January 19, 2010

A Reading Recommendation for Fellow Meat-Eaters, via Will Shafroth.

Share this with your favorite Green-Minded Meat-Eater.

I received this in my inbox today, via someone we like and look up to very much, Will Shafroth, who’s working for the Obama Administration in DC…and figured that, like Will, I’d pass along this article that provoked so much discussion in their family. Previously, elephant has actually authored something quite similar, titled If you Eat Meat You Aren’t an Environmentalist. I’m Just Saying, (subtitled Cow Farts vs. SUVs) which also might be worth a look-thru. ~ ed.

Via Will Shafroth:

The op-ed below appeared in The Washington Post recently and, because it provoked so much discussion around our dinner table, I thought it worthy of sharing with you all.

In the past few years, our family’s eating habits have changed pretty dramatically based upon many of the reasons cited in this piece.  Ethan is a vegan, Anna and Erica are “pescatarians” – fish only, and Lily is a vegetarian.  I am the only one who still eats meat, and my consumption has dropped dramatically – largely because there is no one with whom to share it with around the house.  However, the reasons outlined in this op-ed are also causing me to rethink my meat-eating ways.

For those of us who care deeply about saving our planet, it is definitely food for thought.


Bellying up to environmentalism

By James E. McWilliams

I gave a talk in South Texas recently on the environmental virtues of a vegetarian diet. As you might imagine, the reception was chilly. In fact, the only applause came during the Q&A period when a member of the audience said that my lecture made him want to go out and eat even more meat. “Plus,” he added, “what I eat is my business — it’s personal.”

I’ve been writing about food and agriculture for more than a decade. Until that evening, however, I’d never actively thought about this most basic culinary question: Is eating personal?

We know more than we’ve ever known about the innards of the global food system. We understand that food can both nourish and kill. We know that its production can both destroy and enhance our environment. We know that farming touches every aspect of our lives — the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil we need.

So it’s hard to avoid concluding that eating cannot be personal. What I eat influences you. What you eat influences me. Our diets are deeply, intimately and necessarily political.

This realization changes everything for those who avoid meat. As a vegetarian I’ve always felt the perverse need to apologize for my dietary choice. It inconveniences people. It smacks of self-righteousness. It makes us pariahs at dinner parties. But the more I learn about the negative impact of meat production, the more I feel that it’s the consumers of meat who should be making apologies.

Here’s why: The livestock industry as a result of its reliance on corn and soy-based feed accounts for over half the synthetic fertilizer used in the United States, contributing more than any other sector to marine dead zones. It consumes 70 percent of the water in the American West — water so heavily subsidized that if irrigation supports were removed, ground beef would cost $35 a pound.

Livestock accounts for at least 21 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions globally — more than all forms of transportation combined. Domestic animals — most of them healthy — consume about 70 percent of all the antibiotics produced. Undigested antibiotics leach from manure into freshwater systems and impair the sex organs of fish.

It takes a gallon of gasoline to produce a pound of conventional beef. If all the grain fed to animals went to people, you could feed China and India. That’s just a start…

…for the rest, go to The Washington Post.

~ James E. McWilliams, an associate professor of history at Texas State University at San Marcos and a recent fellow in the agrarian studies program at Yale University, is most recently the author of “Just Food.”

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