Each year, Americans spend tens of billions of dollars on diets and diet aids. Low carbohydrate diets like South Beach, the Zone, and Atkins are all becoming household words and companies are scrambling to cash in. As part of an ongoing series called “Your Choice, Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Hammond looks in the mirror as he investigates the potential environmental impacts of the low-carb diet:
Each year, Americans spend tens of billions of
dollars on diets and diet aids. Low carbohydrate
diets like South Beach, the Zone, and Atkins are all
becoming household words and companies are
scrambling to cash in. As part of an ongoing series
called “Your Choice, Your Planet,” the Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s David Hammond looks in the
mirror as he investigates the potential
environmental impacts of the low-carb diet:
(sound of shower door closing, shower being turned on)
Every day it’s the same. As I wait for the shower to
warm up, I fight off an assault on my self-esteem.
First, there’s my naked reflection in the bathroom
mirror. (Ugh.) To my right, a stack of clothes that
don’t fit anymore. And in front of me, the most
damning thing of all… the bathroom scale.
I know I should ignore it, but its pull is irresistible.
Hammond: “Okay, here comes the big
moment of truth. Ohh… you gotta be kidding
me. Well, according to my scale, I am four pounds
heavier than yesterday. I don’t know how
that can be possible.”
You see, I’m fat. Not “oversized.” Not “full-figured.” Fat. I weigh 268 lbs and desperately need
to lose some weight. None of my clothes fit. My
cholesterol is through the roof. And my wife? Well, she
seems to have cornered the market on migraine
(shower fades out)
But what kind of diet? I needed a diet that would
work within my lifestyle, not totally change it.
Because giving up meat wasn’t an option for me, I
figured low-carb was the way to go.
A recent Roper Report estimated that up to 40
million Americans were reducing their
40 million carb counters can’t be wrong, can they?
My gut told me that low-carb dieters must be
demanding more meat and poultry. But
was there an environmental impact?
For advice, I turned to the Sierra Club. They have a
program focused on concentrated animal feeding
operations — better known as factory
farms. These are operations where thousands of animals,
sometimes tens of thousands, are housed
together in relatively small spaces.
Environmentalists say the problem is their manure.
So much of it is produced, in such a small area that
simply spreading it on nearby fields can lead to
severe water pollution.
Anne Woiwode is the Director of the Sierra Club’s
office in Lansing, MI. She said that manure is not
the only problem. A bigger threat may be the
antibiotics that the animals are given to promote
“Up to 70% of the antibiotics used in
this country right now are being fed to animals so
that they are fattened quickly. And because
animals are consuming so many antibiotics, you
are actually creating super bugs or super
As far as my diet is concerned, with all this talk
about manure, bacteria, and super bugs, I wasn’t
sure that I needed to diet after all. I’d pretty much
lost my appetite.
Well, almost… it is still barbeque season after
What I need is a low-carb fix that I can feel good
about. A local butcher mentioned Roseland Farm.
It’s located in southwest Michigan, near the Indiana border.
They’re one of the region’s largest, certified organic
farms. It’s a family farm. Merrill Clark is one of
“We’re a 1,800 acre certified organic beef farm, we also
raise some grains and other garden vegetables on
a smaller scale but we are mostly known for our
beef. We’ve been, I’ll say certified organic, for
nearly 20 years.”
Certified organic means that Clark and her family
feed their cattle with crops grown without pesticides
or synthetic fertilizers. They also don’t give their
cattle antibiotics or growth hormones.
Nearly a quarter of their farm is devoted to grazing,
so the Clarks avoid the manure problems of factory
farms. They just leave the manure where it drops
and it becomes natural fertilizer.
Natural grazing also reduces the need to feed the
cattle grains like corn and soybeans. When used for
cattle feed, those grains are usually inefficient and
expensive to produce.
Even though the Clark family runs a large organic
farm, they know that in the scheme of things, they are still very small.
Merrill Clark says that’s fine.
“If some major Kroger or Meijer’s wanted to buy all of our
meat, I don’t think we would want to. We sort of
feel connected to our label and our own name and
our identity. It’s just so interesting this way. You
meet great people. Because you’re face to face with
your own customers.”
In my case, Merrill and I didn’t actually meet face-
to-face, but we bonded. We talked long after the
interview was over. And I was impressed enough to buy
a 35-lb cooler full of ground sirloin, strips, and
fillets. Enough to get me through those first few
weeks of my diet.
So even though I’m still fat, and tomorrow, the
bathroom scale was going to be just as unforgiving,
I’m starting to feel a little bit better about myself. For
the first time, I feel connected to my food. I feel a
bond to the farmer. And I feel like I was supporting
something worthwhile. And you know what, it
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m David