State Engineer, livestock account for just one percent of all water use. In this context livestock are not directly credited with the entirety of their water footprint, which includes the water utilized to grow alfalfa and other grasses/grains dedicated to feeding them. Animal agriculture is unsustainable not only from a perspective of water consumption, but also in terms of energy efficiency (calorically speaking). Regardless, the full extent of animal agriculture’s water consumption should be of our greatest immediate concern.

Visual 1

Summary of Estimated Water Use in the United States in 2005 from the USGS. Showing water withdrawn nationally by category.

The full scope of livestock and dairy farming’s water usage cannot be observed from a surface view. The direct water usage of livestock typically expressed in data sets include drinking water, service uses (e.g. sanitization of slaughterhouses), and for mixing into feed. For example, according to a USGS 2005 summary on estimated water usage, livestock account for only one percent of water withdrawal in the United States. Additionally, agricultural data for irrigated crops tends to be inclusive, confounding animal forage with consumer crops. Therefore, people may assume that our water is primarily applied to plant-based foods intended for direct human consumption.

Although it is known that animal products are very water intensive, little attention has been paid thus far to the total impact of the livestock sector on the global demand for freshwater resources.”  

Despite these assumptions, the impact of animal agriculture is quite water intensive – especially the industrial/commercial animal industries. However, there are varying types of production systems that use different sources of water. Industrial systems such as CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) use significantly more concentrated feed requiring more “blue water,” the volume of surface and groundwater consumed, factoring in evaporation losses. Whereas, grazing systems rely primarily on “green water” (rainwater), due to livestock’s consumption of roughages (undomesticated vegetation) as their primary feed. The water footprint of concentrated feed (e.g. grain, corn, or alfalfa) is far greater than that of grazing (or mixed systems).

Animal farming puts the lowest pressure on freshwater systems when dominantly based on crop residues, waste, and roughages.”

Grazing is the least intensive method, accounting for only 3.6 percent of the total global water footprint, mainly for “drinking and service use.” Industrial systems utilize collected rainwater as well, comprising 82 percent of the industrial system’s 22.3 percent of total global agricultural water footprint.

Visual 2

Visual 2.1

A Global Assessment of the Water Footprint of Farm Animal Products. Mesfin M. Mekonnen and Arjen Y. Hoekstra. This table shows different types of water category withdrawal in cubic meters per ton based on different agricultural systems and types of animal products.

Beef cattle have the largest contribution (33%) to the global water footprint of farm animal production, followed by dairy cattle (19%).”

The lifetime water usage of cattle is alarming on a global level: during the average life span of beef cattle (3 years), an individual uses 1,899 cubic meters of water, and annually beef cattle collectively use 798 cubic gigameter of water! More strikingly, during the average life span of dairy cattle (10 years), an individual uses over 20,000 cubic gigameter of water. Collectively, dairy cattle annually consume 469 cubic gigameter of water!

Visual 3

A Global Assessment of the Water Footprint of Farm Animal Products. Mesfin M. Mekonnen and Arjen Y. Hoekstra. This table shows average lifetime and annual use of different livestock animals.

Beef requires a hefty 15,415 cubic meters of water per ton of food produced. Dairy products include: butter (5,553 cubic meters of water/ton) and milk (1,000 cubic meters of water/ton). In contrast, pulses (4,055 cubic meters of water/ton) combine to a fraction of the water footprint of beef. Overall, if plant and animal metrics are summed together separately and pitted against each other, plant agriculture demands less water. For example, per calorie of beef produced the water expenditure is 20 times greater than for starches and cereal crops.

“The general conclusion is that from a freshwater perspective, it is more efficient to obtain calories, protein, and fat through crop products than animal products.”

Visual 4

A Global Assessment of the Water Footprint of Farm Animal Products. Mesfin M. Mekonnen and Arjen Y. Hoekstra. This table shows categorical water withdrawal for animal and plant agriculture relating to their nutritional content/value.

So, the inherent trend on a globe scale shows that cattle are demonstrably water intensive and energy inefficient. Then, why would we continue to focus our food industry in New Mexico on dairy and beef cattle rather than on maximizing consumer (non-forage) crops? “Replacing all meat by an equivalent amount of crop products such as pulses and nuts will result in a 30% reduction of the food-related water footprint of the average American citizen.” Thus, we know that plant-based foods are not only healthier for our bodies, but vital to a more sustainable future for our water resources.

-Posted by Tyrel

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Local and Whole Foods Helped My Severe Allergies

The term allergy is used quite often, but what exactly does it mean? An allergy is another word for rhinitis, which means “inflammation of the nose.” It refers to the reaction of cells in one’s body to irritants, or triggers, that result in the release of histamines and other chemicals. These chemicals present symptoms such as swelling, itching, hives, and, in severe cases, a fatal shut-down of the body known as anaphylactic shock. Unfortunately, seasonal allergies have increased over the years, as have food allergies in children by almost 50% between 1997 and 2011.

Have you ever gotten itchy eyes in the spring? Or cannot seem to stop sneezing when you’re outside? Many people possess seasonal or environmental allergies that cause them to react to particles that float around in the air. One of the most common environmental allergies is pollen. To combat this allergy, many will visit a clinic and get multiple shots to slowly build up tolerance to specific allergens that are contained in the shot itself. Similar to this process, ingesting local honey can combat a pollen allergy in the same way. Bees collect pollen from flowering plants, shrubs, and trees, many of which contribute to seasonal allergies. According to Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple, one should start by ingesting small amounts of honey, about ¼ of a teaspoon daily, and increase the dosage gradually each day to build tolerance. In a study conducted at the International Islamic University Malaysia, those who were treated with high doses of honey showed progressive improvement in their allergy symptoms. So, next time you have itchy eyes when going outside, try a daily dose of local honey to build your tolerance to the allergens around you.


This is my favorite local honey that I use to build my tolerance to seasonal allergies. Purchased at The Los Poblanos Farm Shop. Photo by author.

Food allergies are another issue. Some are minor with itchiness and hives while others are severe, resulting in anaphylaxis or death. Sometimes, even when a food one is allergic to touches another food that is consumed, an allergic reaction can still occur. This is called cross contamination, and may occur within a facility that processes many different products. When food is processed in a factory, there is a possibility that threatening foods that are processed on the same equipment can come in contact or contaminate other products.


Vegetable processing facility. Cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots going through “bulk feeders, conveyors, elevators, lifts and tippers, de-stoning systems, cleaning riddles, storing units, steam peeling vessels, de-skinning, grading and screw augers.” Photo by Polar Systems Equipment.

Whole foods are foods that are as close to their natural form as possible that undergo only the bare minimum of processing or refining before being consumed. In a study published in the Allergy and Clinical Immunology Journal, babies who were fed home-prepared, unprocessed foods possessed fewer food allergies through growth compared to babies who were fed processed foods. Therefore, not only can whole foods help those who possess food allergies, they can also prevent food allergies from developing in the future.


These children eat whole apples as they come straight from the farm and skip the processing facility. Photo by Bellamy’s Organic.

A sustainable way to get your hands on whole food is by purchasing from small, local farmers. This is because near-by, small-scale farms offer products that undergo little processing. Also, because small-scale farmers tend to sell their products directly to consumers, they are able to avoid middlemen and thus, they can offer higher quality, fresher products. In addition, a small, local farmer may be easier to contact than a larger, more distant producer. If needed, one may even be able to see the food they are going to consume throughout the growing and production process, while being able to ask the farmer direct questions about the product.

I experienced this when I visited a local Albuquerque farmer, Lorenzo Candelaria, and his farm in September of 2017. I helped work on the farm for a day and was able to view and see the food and saw everything that occurred to it. It was a transparent experience as not only was I able to see the food but I was able to ask Lorenzo directly about the produce.

Allergy precaution is a very important issue and local, whole foods can provide a solution. I speak from experience as I possess more than twenty different food allergies – one of which is fatal – and numerous environmental allergies as a result of an anaphylaxis accident in April 2015. The potential for cross contamination has caused me anxiety, especially when purchasing from large-scale grocery stores and chain restaurants because I had no idea where my food was coming from. I was terrified of losing my life over a meal or a snack, and developed an anxiety connected to every meal I consumed. Explaining my allergies to another person was another challenge as I feared others would not take the issue as seriously as I did. I would explain my “allergy card” that I made to waiters and waitresses in hopes that I would receive serious answers about the food I was ordering.


My allergy card that I would present to servers at restaurants. The class indicates the severity of each allergy. Photo by author.

I began to purchase local and whole three years ago. This helped me feel less anxious about my food and also significantly improved my health. I knew that if I had a question about the food I could easily get in contact with the grower. I had developed facial swelling and abdominal pain that is now almost absent. I cook healthy, nutritious meals at home with my family. How did I make this shift? I found the local hotspots, co-ops, and growers’ markets near where I live, my main stops being the La Montanita Co-op and the Downtown Growers’ Market. I created the habit of cooking at home by researching recipes, mostly on Pinterest, that contained the local ingredient I would purchase at the co-op or the market. I fell in love with the cooking and experimenting process as well as using cooking as a time to spend at home with my family while also helping them eat healthier. A couple of my favorite recipes include roasted carrots, lettuce-wrap tacos, and shaped chocolates.

-Posted by Destiny

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Save the date for the 11th Annual UNM Sustainability Expo

You’re invited to join us for the 11th Annual UNM Sustainability Expo, happening this year on Thursday, April 18 from 10:30am to 2:30pm on Cornell Mall. The Expo will feature a local growers’ market, interactive educational displays, and a clothing swap. The event will also showcase numerous alternative transportation, energy conservation, waste reduction, and sustainable lifestyle practices. Our intention is that attendees connect with campus and community partners, and leave the Expo inspired to take action in their personal lives.

Grab lunch from the Street Food Institute or My Sweet Basil food trucks, and stick around for live music from Santa Fe-based fol artist Eryn Bent during the noon hour. Interact with sustainability-minded organizations at a variety of engaging displays and activities. Learn about sustainable initiatives on campus and in the surrounding community. Bring home some plant starts for your backyard garden or some fresh produce for dinner.

This Expo is organized by UNM students in the Sustainability Studies Program Local Food Systems Practicum class. Longtime coordinating partners include the UNM Office of Sustainability and UNM Parking and Transportation Services.

Stay up to date on Expo happenings on our Facebook page. Come celebrate Earth Day with us – a few days early – on April 18!

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Albuquerque Residential Composting Program

A fair question to ask is why should I care about composting? Does it even really make a difference? The best way to answer that is through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Food Recovery Hierarchy. The schematic highlights the ways to divert potential food waste from the landfill, ranked from most preferred to least preferred. Composting is the last step to divert organic waste from joining the trash pile. Organic waste in landfills produces a significant amount more of the greenhouse gas methane than it does when it is properly composted. The EPA reports that in 2014, Americans recovered over 23 MILLION TONS of municipal solid waste through composting. Composted waste gets turned into a nutrient-rich input that can be used to build soil health.


The EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy highlights the most effective ways to reduce food waste.

The idea of a city wide composting program is not new. Large, urban cities such as Seattle and San Francisco have implemented mandatory composting initiatives that are run alongside their existing solid waste programs. Organic waste is sorted into its own bin and set out next to the trash and recycling bins once a week to be picked up by the city. The material is then taken to an industrial sized composting facility to be broken down into rich and healthy compost. This compost is used to fortify the soil to grow more produce.


The cycle that is created when organic waste is diverted from the landfill.

In the San Francisco model, residents are charged an average fee of $15.00 per month that covers all three waste containers. The city reports that San Francisco’s zero waste program is funded solely from revenue generated through refuse rates charged to customers. The compost, once complete, is also available to be purchased to be used for residential gardens. It is difficult to compare the cost of the models used by cities because of the wide array of approaches to implementing these programs.


EarthShare shows San Francisco’s organic waste, recycling, and landfill waste bins that are put out for weekly pickup.

How do we adopt a program like this in Albuquerque? The city has made large strides in creating a more sustainable approach to waste management through its Integrated Waste Management Plan created in 2011. This plan outlines short and long term goals to divert waste from landfills, focusing mainly on recycling. The city was able to sign a 12 year agreement with Friedman Recycling to handle city wide recycling. Following this same model, a similar partnership with local companies like Soilutions, based in the South Valley, could make city wide composting a reality. Diane Wikler, the Marketing Manager and Public Information Officer for the Albuquerque Solid Waste Management Department, says that a curbside composting program may be considered down the road but is not currently in the goals for the upcoming Integrated Waste Management Plan. She says that currently, the city encourages residents to create their own compost at home if possible. Residents are also able to take their green waste to three convenience center locations, and two annual green waste collections are offered for yard waste in the fall and spring.


Bay City Refuse shows what materials can go into a composting bin. These are based on industrial composting practices, and differ slightly from backyard composting. recommendations.

Many cities have successfully implemented pilot programs to test the feasibility of a larger program. Often this means voluntary participation in a controlled area. This will test different strategies for collection and participation, and will help determine a pricing structure. San Francisco started with pilot programs in a variety of neighborhoods to successfully test the program in diverse populations. The pilot was successful and also gave information on the most effective types of bins and alternative collection vehicles. Boulder performed an initial pilot of 400 households followed by an expanded pilot of 2,400 households, both of which showed how successful the program could be. Four years after the initial pilot the city was able to offer curbside compostable collections to the entire city. In Albuquerque, potential grant funding from organizations like the Keep Albuquerque Beautiful Initiative, part of the non-profit organization Keep America Beautiful and an affiliate of the Solid Waste Management Department, could help create a pilot program. This would be a big step towards diverting waste from the landfill and creating a more sustainable city.


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