20 February 2012

Linking lifestyle, sustainability, the environment and health

Concerned about the environment? Concerned about sustainability? Worried about what sort of future our children will have? Good news! Pretty much anything that is good for our own sustainability, our own long-term health, is good for the environment.

This week let’s go “Out on a Limb” and examine how this works, how you can look after yourself, and in the process look after the planet. There are many simple solutions that follow.

These days the most prevalent causes of physical ill health are the lifestyle related, chronic degenerative diseases. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, MS are the obvious ones, but not far behind in what causes suffering are obesity, arthritis and bowel disease.

All are directly related to lifestyle; what we eat and drink, how much we exercise and smoke, our emotional health, state of mind and our spiritual life.

The causes of the chronic degenerative diseases are directly linked to profound issues of sustainability and the environment. So here are just a couple of key issues that are easy to remedy:

1. Saturated fats 

Consuming large amounts of saturated fats is one of the biggest health risks. Saturated fats come from animal fats and palm oil.

The environmental issue relates to land clearing – a total disaster with palm oil. With cattle, it takes around 20 times more cleared land to grow a kilo of protein when compared to that required to produce a kilo of vegetable protein.

Solution: Simple: A vegetarian diet. For the benefit of your health and the environment, do not eat animals and do not eat palm oil or use any products with palm oil in them. This means read labels as palm oil crops up everywhere.

2. Food production, processing and adulteration.

The way commercial forces are adulterating food production these days causes me deep distress. Go into a chicken or pig farm, witness the multiple spraying going on in orchards or commercial vegetable gardens, pick up an icy-pole with 10 added chemicals (some known to aggravate asthma in children, some banned overseas), read the labels on the supermarket shelves.

It amazes me some people seem puzzled by the fact so many suffer ill-health these days. 

Then there is the issue of food being transported across great distances. Oranges from South America, even just vegetables coming thousand of miles across country; this is a major issue.

Solution: Simple: Eat locally produced (preferably from around the corner, at worst 500Ks away), organic produce wherever possible. Ideally grow as much for yourself as you can. Home veggie gardens must be one of the most beneficial things you can do for your own health and the environment. Grow organically, grow sustainably – it is easy once you learn the basics.

Read labels, avoid chemical additives as much as possible, be selective. If you are just starting with this, it does take time on the first shopping expedition or two, but once you are familiar with the products and brands that are OK, it is easy.

3.  Meat, poultry and fish production

In my experience as a veterinarian, the intensive commercial production of chicken and pigs is an ethically embarrassment. The conditions are just unacceptable.
But there is more. A naturally reared, back-yard chicken can take 9 months (270 days) to be ready to eat (if a chicken is ever ready to be eaten). The chicken sold in places like KFC takes about 37 -39 days to grow from the egg to slaughter. The larger chickens in the supermarket freezer are around 45 days old.

A good deal of this shorter production time relates to genetic selection, but to sustain it relies on the regular feeding of low dose antibiotics (that are euphemistically called “growth promoters” rather than what they really are, antibiotics). The regular use of antibiotics in large populations of animals leads to resistance. This builds up in the animals and can be passed on to the people who eat the affected birds or animals. Most heavyduty antibiotic resistant bacteria stem from this source and once carried into places like hospitals, cause real havoc.

Good news is that the EU banned the use of these antibiotics about a year ago, but it is a disgrace they are still used in Australia.

Pigs have similar problems, and the same issues are beginning to surface amongst farmed fish.

Also, not many people seem to know farmed salmon is commonly genetically engineered. Atlantic salmon is modified by adding a growth hormone regulating gene from a Pacific Chinook salmon and a promoter from another fish, the ocean pout. The purpose of the modifications is to increase the speed at which the fish grows, and the result is a fish that grows to market size in 16 to 18 months rather than the three years the naturally, selectively breed fish take.

On a more positive environmental note, farmed prawns have little problem in their production, while commercial prawn fishing can be very hard on the marine environment, so with prawns, locally farmed varieties are preferable.

Back to cattle. A great deal of the cattle consumed in Australia spends its last 2 months in a feedlot being fattened up for slaughter. On entry to the feedlot, it is common practice to inject a “growth promoter” that is actually a hormone that has a growth promoting effect (HGP). It is claimed about 40% of all beef consumed in Australia has been treated with HGP and the most common hormone used is oestrogen, the female sex hormone. Adds another twist to “give the man meat”. Coles created quite a controversy recently by advertising they would only supply HGP free meat. HGP treated meat is totally banned in the EU.

Solution: Simple: Be very aware of sustainable fish issues. If you do eat meat, only eat the naturally farmed variety. This too is easy as all beef for is tagged in Australia so its history can be followed; meaning butchers can be confident of where their animals came from. Totally reject intensively farmed chickens, pigs and fish. Farmed prawns are preferable if you eat them, and they come from Australia.

4. Sugar and salt

Sugar production has been linked to major reef destruction following run off of fertilizers and pesticides. The health issue is that both sugar and salt often lead to such strong cravings as to be effectively addictive; but then both can mask the body’s natural ability to discriminate regarding what is good for it and what is not.

To explain, most of us have the notion that animals in the wild have a good sense of what to eat when. I have always contended people have this same potential, but that most of us lost it due to poor eating habits. If you eat junk food regularly, your body accommodates to it and basically puts up with it even if you have a strong chance of developing one of the major degenerative diseases as you grow older. It is like the body and the mind loses the ability to discriminate.

When we eat a better diet, gradually we start to notice that when we eat healthy foods, we feel good; when we eat rubbish, we feel crappy. If we respond to these observations, we can arrive at a more personalized and individually appropriate way of eating.

My experience gained from helping many people to do this is that sugar and salt mask the taste buds and significantly reduce our capacity to notice what foods are ideal.

Solution: Simple: Remove sugar and salt from your diet; and with sugar, again you help the environment. It usually takes a week or two to get over the cravings, but then you will notice heightened taste sensations that more than compensate.

5. Country of origin

There are plenty of issues with this. For details, refer to my recent blog: click here.

Solution: Simple: Read the barcodes.

6. Marketing

It fascinates me how much effort the meat and dairy industry (I have not addressed the dairy concerns in this blog) put into marketing, while the fruit and vegetable mob do so little. But be aware of the efforts that go into swaying your opinion. One of the worst examples is how the CSIRO produced its book “The Total Wellbeing Diet” that advocated a very large intake of meat – way above the recommended allowances. Who funded the project? You guessed it, the meat industry (check the book Perfidy if you are interested). Scandalous!

Solution: Simple: Be aware of your own way of thinking, the impact of the media, practice mindfulness, train your mind, think for yourself, choose wisely and eat consciously.

And do what you can to bring about positive change. Consider relaying this blog to family or friends (if you do not know how to do this yet, ask a teenager!) Lobby politicians. Make the link. What is good for our health, is good for our environment. What truly sustains us, sustains our planet.


1. This week’s blog follows the talk I gave at Melbourne’s Sustainable Living festival, along with Paul Bedson. It was a pleasure to be asked to talk on the link between health, environment and sustainability.

2. Two weeks before the Happiness and its Causes conference in Sydney. For those who read this blog and do attend, come and say hello.

3. Day workshop near MELBOURNE coming up on Saturday, 24th March at the beautiful Duneira estate in Mt. Macedon.

4. Still a few places available for the meditation retreat Ruth and I will lead in the Yarra Valley at the Gawler Foundation, Meditation in the Forest: March 30 – April 5.


Will you have chemicals with that?

Would you eat like a dog?  Examines digestion and how humans are better suited to a vegetarian diet.

What fuel goes into your tank?

Eating for recovery


Mindbody Mastery: the online, downloadable meditation program with 6 months of support built in.

Sustainable seafood guide

Sustainable food 

CDs  Eating well, being well: Ian Gawler: wellness or maintenance diet

Eating for recovery: Ian Gawler: specifics for cancer


Perfidy: Geoff Russell: exposing the CSIRO wellness diet, its high meat content and funding by the meat industry.

Global Cooling: Strategies for Climate Protection: Hans-Josef Fell


  1. Great information Ian. Thanks. Ken

  2. I feel we all have to realise each bite we take has the power to change the planet. Each of us needs to appreciate we can vote with our taste buds, our forks, our wallets. Much more powerful than our political vote!!

    Love you straight forward writings Ian. Thanks.

    Wandering Fiona

  3. Thanks Ian , as always essential reading. I intend to email this weeks "Out on a Limb" to a number of friends and family who still haven't made the change.


  4. I have a sluggish thyroid and it has been suggested by a naturopath that I need chicken for zinc, and tuna for omega 3, if I go vegetarian will my energy sink even lower????

    1. I'm a naturopath and a vegetarian. You can get zinc from a supplement and omega 3 from flaxseed oil or crushed flaxseeds, but don't use flaxseed oil to cook with. You also need to eat kelp.

  5. Makes you wonder why you would eat meat. Thanks for this Ian, I have been cutting down for a fair while and I think this info may just tip me over into becoming fully vegetarian. At least I will feel good about doing something for the planet

  6. Thanks Ian,

    Always thought provoking and very informative. Many thanks for caring for us all.

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