Is Living Primal Good for the Environment?

Thanks for the great topic suggestion, Son of Grok. It is interesting that as we rid our body of waste, we seem to do the same for the planet. Funny how that works out. The reduction of artificial wastes and packaging materials is probably the most tangible benefit to the environment, but following the Primal Blueprint to a tee can be incredibly green-conscious in many other ways.

Buying Organic

Most Neo-Primals already buy organic whenever possible. We mostly do this to emulate the type of food Grok (your father) would have eaten: wild, raw, and packed full of nutrients. Like the produce from 10,000 years ago, certified organic food today is free of pesticides and hormones. Plus, it just tastes really, really good (if you let her, nature has a pretty impressive green thumb).

But these days, environmental consciousness is paramount. No longer the bastion of the “wacky leftists,” green living has become a universal issue. Nearly everyone agrees that we humans have been doing quite a number on the planet and that it needs to stop. So you have people bringing their own bags to the grocery store, taking the recycling out, shopping for hybrid cars, and paying lip service to alternative energy in stump speeches (how’d that get in there?). These are all good, relatively simple ways the average person can reduce his or her carbon footprint. As Primal Blueprinters, however, I think we can take it a few steps further.

Commercial Farming Kills

Mass commercial farming destroys environments. Pesticides run off into rivers, excess farming and tilling damages the soil for future generations and erodes the land. Organic farmers rotate crops, preserve biodiversity, and use natural manure and fertilizer that enrich the soil. When we buy organic, we’re supporting these environmental efforts (and getting healthier, tastier food). And, as more people opt for the organic (maybe even Primal) lifestyle, we hope organic produce becomes the norm, rather than the outlier.

Large-scale commercial meat farming hits the land pretty hard, too. You’ve got waste management issues (waste runoff, the awful smell) as well as methane emissions. Yes, loyal readers: animal farts release an incredible amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. As you all know, of course, eating the wrong foods (too much dairy, for example) can cause our finely-tuned Primal insides to emit terrible odors; the same is true for cows. Organic grass-fed cows emit 40% less greenhouse gases and use 85% less energy than do cows on commercial, concentrated feed made from soy and corn.

Buy Local

Even better – buy locally when you can. Meat or produce shipped from overseas (besides being of potentially questionable quality) is, well, shipped from overseas. Trans-continental transportation uses massive amounts of oil, and we’re running out of it. That traditional, corn/soy/etc-fed steak you’re about to bite into? Besides being a bastardization of the type of bovine meat Grok would have eaten, that steak probably traveled thousands of miles to reach your plate, leaving a carbon footprint the size of Bigfoot’s in its wake. And if the steak is grass-fed and organic, the planet is still better served if you find a closer source. Unless you’re getting your steaks delivered via pigeon or glider, try to look for organic, local sources.

Shop local. Go to your co-op or farmers’ market and find out where the food originates. Talk to the farmers. Ask about their farming practices. Chances are, they’ll be happy to oblige (you’ll find that most organic farmers are pretty passionate about their craft). Heck, go straight to the source and make a trip to the local farm! Buying directly from the farmer doesn’t just get you the freshest meat and produce possible; you could also get reduced, wholesale prices by pooling your money with a few like-minded friends. Buy a few pounds of berries, a quarter grass-fed cow, six dozen pasture-raised eggs, and divvy it up. You’ll be getting Whole Foods quality at a fraction of the cost. I suppose you could always go it alone, but you better have a big enough freezer.

A really cool resource is Fallen Fruit. Started in LA, Fallen Fruit is a collection of maps indexing the public fruit trees all over the United States. The fruit here is completely public, mostly organic, and the maps are – for the time being – focused on LA. Oh, and the most important part: this fruit is completely free.

Grow it Alone

Of course, the absolutely optimal way to live both Primal and green is to produce your own food. Whether that means living on a sustainable organic farm, building a chicken coop in your backyard, or even just growing herbs on the windowsill of your studio apartment, any step you take will reduce your negative impact on the world. We all have different incomes and living arrangements; we can’t all live completely off the fat of the land. But planting a couple tomato plants in your yard is an easy option that will give you delicious, organic food whose only carbon footprint was the gas you expelled when bending over to pick it.

No room to grow? Investigate the local community garden scene. High schools often rent out small plots of land for the public to use for gardening. For a usually nominal fee, you’ll have access to unlimited water, maybe 10 square feet (or more!) of good soil, and the timeless wisdom of the lifetime gardeners who share the plot (and who are – like those meatheads at the gym – very liberal with their advice). Even if you have to drive a few miles to get to the garden, growing your own fruits and vegetables is decidedly Primal and green.


What if the entire world were to eat Primally? I mean, wasn’t agriculture a response to rapidly dwindling food supplies for a growing population, making the mass production of energy-dense grains and starches a necessity? At our current population levels, there isn’t enough organic produce and pasture-raised livestock to go around for absolutely everyone, but that doesn’t mean we should forgo our health and simply continue the downward spiral. It means we should support our local farms so they can flourish. Buy organic. Abstain from buying apples from Chile or having wild Alaskan salmon delivered overnight to your door, and you can rest assured that you’re going about things the right way – Primal and green.

There are many facets and nuances to this issue. We’d love to hear your take, so hit us up with a comment in the comment boards.

halcyonsting, cafemama, Peti Deuxmont, ianturton, catchesthelight Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

10 Ways to “Eat Green”

Community Supported Agriculture

Dear Mark: Best Fruit Choices

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25 thoughts on “Is Living Primal Good for the Environment?”

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  1. That was a nice article, but the very last sentence reallly caught my eye:

    “Abstain from … having wild Alaskan salmon delivered overnight to your door, and you can rest assured that you’re going about things the right way – Primal and green.”

    Just last week there was a recommendation on MDA to buy wild alaskan salmon in the interests of being primal. And, as far as health concerns go, I can understand why that recommendation was made.

    So the statement above does confuse me. Is the recommendation being made purely so that we reduce our ‘carbon footprint’? (which to me is a pretty vague notion to begin with)

    Alternately, if one lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, what are the healthy and local options for seafood?


  2. Since all the recent outbreaks of different vegetable salmonella now more stores out here where i live are advertising that they’re selling local fresh produce. The salmonella scare has caused decrease in sales and supermarkets have done something about it and have picked sales back up. It’s also easy now to find more and more fresh markets. You just can’t beat the taste of fresh produce and know it came from a good place from people who care enough to grow produce the right way.

  3. Great points, Apurva. The previous wild Alaskan salmon recommendation is made purely from a health perspective, which is what this blog is all about. We leave it up to readers to manage other implications like cost and environmental factors. The fact is, wild Alaskan salmon may be the best choice for your body, but not the best choice for the earth or your pocket book.

    Additionally, the comment refers to having it delivered overnight. Buying wild Alaskan salmon that is shipped in bulk is somewhat different than having a single fish flown in from thousands of miles away.

  4. One of the major things that i have noticed since going primal is my trash can. It used to be overflowing every week when I took it out. I used to always have to worry about when trash day was because i would be in deep doo doo if i missed a day. Way too much trash. Now I often forget trash day because I hardly ever have any! Very noticable difference in paper and plastic waste when you buy fresh pruduce and meat instead of the old packaged snacks and dinners.

  5. I’m in total agreement with Son of Grok. Much less garbage now that I’ve gone Primal than when I relied on prepackaged microwavable meals and frozen taquitos. These days most of what I buy at the grocery store actually ends up in my belly. Though, the cuts of meat I buy from the meat counter usually come in saran wrap atop those little Styrofoam trays. Anyone know of any eco-friendly alternatives to those? Something to petition Ralph’s/Gelson’s/Albertson’s to switch to?

    1. When you buy from your local butcher it comes wrapped in paper. Even the meat department at the grocery store will wrap your meat in paper when you buy from the display case, you might even be able to request that option for the all your meat. I found I was bogged down with those little trays until I started going to the butcher.

  6. At our current population levels, there isn’t enough organic produce and pasture-raised livestock to go around for absolutely everyone, but that doesn’t mean we should forgo our health and simply continue the downward spiral

    I think this is at the heart of the matter. I often see people dismissing the primal/paleo ideology as ultimately selfish and unsustainable on a worldwide basis. But the fact that current population levels would not allow the whole world to go paleo is a theoretical problem, not a real one.

    As you say, we cannot forego our health because of a theoretical resource shortage. There are many things that will change over the coming decades – socially, technologically and environmentally, few of which we can predict now. We should encourage as many people as possible to eat primal because let’s fact it, by the time enough of the world are doing so for it to become a problem, it will be a totally different world and all the limitations being cited now may well cease to apply.

  7. On PBS a few weeks ago I heard a piece about bottled water and the insane amount of crude oil used to produce the plastic used in disposable water bottles (very un-primal). Ironically, there’s a giant electric billboard near my house advertising a “Carbon Negative” bottled water. Really? More carbon negative than tap water? What about all the electricity the billboard uses to tell me it’s carbon negative. The unnecessary packaging on foods might be a major drain on the environment, but the unnecessary marketing is doing a pretty good job wasting energy too.

  8. Bradford, we get our meat wrapped in butcher paper which usually means less volume and it can be recycled.

  9. P.S. I am STILL going to eat my Wild Alaskan Salmon! If we wanted to go local on fish, our options would be very very limited. But I have gone local on things like eggs and fruits and veggies that grow around here. The wife and my personal favorite… Green Chile… is ALWAYS local 😉

  10. Meat is definitely a tricky thing from an environmental perspective. Large mammals raised for meat (e.g. cow) require a great deal of food energy to produce a unit of meat. In general that means more soil erosion, more water lifted out of aquifers, more fertilizer, etc. Now one can buy sustainable meat that’s ranched but if all of our population did that there wouldn’t be enough land.

    The truth is, like oil consumption, there’s not enough arable land to feed 6 billion people a pound of meat a day. I think we’re due to live through some ‘interesting times’ as BRIC (Brazil-Russia-India-China) try to elevate their ~ 2.6 billion citizens to a first-world lifestyle. Don’t dwell on it too much, however, since it’s depressing, frankly. Do what’s right and sustainable for yourself and try not to obsess about what your neighbours might do. They’re responsible for themselves.

    The vegetarian protein trifecta is squash, beans, and grains, of which I can only eat squash and some grains, so I don’t really care anymore. I live in the middle of giant prairie and I can buy ranched Elk and Bison, so I have no interest in poisoning myself for little good reason.

  11. Robert,

    Raising meat doesn’t have to be environmentally degrading and depleting of natural resources, like intensive CAFO and over-grazed herds are. Read Joel Salatin’s writings, especially his two books, Holy Cows and Hog Heaven and Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front. He describes himself as more of a grass farmer, because his animals do something very efficiently without spoiling anything; they convert sunlight into protein, without the environmental degradation and massive energy consumption that industrial grain production requires.

    Joel Salatin is the owner/farmer/environmental activist of Polyface, a biodynamic farm in Virginia that raises sustainable beef, pork, and poultry with only minimal energy input into his system, because he works with the natural behaviors of the animals and his local natural resources (you may recognize his name and farm if you read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma).

    Once you understand how Salatin manages to tap into the natural ecology of his land *without stripping the local resources* (only one of the reasons he refuses to ship his products long distance), you’ll never be able to see energy-intensive mono-cropping (even certified organic) the same again. Our lauded institutes of agricultural education have all too often “taught out” the knowledge of nature that sustainable farming/ranching requires, instead displacing and cramming industrial farming theories into the current and future farmers.

    And arability isn’t the issue. Small animals, like sheep and goats, are perfect for non-arable land (Norway, a great place to raise sheep, for instance, only has 5% arable land). New Zealand is another place perfectly suited to sheep farming more so than many crops. In drier climates, the problem is that nomadic ways of life are better suited so the the sparse vegetation isn’t overgrazed, but that clashes with modern settled cultures (Bedouins are good examples). But is it environmentally sustainable, just not in sync with the political and economic status quo.

    Additionally, breaking up the great grasslands of the world to plant crops has had devastating effects on the land, resulting in soil erosion, soil and nutrient depletion, pollution, drought, and repetitious cycles of human misery. Read the book, The Worst Hard Time, about the people and conditions leading up to the development of the “dust bowl region” of the US in the 1930s, and you also won’t see plowing up the ancient sod for crops in the same light, either, because it ruined a balanced ecosytem that supported millions of bison and many tribes of Native Americans.

    The human population in the past 15,000 years has grown way out of proportion to local resources because we are so clever and learned to grow crops and settle in one place, even if nature works against us, but even cleverness won’t get us out of this polluted mess we’ve made if we continue relying on grain crops, massive energy/resource transfers & biotechnology to feed us, I fear.

  12. Anna,
    I completely agree IF we’re talking about sustainably grown meat. I’ve read Joel’s books as well as Omnivore’s dilemma and a few others. They all pretty much say the same thing. Organic meat farming can and is good for the environment.

    However, most people don’t eat that kind of meat. The majority of meat consumption is factory raised meat and that’s actually more dangerous than mass produced plant crops. Those CAFO’s pollute a lot on their own AND they consume a massive amount of industrially produced corn which also pollutes and destroys the environment.

    So by all means, enjoy organically and sustainably grown meat (I do) but be aware that not all meats are created equal.


  13. Gal,

    Yes, it’s the big IF that is critical; I just like to make the point that not all meat production has to have negative consequences, because too few are aware of the better ways meat can be produced, though most by now are aware of “factory meat”.

    But part of the barriers hindering sustainable meat production (and less “factory” meat) is the excessive and out of proportion regulation. This particularly is the issue with processing facilities. There just aren’t enough local facilities anymore, and that’s critical for making sustainable, local meat more available and more affordable. The regulations are created for large scale industrial operations, not small scale facilities. And starting a facility from scratch take a huge capital investment in order to meet the regulations. We have to find a way to remove that massive barrier if we ever want to see sustainable meat come don in price and increase in availability, so that it becomes a real option for more people instead of just a few.

  14. …just a couple comments on some of the comments:

    first: plastics are made from BY-PRODUCTS

  15. ooops hit a wrong button!

    I’ll start again….

    A couple comments about some of the comments:

    1. Plastics are made from BY-PRODUCTS of the oil/gas industry. Oil is not actually brought to surface just for the purpose of making plastic. (I live near a plant that manufactures plastics and my husband works in the oil field.)

    2. I think that world population DISTRIBUTION and food DISTRIBUTION are more of the problem than is “over population” or lack of space to grow “green” food. Have you ever been to Canada? Most people have no concept of the space we have up here. I have to drive two hours to get to a city, love it!! (Now don’t all come moving up here, ’cause we like our space!) I have close friends that grow all kinds of meat 100% “green”, organic, grass fed…..PURE GOODNESS….there is lots of space to do it here. If more people would get out of the big cities and start living off of the land, we could cut the demand for the intensively farmed products and increase the health of our population. Of course, there comes with that a need to adapt your lifestyle and disposable income.

    3. When you purchase meat from a trusted distributor you don’t need to see it before you buy it and so it can be wrapped in paper that is easily disposed of rather than plastic. My meat broker friends do this as they would never want their precious, pure meat to soak in any of the contaminants from those awful plastics.

    4. One other thing to add to the main article is to COMPOST everything that you can. Every little bit that we put back into the Earth will be given back to us many times over when we grow our own wholesome food in that rich, composted soil.

    Am loving this community and its members!

  16. new_me’s comment prompted another thought. Lots of places in the world (“developing” nations) struggle now as they try to compete on the global ag commodities markets, but used to be able to feed themselves.

    But the WTO and their govts decide that instead of producing native foods to feed local populations, they should grow cash crops to make money instead (either to pay back big WB loans or to make their elite rulers rich). Then tax-subsidized surplus crops from huge industrial-ag nations are dumped on the global market, dropping the commodity prices even further, ruining the attempts of the farmers in developing nations to compete on an even playing field. So they starve and we send them more of our surplus grain, which allows for reproduction, but not real health.

    Or the cash crops are unsuitable for their climate and the soil is ruined or drought intervenes, or the crops go to waste because there is no market for it (and not all of these crops are even edible without significant processing, like commodity corn, for example). Even if it was edible, it is still too much of one thing Now they have no money and can’t feed themselves well, either.

    It’s a vicious cycle and there are a lot of losers for the few winners. And it sends a location’s natural resources (soil fertility, minerals, nutrients) somewhere else instead of returning it to the local ecosystem.

  17. Methusela and others have touched on a very important point indeed: the struggle in finding the balance between optimal health (which will vary according to different experts; I, like other readers of this blog, personally choose to believe that the research out there done on the benefits of a paleolithic lifestyle have become undeniable) and optimal care of our environment and the way we interact with it. As you mention, yes, an agriculturist way of life CAN theoretically feed more people, but at what cost? More “unhealthy people”, taking up more arable land in order to feed even more people, indefinitely??? Lets not forget that pastured animals raised in a way that respects nature (such as Joel Salatin of Polyface farm, which Anna also mentions) can be quite environmentally friendly. This type of food production should in no way be compared to factory farming methods that are used to feed the masses today. Many acres of land are unsuitable for agriculture and pasture raised animal thus often become a very viable and sustainable solution, one that has been put in practice for many centuries in places like England and other Northern Europeean countries for instance.

    If the most important criteria is “being able to support as many people as possible” then yes, evidently, the agriculturist way of life will allow for this. Alas it also has the potential to support a society that is rampant with all types of disease, such as we are witnessing today. But to say that a paleolithic way of life is not possible due to our society’s structure is using the same argument as those who support mass vaccination, for the sake of preserving something that frankly, probably should not have been allowed to proliferate. To think any other way is entirely anthropocentric. Why should we be so numrerous? Why should we stray away from what our physiology and ancestral gene pool dictate? Are we better than nature, apart from it, better than the wisdom it is based on?

    Some people will say it is elitist and entirely irrealistic to think that everyone on this planet can eat according to the Primal Blueprint layed out by Mark. But, quite on the contrary, I think it is absolutely irrealistic to think that we can continue on this path and expect a different outcome. The more food we produce (which is the ultimate goal of intensive agriculture), the more people we can support and the more sickness is bred (through over-production of refined grains and all kinds of processed foods, amongst other problems). Quality should reign over quantity alas, the food industry works completely the other way around. According to Michael Pollan, we are producing on average 20% more calories per person in America, 20% more than we need, and all these calories are shoved into people’s mouth by coming up with more enticing processed foods everyday. And the solution, some propose, would be to produce more of that same food??? Hmmm.

    As this article points out, choose your food accodingly (first criteria should be good quality local organic foods, or growing your own…), avoid factory-farmed foods at all cost, and only eat the amount of calories required to support a healthy lifestyle and body weight. The rest, I believe, should take care of itself. More food (low-quality food) is not the answer, and by encouraging the right type of agriculture, population will regulate itself and allow for a higher level of health, as well as environmental and social conscience.

  18. I guess you have made a few rather interesting points. Not too many people would actually think about this the way you just did. I am really impressed that there is so much about this subject that has been uncovered and you made it so nicely, with so considerably class. Outstanding one, man! Truly special things right here.