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Depleting the World Apple Reserves?

Readers of this blog may be interested in a recent thought-provoking article by University of Toronto’s David Jenkins and colleagues titled, “Are dietary recommendations for the use of fish oils sustainable?” published in this week’s edition of CMAJ.

In this article, Jenkins not only reviews the literature on the questionable benefits of the widely promoted fish oils, but also points out that, “even at current levels of fish consumption, fisheries globally have reached a state of severe crisis”. If all humans were to actually increase their consumption of fish-oils to recommended levels, we would soon see the complete collapse of the oceans’ fish reserves. As he further elaborates, fish farming is not a reasonable alternative and, indeed, it turns out that there is in fact no reasonable way for all of mankind to increase their intake of fish (or fish oil) to the recommended levels.

This got me thinking that probably the same could be said for the recommended fruit and vegetable consumption. Thus, if all Canadians were to actually eat 5-9 servings of fruit and veggies every day, we’d be consuming around 150 – 270 Million portions of fruit or veggies a day (or for e.g. 30,000 to 54,000 metric tons of apples @200g a piece if everyone were to eat 5-9 apples a day).

I am sure someone could do the exact math on this, but my guess is that this is nowhere near the amount of fruit and veggies that Canada could reasonably produce even in a good year (forget about the Winters). You’d probably need miles of green houses, city blocks of cold storage, and convoys of trucks carting the stuff around, so that this would not even make ecological sense.

I wonder if we need to now start reviewing all our dietary recommendations in terms of what makes sense not just for the health of individuals but also for the health of the planet?

Interestingly, David Jenkins, was also the co-author on a recent study on the health benefits of following a vegan diet consisting largely of vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes (J Am Diet Assoc.). I’d like to see him follow up his vegan study with an ecological calculation of what would happen if 30 Million Canadians suddenly all decided to go vegan (not likely to happen in Alberta – but nevertheless a fascinating exercise).

Please feel free to correct me, if you think I am totally off the mark on this one.

Edmonton, Alberta


  1. What if we stop producing fruit juice (3 navel oranges = 1 cup of juice) and stop using fields of corn to produce high fructose corn syrup. There would be a few extra tons of fruit and vegetables around then.

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  2. Interesting theory …… goes hand in hand with Mark Brittman’s book “Food matters” a very good read and indeed something to think about.

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  3. Excellent article. I never looked at the fish and fish oil crisis quite like that. I do find it important to find a new way to increase our omega 3 levels. If all us Americans started eating our recommended vergetables and fruits – we’d be growing food on the moon and any other planet we could get too – because we could not get enough supply. Anyway if you are health conscience I would try and increase your omega 3 levels for health reasons.– Fish Oil can really help increase your omega 3 levels. Learn the best type of fish oil. Find out what is the best way to increase your omega 3.

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  4. Dear Arya,
    in terms of ecological sense it´s all about the of question carbon dioxide release which makes off the production of any thinkable food. In general, as higher the degree of “animal proteinification” as more CO2 as released. Following this dogma, appples shold not be a problem, at least they will not be produced in South Africa and carried by aircraft to Edmonton. Regards, Jo

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  5. The USDA released a report a few years ago (Possible Implications
    for U.S. Agriculture From Adoption of Select Dietary Guidelines United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service Economic Research Report Number 31/ Jean C. Buzby, Hodan Farah Wells, and Gary Vockewhich) indicated that if all Americans were to consume at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day the amount of acerage dedicated to growing fruits and vegetables would have to double. Because there is not an unlimited amount of land available, this change would mean that some farmers who currently grow much less labour intensive crops such as corn or soybeans would be required to change what they produce. This would require different knowledge, different machinery, different transportation systems and different storage facilities as well as a market willing to pay the cost of production. American subsidies on corn and soy currently underwrite the cost of producing these crops so that it is lucrative to produce them even thought the cost of production exceeds the market price. Fruits and vegetables do not receive these same subsidies.

    I don’t believe that we need to change our dietary recommendations – in fact, we could benefit by eating more fruits and vegetables. Similarly, our need for omega 3 fats doesn’t change just because we can’t get them from fish oils. If we raised our animals differently (grass feeding vs grain feeding) we could also get more omega 3s from their meat. This requires systemic changes though and farmers can’t make a living by giving food away. They need to earn what their food is worth and the question is whether the public is willing to pay for the changes that are required. What is needed is a hard look at the entire food system and what influences the foods on our plates. Although we believe we have choices, the economics involved are an important fact . On the consumer side, Adam Drewnoski’s work has shown that the cost of healthy eating has gone up in the last few years, whereas the cost of the most calorically dense foods (aka junk food) found in the grocery store have gone down. Healthy food does cost more! On the producer side, most farmers now have to have off farm employment to make ends meet and some are even using food banks to supplement their food intake. Neither situation is desirable or sustainable.

    The other elephant in the room, of course, is the population explosion that has occcured in the last 50 years and is further anticipated. The question really is how can we feed all the people on this planet nutritious wholesome food. It is entirely possible that we have already exceeded the carrying capacity of the earth and ironically, high calorie corn/soy/wheat based diets +/- flavours, additives are exactly what is needed to provide the calories (although not the whole spectrum of nutrients )that are needed. Unfortunately man cannot thrive on calories alone and supplementation with selected nutrients has the potential to be haphazard.

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