Ten Square Miles

An Environmental Activism Resource

Category: Food & Agriculture (page 1 of 2)

A whole-food, plant-based diet

A whole-food, plant-based diet is a diet based on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Such diet emphasizes whole, unrefined plants, while minimizing meat, dairy products, and highly processed foods like sugar and oil.

A whole-food, plant-based diet is simply not a diet of leafy and raw vegetables. In fact, it is far tastier and more satisfying. While spinach and kale are important parts of the diet, they are poor energy sources. We would have to consume almost 16 pounds of cooked kale in order to gain 2,000 calories each day. It’s nearly impossible to live on leafy vegetables alone. Therefore, a whole-food, plant-based diet includes diverse ingredients that can be used to create common dishes such as pizza, lasagna, and burritos, but with less flour, sugar, and oil. Following are a few food examples of the diet.

  • Fruits: apples, bananas, grapes, oranges, strawberries, etc.
  • Vegetables: lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, zucchinis, etc.
  • Tubers: potatoes, corn, green peas, spaghetti squash, etc.
  • Whole grains: quinoa, brown rice, oats, whole-wheat pasta, etc.
  • Legumes: kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, etc.

Ample research has explained that high intakes of fruits and vegetables not only result in low chances of cardiovascular disease and diabetes but also benefit the environment. Any step you take will help, but the more plants and fewer animal goods, the better.


Cowspiracy Response

This is an interesting look at the effect of animal agriculture on the environment and its massive impact on how we live. Cowspiracy followed Kip Andersun as he investigates the lack of discussion around animal agriculture as a detrimental cause of climate change. He tries to interview many people from major environmental groups such as Greenpeace, but many downplay the topic or in the case of Greenpeace, refuse to talk to him at all. He learns that the amount of costs and land it takes to run the current industrial livestock model will not sustain itself and there will not be enough room for cattle farming in the future. The amount of food that goes towards feeding livestock also contributes to the starvation of so many people across the globe. Throughout the film, as he learns that even grass fed beef and so called “sustainable” farming practices are not really sustainable, he embarks on a decision to become vegan.

It was really intriguing to see so many of the main environmental organizations not considering animal agriculture as a big contributor to climate change. The documentary seemed to show that irresponsible corporations and their donations could control even these groups. There were a few problems I had with this film however. The director of the film becomes very involved in the narrative in the film, and while that has worked for films like Gasland, in this film it comes across as a tad self-involved. There are multiple shots of just him contemplating in front of a beautiful natural background. I want to see more about the issue and less about how this director feels. I also don’t feel very connected to him as an individual because him even sharing his personal story felt artificial. The film also ignores the classism surrounding vegan discourse, and especially the ability to become vegan. One of the people interviewed in the film even said that cutting out meat comes at no cost, but that is not true. For people from low-income backgrounds who do not have access to fresh food, it is very difficult to maintain a vegan lifestyle, especially if they’re just trying to find just a bit of food to feed their children.

The style of the documentary was interesting. It was mostly intense depth of field interviews with typical wide shots in documentary style. The editing sometimes felt a bit bumpy in order to create a feeling that the people being interviewed were guilty in their secrecy towards the issue. There would be a cut in the interview that would cut quickly to black at an awkward moment in the interview when the interviewee would become flummoxed. This was an interesting tool but it could also come off as bit unprofessional at certain times, as if the editor accidentally left space in between shots.

Overall this was really a great introspective look at the animal agriculture industry and how much it is destroying the planet. I wish it took more consideration into the cost of veganism for the average person, especially people below the poverty line. I also feel like if it focused more on the issues and less on the filmmaker, I would appreciate it more. However, this brings up a really important issue that should be addressed within the environmental community.

Cowspiracy Review


Released in 2014, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is a documentary that sheds light on the world’s main cause of climate change: livestock farming. The film was written and directed by Keegan Kuhn and Kip Andersen as well as produced by actor Leonardo DiCaprio. The film follows Kip Andersen, an environmentalist who was confused why big groups like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club weren’t talking more about agriculture farming and its effects on the environment. He goes on to explore the climate change that it has caused and found that over half of the world’s pollution comes from livestock farming. The film is largely statistical and many infographics are used to show things like water consumption, meat consumption, etc.

Because the film consisted of many statistics, I found that there was much strength to this approach to filmmaking. Andersen spoke with almost all sides of the environmental problem. In the beginning he tried to speak with the Sierra Club and Greenpeace. He spoke with environmental experts at different universities and those who have done educational studies. He juxtaposed these interviews by spending time at the sustainable farm. In almost all of the interviews the audience was given new information in order to help put together what seemed like one big puzzle.

Regarding the cinematography, there were moments where shots were too overexposed and it became distracting. The amount of rack focuses used was also excessive and I felt that this film was too far away from an art film for it to focus so much on cinematography as it seemed to do at some points. Another small weakness was the focus on Kip Andersen. Although the film is focusing on his journey, I felt that there were many interviews where Kip didn’t need to be seen. I thought the film was particularly strong in its resources for alternative food consumption. The film provided numerous solutions with its outcomes for the audience. In fact, I felt as though unlike some films we’ve watched in the past classes, this film’s purpose was for the audience to make a change. Andersen and his experts provide numerous benefits of eating a meat free diet including reducing your carbon footprint by over fifty percent.

As a vegan of two years and a vegetarian for 8, I have spent a good amount of time educating myself on this particular subject. After watching the film, I felt even more concerned about meat production than I did before (if that’s even possible). There were numerous facts that I had never heard and I sat through the film appalled at most of them. I think the film overall did a good job of relaying this information and giving the audience a solid foundation in which they can make a decision about eating meat. I found it interesting that this film didn’t talk much about the slaughter of animals. I originally thought that was what the film was about. I feel like its difficult to talk about slaughterhouses without talking about what they do to animals, but this documentary stayed on focus with the environment. I think its good they chose to focus on one subject because tackling both issues in one documentary would have been too much. Overall, I found the documentary to be insightful and motivating.


The Benefits of Eating Vegetarian

There are countless misconceptions about those who choose to stick to a vegetarian diet, but despite what some say, it is possible to be well-nourished on a meatless diet. In fact, provided that they don’t just live on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, most vegetarians reap the benefits of improved health over time.


  1. Lower Blood Pressure

According to Men’s Health Magazine, vegetarians tend to have lower blood pressure than their meat-eating counterparts. Some have even determined that giving up meat could be a legitimate treatment for those with chronic high blood pressure.


2.  Less Risk of Cardiac Events

In recent studies, vegetarians were found to be 25% likely to die of heart disease. Some of the best foods to combat heart disease are legumes (like peanuts) and grains that are high in fiber.


3. Maintain A Healthy Weight

It’s no secret that bacon isn’t necessarily the key to shedding a few extra pounds. A health study conducted from 1986 to 1992 in Sausalito, California found that overweight people who followed a low-fat, vegetarian diet lost an average of 24 pounds in the first year and kept off that weight 5 years later. And unlike countless other diets, participants reported that they lost their weight without counting, measuring, or feeling very hungry.


4.  Reduced Risk of Food-Borne Illness

According to the CDC,  food-borne illnesses of all kinds account for 76 million illnesses per year. By avoiding red meat, pork, poultry, and seafood, your risks for becoming a part of that statistic are decreased significantly.


5. Less Likely To Develop Cancer

Meat (and dairy products, for that matter) have been proven to contribute to the development of many different cancers, including breast, ovarian, colon, and prostate cancer. Vegetarian tend to be naturally lower in saturated fat and high in fiber, which both of which help prevent cancer. Studies in England and Germany have shown that vegetarians are about 40 % less likely to develop cancer than non-vegetarians. For example, breast cancer rates are significantly lower in nations that tend to have more plant based diets, like China.


What Vegans Shouldn’t Do

The Huffington Post wrote an interesting article about some things vegans should never do. Some of their advice includes not eating junk food and to take a closer look at your wardrobe.

The Huffington Post wrote an interesting article about some things vegans should never do. Some of their advice includes not eating junk food and to take a closer look at your wardrobe.

Do you agree with all five suggestions?

Check out the article here.

The Truth Behind “Caged-free”

Traditionally animals such as hens were raised for eating in battery cages.  Battery cages are really small and animals inside are usually jammed in to the point that they can’t move.  The average battery cage for a hen is 67 square inches, which is smaller than the average printer paper.  Battery cages prevent animals from doing their normal functions and it prevents them from socializing with other animals, this can cause physical, mental and emotional trauma for the caged animals.


In recent years “caged-free” meat and eggs has been popping up. Most people think caged-free and imagine animals running in a valley.  That is far from what caged-free means.  Although caged-free is significantly better than battery-caged, it still isn’t healthy for animals.  Caged-free animals are able to do more natural functions, for example, hens are able to spread their wings, nest and walk.  However, the problem is that caged-free animals still never get the chance to go outside and they are surrounded by thousands of other like animals. Caged-free should never be taken as a cruel-free or healthy option, because caged-free living situations definitely are not good for the animals’ well-being.


In addition, both battery-caged and caged-free facilities do their fair share of mutual cruelty. Both battery-caged and caged-free facilities prematurely slaughter animals around the age of 2, which is much shorter than a natural lifespan. Both battery-caged and caged-free facilities will transport the animals for long periods of time without food or water.  Both battery-caged and caged-free mutilate and burn birds’ peaks.  Not to mention, both battery-caged and caged-free facilities get their hens from places that kill the males as soon as they hatch (which adds up to more than 200 million a year in the United States).  It is rare nowadays, because the practice is slowly starting to be abandoned, but some battery-caged and caged-free facilities still starve the animals in order to molt them.


“Caged-free” is just one of the many terms that are thrown at consumers.  These terms are good marketing tools because most people don’t know what they actually mean. Before you buy a meat or dairy product thinking that it’s healthy or the humane option, please get to know the facts.




“Cage-Free vs. Battery-Cage Eggs.” Humane Society. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.





Cowspiracy: A Response

The 2014 documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, Kip Anderson, an avid environmentalist, embarks on a mission to uncover the secret to truly sustainable living, in the process discovering the one thing no environmental organizations want to talk about, agro-industry. Making up about 50% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, cattle raising and the meat industry account for more carbon emissions than any other industry, but still most organizations refuse to address the issue, making it seem as though there is some sort of conspiracy in which everyone simply agreed to turn their heads to the growing issue of environmental sustainability when it relates to the agriculture industry. Because of the content of the documentary, the film’s original financial backer pulled out, leaving Anderson to crowfund the work. Despite its “controversial” nature, Anderson managed to surpass his fundraising expectations and deliver a poignant performative documentary condemning America’s unsustainable practices, specifically in relation to the agro-industry.

Early on in the film, Kip establishes himself as a strong environmentalist and a fan of Al Gore. His personal interest in the topic of environmental sustainability establishes his credibility and right to make the film. With Anderson as the center point of the film, it is easy for the audience to establish and emotional connection with a human entity. It is also an important persuasive element in the documentary and, in a sense, peer pressure. Because Kip Anderson is experiencing a transformation in thinking, the audience feels pressured to do so as well. As Anderson makes a resolution to become vegan, it persuades the audience to look into veganism as well.

The interviews with different organizations are one of the most affective elements of the work. Kip Anderson attempts to get interviews with as many major environmental organization as he can as well as pro-agriculture industry lobbyists. The interviews themselves as well as Kip’s inability to secure interviews with organizations such as Green Peace are interesting and surprising in that not a single organizations or spokesperson “felt comfortable” answering questions on the agro-industry, as if it was a secret, as if the human need for a cheeseburger is more important than the planet’s need to survive. Some people even went so far as to claim that a change in attitude towards consumerism in the agriculture industry was impossible for the American people despite the fact that the documentary is a testament of the opposite. While it’s impossible for a documentary to be completely objective, Kip does present as many viewpoints as he can while still persuading the audience against meat and of the importance of sustainability.

On a personal level, I was very moved by Cowspiracy. I had been considering vegetarianism for many years, but after watching the documentary finally decided to make the switch over with long term plans to become vegan. It’s difficult to watch that film and continue to consuming meat. It isn’t something I can do in good conscience any longer, not when it takes millions of gallons of water to produce one cheeseburger. The depletion of our natural resources is not worth that small amount of meat.

An impactful moment in the film was the slaughtering of the ducks in the man’s backyard as well as the scenes with the kids, saying that they can’t become too attached to the pigs. Not only was it difficult to watch a living creature get its head chopped off, but it was difficult to hear the children that couldn’t form an emotional connection with the very loving pigs that they raised. As a pet owner and someone that loves animals, it seems natural to form connections with animals and nearly impossible to avoid it. As someone who recently lost a pet, I couldn’t imagine watching animals die over and over again for the sake of a few bites of meat.

Eating meat is not sustainable, not with the amount of resources the cattle and livestock consume, not with the unsustainability of grass-fed cattle. There seems to be nothing at all sustainable about the industry, something to which even the farmers own. If it does anything, Cowspiracy makes it clear that humans must change their way of life. Humans must become sustainable. Humans must consider giving up meat and becoming vegan or risk losing our planet forever.


Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is a documentary by Kip Andersen that explores animal agriculture and its devastating effects on the environment and climate change. We find out that animal agriculture is the number one problem that humans should be attempting to fix when it comes to environmental destruction. Despite its significant impact, conservation groups such as Greenpeace and The Sierra Club do not seem to know anything about it, and if they do know something, they are hiding it for some reason. A lot of this film is participatory because it is focused a lot on Kip Andersen’s interaction and conversations with his subjects. He talks to several people on both sides of the argument such as a doctor who highly recommends a vegan lifestyle and cattle ranchers that don’t think what they do has a carbon footprint. A part of the film is also Kip’s personal journey into this subject. He sees an animal slaughter for the first time and frequently says during the film, “I still don’t know…”

The pros outweigh the cons in my opinion. The film offered facts and statistics as well as personal opinions and stories. We hear from both sides of the story as well. And while some might argue that both sides were not fairly represented, the film does not need both sides. The point of any film or documentary, whether implicitly or explicitly, is to have some kind of argument or opinion and Cowspiracy does that successfully. The film also did something that not a lot of films do which is follow the Aristotelian triangle. The triangle says that to have a cohesive and valuable argument you need, logic, ethics, and emotion. This documentary has all three, and it sells it.

There were a few cons with the film. One that stands out is the question of whether everyone can afford to have a sustainable lifestyle such as going vegan. A vegan diet is expensive and the film does not address that. If you or your family is struggling with finances, sometimes it is a lot easier to just get a burger off the dollar menu at Mcdonalds. That being said, however, if you have the financial capabilities and you have the will and the want to change the world, there should be no excuse for at least trying to eat differently. The film mentions “feeding your addiction” which is something I’ve never thought about before. We tend to not think of human beings being addicted to meat but we are to extent. We love to eat it and we are sold on the idea that it is the best way to get your protein. As aforementioned, it is sometimes the cheapest way to get your protein but hopefully one day we can get to a point where affordable plant-based food become the norm and are affordable to everybody.

I consider myself an impressionable person, but I like to think I’m impressionable on the right things. This film made an impression on me, and if making a sincere effort to eat vegetarian and someday vegan is something I can do for the environment, then I’m going to do it. One of my favorite foods is steak, but I think living a sustainable and green lifestyle is much more worth it in the end.

Rodale Institute

The Rodale Institute was founded as an organic learning farm. Located in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, this 333 acre farm does research to improve the productivity practices of organic farming.

They are committed to:
“…give farmers the tools and knowledge to increase soil health, crop quality and yields while simplifying farm management overall.

…ensure citizens feel confident the food they feed their families is good for them and for the world around them.”

The Rodale Farm is open for visitors for both self-guided and group tours. If you find yourself in the Lehigh Vally, a visit to the farm is a great way to spend the day. Also, check out their website at http://rodaleinstitute.org

Bees Are Important

Over the past decade, the population of bees has reduced drastically. There are reported losses of 30-50% of colonies, more than the usual 5-15%. A  part of this is due to certain pesticides which can wipe out entire colonies. Chemical residues permeate bee pollen and poison the colony.

Bees are huge pollinators, accounting for one third of the food we eat. If bees were to go extinct we would be in an even large global food crisis than we already are. The European Food Safety Authority has been limiting the amount of pesticides used that harm bees. The US needs to follow in these footsteps if we are to help retain the amount of bees needed to pollinate our crops and ecosystem.

Read here and here to learn more about the bee crisis

Read here to learn more about the importance of bees



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