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This isn't going to be a comprehensive post on the subject, because I'm fully aware that I still operate with limited knowledge on this complex topic. Instead, it covers just a couple of recent articles I've encountered that touch on different aspects of the topic. It's all tangential to the work I do on nutrition in insects, but it forms part of the broader context for my work and is a subject I care about and often think about: what's the best way to spend our time on this planet, as living, eating, drinking, pooping, peeing animals who interact on a global scale with different ecosystems?

That last issue of Nature had something relevant in it: an article analyzing how different diets affect both environmental sustainability and human health. I'm sure it's fraught with sweeping generalizations, but one nice element is that the article has been accompanied by a commentary piece as well (once again, if these are paywalled and you'd like to read, please get in touch with me). This is a great method for presenting the conclusion of what's clearly an involved investigation that needs to be presented as a multifaceted conversation, not a unilateral declaration.

I don't think there are any major surprises in these pieces - the sound-byte conclusion is that it's better for both human health and the environment to eat lower on the food chain (ovo-lacto vegetarian as compared to pescatarian, "Mediterranean," and omnivore). But it's useful to back up this conclusion with in-depth life cycle analyses of different food production systems - put the conclusion in more mechanistic contexts so we have context for exploring how to change those food production systems. For example, how would a switch to mini-cows affect livestock production efficiencies? What does it mean if people are encouraged to swap out cow meat for deer meat, or chicken? Et cetera.

Just prior to encountering these items in Nature, my bedtime story consisted of an article about plant-microbial linkages and ecosystem nitrogen retention - exploring how interacting plants and microbes affect nitrogen levels in soil, for the sake of thinking about how to improve our management of nitrogen in crop systems. The basic notion is that nitrogen cycling changes considerably depending on whether soil is bacteria-dominated or fungus-dominated. There's greater potential for nitrogen leaching in soils dominated by bacteria. Shifts between bacteria and fungus depend on a number of factors, of course, including plant types and soil management. I think this argues for more carefully considering which crops are grown, and how, for the sake of both crop productivity and limiting downstream consequences of agricultural runoff. And I think it matters less for nitrogen than for concurrent effects on phosphorus. Nitrogen's easier to obtain and rebuild in soils. Phosphorus, not so much.

Comments

( 2 remarks — Remark )
shellynoir
Nov. 14th, 2014 06:12 pm (UTC)
I need to read this later.

Also: goats.

Also: Road Kill.

Also: euthanizing horses in such a way that they can become horse jerky.

Also: I should probably delete that people will hate me.

Also: I'm trying to mail your toolbox but my shoulder is killing me.
rebeccmeister
Nov. 14th, 2014 06:58 pm (UTC)
Hey, still no hurry on the toolbox! Shoulders are more important.

Horse jerky! I think it's funny. :-D

And yes, definitely, definitely goats.
( 2 remarks — Remark )

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