Years ago, I wrote about efforts to reduce nutrient pollution by feeding farm animals better diets. The path to a cleaner Bay, I wrote, might lead through an animal's stomach. Several readers took issue. They argued the path to a cleaner Bay more accurately ran through the human stomach. After all, those farm animals were being reared to feed people.
A stack of reports and scientific papers over the last decade make it clear that what people eat has a big impact on the Bay and other coastal waters. Americans, on average, eat about 40 percent more protein than recommended. Nitrogen is an essential building block for protein, so trends in recent decades toward high-protein diets, especially those involving animal protein, are problematic.
Animals raised for food are often fed large amounts of nitrogen-intensive crops, mainly corn, and the animals produce prodigious amounts of nitrogen containing waste.
Our overconsumption of food, and protein in particular, magnify the impact of the region's population growth - another issue we have raised in our "Growing Concern" series.
These dual forces drive the need for more food production, which means more nutrient runoff, which increases the need for best management practices such as cover crops and stream buffers to soak up excess nitrogen, emphasizing the importance that each be properly implemented and maintained.
Eating sensibly and reducing food waste, on the other hand, means less fertilizer to begin with. "This is something that can be done without even going to the farm, and telling them, 'We are here to bother you again,'" said Jim Galloway, an expert on the nitrogen cycle at the University of Virginia. "It is all at the consumer level."
Galloway argues that efforts to reduce nitrogen inputs to the region, including changing diets, need to get as much attention as efforts to mop up the runoff.
Despite the fact that the nation's obesity rate continues to rise, many feel diet is too personal an issue to promote, even if it is OK to make suggestions about what to drive, or what one's lawn should look like. Granted, not everyone is going to eat better. But then, not everyone is going to drive a hybrid or eschew lawn fertilizer, and that doesn't mean those practices shouldn't be part of the message.
A better diet is something that could not only help reduce cleanup costs, but health care costs. Isn't that worth talking about?
A few years ago, Kathleen Gaskell realized that a Bulletin Board item contained the wrong date for an invasive plant removal workday organized by Marc Imlay. She called to apologize and give him a head's up. Imlay asked what date she had put in, checked his calendar and told her that he would go to the site that day in case someone showed up. Looking back on the incident years later, she realized the surprise wasn't his willingness to show up, but that he wasn't already scheduled elsewhere.
Imlay is on the front line in the never-ending battle to eliminate, or at least control, invasive plants. Thanks to his efforts and those of a dedicated army of volunteers, native species are regaining ground in Maryland parks and natural areas.
See "Weed Warrior Marc Imlay leads battle to conquer invading plants," on page 8 and check the Bulletin Board's Volunteer Opportunities on page 27.
Horton winds award
Congratulations to Tom Horton, author of our Chesapeake Born column and chief reporter for our "Growing Concern," series, who in April received the Outdoors Maryland Award for Stewardship of the Environment from Maryland Public Television.
Created in 2008, this award salutes the honoree's attention to local and regional environmental issues and his or her work in protecting the natural world. The award is named for MPT's weekly nature program, Outdoors Maryland. Past winners include D. Keith Campbell, founder of The Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment; the Living Classrooms Foundation; and Dr. Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.