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Ask the average person on the street, and they’ll agree with you that food and gas prices have risen a ridiculous amount. Most of us can remember buying gas for less than $2 a gallon or buying 10 ears of corn for a dollar. That was back when the greenback had some serious buying power – now, it’s so weak that even international supermodels are turning their nose up at the US dollar.
Back in 2006, gasoline cost about 5% of the average consumers take-home pay. Since then, gas prices have risen nearly 90%. So, even though most of us are using less gas these days, the average American is now spending about 9% of their after-tax income on oil.
That money has to come from somewhere else on the balance sheet. For an increasing number of people with tight budgets, economic trends are forcing us to change our habits in ways that have unintended side effects. Restaurant sales are down as their customer opt for more home cooked meals (or even home grown meals). Movie theaters are hurting because people are choosing to save money by staying at home. State highway departments are in trouble because people who use less gas also pay fewer fuel taxes. Many people are even trading in their SUVs for smaller cars (imagine that)!
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The lifestyle choices we make are directly related to the choices available to others. When Americans order a double meat hamburger patty, we’re consuming a whole slew of resources. Beyond the beef itself, we’re consuming pasture land, fertilizer, fuel used to transport the beef, and more fuel to cook it. Americans consume 24% of the world’s energy, and citizens of other countries are harmed by our excesses.
On average, one American consumes as much energy as
- 2 Japanese
- 6 Mexicans
- 13 Chinese
- 31 Indians
- 128 Bangladeshis
- 307 Tanzanians
- 370 Ethiopians
Worldwide, the picture is grim. Starvation and malnutrition are serious dangers in Bangladesh, Haiti, Somalia, and other countries that rely on cheap food imports. People living in those countries aren’t being forced to choose between gourmet coffee and house payments – parents in many countries are faced with the decision of feeding themselves, or feeding their children.
Americans eat 815 billion calories of food each day – that’s roughly 200 billion more than needed – enough to feed 80 million people.
One of the biggest problems with the American diet is our overconsumption of protein. Protein is high in calories, and our bodies convert it to fat. There’s a relation between our rising beef consumption and the growing obesity epidemic. Also, the kidneys are responsible for converting protein into usable forms. Eating excessive protein can cause serious kidney problems (including diabetes and failure to regulate blood pressure):
Ideally, you should consume 0.36 grams of protein for every pound of body weight, according to recommended daily allowances (RDA) set by the Food and Nutrition Board. So if you weigh 170 pounds, you need about 61 grams of protein each day. Protein should also make up approximately 15% of your total daily caloric intake…
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The average American consumes about twice that much protein. This overconsumption has devastating effects on our health, but it also has wide ranging impacts on the rest of the world. If we consumed less meat, there would be less strain on the world food supply:
The whole world has never come close to outpacing its ability to produce food. Right now, there is enough grain grown on earth to feed 10 billion vegetarians, said Joel E. Cohen, professor of populations at Rockefeller University and the author of â€œHow Many People Can the Earth Support?â€ But much of it is being fed to cattle, the S.U.V.â€™s of the protein world, which are in turn guzzled by the worldâ€™s wealthy.
So, that’s something to think about the next time you’re out shopping. Instead of adding a second T-Bone to your cart, you might want to pick up some squash and pasta. Switching to one vegetarian meal each day can greatly reduce your footprint, while also improving the variety of nutrients in your diet and saving some money too!
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