There are tremendous benefits in maintaining the earth’s tropical rain forests. Not only do they play host to thousands of animal and plant species, some of which promise to cure cancer, they are also the home to thousands of tribal cultures. Furthermore, they keep our planet, our home, livable by sequestering carbon dioxide and cooling our planet.
Unfortunately, we are losing our forests at an alarming rate, mostly because we are unwittingly eating them away. An estimated 5.8 million hectares of forest land is cleared annually in the tropics, 49% of which was converted into agricultural land. As a result, deforestation is one of the biggest causes in the rise of greenhouse gasses (GHGs), 50% more GHGs are released into the atmosphere from forest clearing than from transportation tailpipe emissions. So in order to arrest climate change, we ought to go on an earth friendly diet and avoid food linked to deforestation. The following are the top five (5) foods responsible for rainforest destruction:
1. Beef – More and more people are becoming beefeaters. No, it’s not because Her Majesty is recruiting more guards. As more and more people enter the middle class, particularly in East Asia, more and more of them are replacing their veggies with vegetation eaters, like cattle. Cows need pasture to graze on and those that do not subsist on grass alone are fed with corn, which is most likely grown on fields that were formerly forests. To make matters worse, cattle fart a lot, releasing methane, a potent GHG. So, it turns out, eating beef is a stinky proposition in more ways than one.
2. Soya – This is caused by the increased demand for meat by the growing middle class worldwide, not just in East Asia. It’s not because more and more people are into tofu and soy sauce, on the contrary, it’s because more and more people are eating meat – beef, pork and chicken. And in order to bulk up, cows, pigs and chickens eat a lot of soya, from which they derive the bulk of their protein requirement. With demand for meat rising at 1.9% per year, we can only see soybean fields expanding even further in countries like Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia.
3. Palm oil – This is the most efficient and most profitable way of producing vegetable oil that is used for cooking. Unfortunately, most of the plantations and oil mills are located in South East Asia, far from it’s native Africa. As a result, thousands of hectares of native forests are cleared to make way for this money making alien of a tree, particularly in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Malaysia. As it is, palm oil farming is already extensive, as you can see as you touch down at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia. Unfortunately, it is not enough as an area the size of the whole of Malaysia needs to be planted to palm oil just to keep up with demand. While oil palms do sequester carbon dioxide, they don’t do so as much as do native trees found in the forests that were cleared for their arrival.
4. Wood pulp – So you think that you’re off the hook because you had chop suey from the Chinese take out for dinner and even did away with the styrofoam food container. Well, the food container of your take out is most likely made out of paper, virgin paper, to be exact. This means, a tree was sacrificed for your eating pleasure, that is unless, gulp (and hold that in when I complete the sentence) it’s made out of recycled paper. So do yourself and the environment a favor and bring a reusable food container next time you order take out. Sure you’d get funny stares, but mitigating climate change is serious business.
5. Cocoa – So you want to warm up with a cup of cocoa? You’re not the only one feeling the heat, so is the planet. All of the cocoa (and soya as well) is exported, most of which is grown on orchards that were illegally converted from forests. So next time you feel like satisfying your sweet tooth, look for Fair Trade certified cocoa. Also, try to cut down and save it as a treat for special occasions, and give Mother Earth a treat.
Cutting down on consuming these products could help arrest forest degradation, but more needs to be done. You can lobby with your local politicians to come up with legislation that ensure that these products are grown ethically, and that the forests aren’t sacrificed to satisfy decadent cravings.