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On Nutrition: Things left unsaid and agriculture's honest role in climate change

Barbara Intermill, Monterey Herald on

Published in Nutrition

Elaine from Carmel, California writes: "I noticed that you did not mention pecans in your column today. Is there any reason for that? I love walnuts, but they cause sores on my gums if I eat them regularly, so I switched to pecans with my morning Greek yogurt and blueberries."

No Elaine, there was no good reason why I failed to mention pecans. In fact, they are one of my favorite nuts. In fact (duh), pecans are one of my favorite nuts. They are tree nuts like almonds, walnuts and the others I mentioned and have similar positive health effects.

Another nice-to-know about pecans: They are the only major tree nut that originated in North America. In fact, the United States (including my native New Mexico) grows 80% of the world’s pecan supply. When I was a student at New Mexico State University, I exercised my horse along ditch banks that bordered miles of pecan orchards. I’ve been a fan ever since.

Speaking of things left unsaid, prepare to hear more from the men and women who grow and raise our food about their contributions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane absorb heat from the earth's surface and direct some of it back to our soil and water. This has contributed to the concern over global warming.

Farmers and ranchers need to take an honest role in reducing our footprint on the environment, says Dr Frank Mitloehner, professor of animal science and air quality extension specialist at the University of California at Davis. And they also need to get better at telling their stories of how they already help to protect the earth.

For example, agriculture is often times portrayed as a main source of climate change, says Mitloehner. Yet the process of raising food accounts for just 10% or less of total greenhouse gas emissions, according to recent estimates.

 

Rather, the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions are our cars, planes, trains and ships (29%), the production of electricity (25%) and burning fuels for industrial production (23%).

Interestingly, according to the United Nations, agriculture is the only sector of these greenhouse gas producers that has not seen any increase in emissions since 1990.

Mitloehner gives this example: Dairy farmers in California have begun storing animal waste in covered lagoons rather than open ones. The covered lagoons keep methane out of the air and trap the gas so it can be converted into renewable fuel — a win- win. Since 2015, when California began providing dairy farmers with financial incentives to adopt covered lagoons and other methane-reducing practices, the state has reduced its methane emissions by about 25%.

For all of us, says Mitloehner, “sustainability is not a goal. It’s a path.”

As we travel this path, let’s not leave these stories untold.

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