Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Save a Cow, Save the Planet

A while ago, I suggested that obesity and wrong food production is the core to our sinking economy. It seems to have resonated with many people and I feel a need to explain myself. In the first of two articles, I want to focus first on the effects on our planet and then on our economy.

However, allow me to begin with a disclaimer: While I was vegetarian or vegan for most of my life, I am not now. It is something I struggle with regarding my own health and have been eating fish for a few years. I have also been known to eat rather than cry fowl.

It’s not just the remains of the animal dead on our plates, but the energy and resources involved putting them there. As John Vidal, a reporter for The Observer in England, and the author of the McLibel case that The Accidental Activist is based upon, once said: “It’s time to think of waste as well as taste.”

When we look for major ways to lower the impact we are having on the earth, where to cut energy, and become sustainable, eating less meat seems to be one of the clearest and most attainable. Note that I said “eating less meat” and not becoming vegetarians. Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes of the veggie movement has been this all-or-nothing approach, meaning that those not ready to make such a radical switch are likely to dismiss it.

But there is a more telling reason to cut meat consumption. With a billion hungry people and three billion more mouths to feed in the next few decades, this argument is far bigger than being nice to animals. People are dying of starvation, our planet is exhausting its ability to feed us, and we have the knowledge and technology already to turn this around.

If we really want to reduce the human impact on the environment, the simplest and cheapest thing anyone can do is to eat less meat. Vidal says: “Behind most of the joints of beef or chicken on our plates is a phenomenally wasteful, land- and energy-hungry system of farming that devastates forests, pollutes oceans, rivers, seas and air, depends on oil and coal, and is significantly responsible for climate change. The way we breed animals is now recognized by the UN, scientists, economists and politicians as giving rise to many interlinked human and ecological problems, but with 1 billion people already not having enough to eat and 3 billion more mouths to feed within 50 years, the urgency to rethink our relationship with animals is extreme.”

Millions of hectares of trees have been felled for cattle ranching in the Amazon. Photograph: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters

Vidal lists 10 environmental concerns that curbing the meat industry would help turn the situation around.

1. Global Warming

2. Land Use

3. Water Supplies

4. Deforestation

5. Waste Management and Harmful Chemicals

6. Ocean pollution

7. Air Pollution

8. Pathogens from animals making humans ill.

9. Depleting the Oil Supply

10. Other Costs – This tenth point is what I will focus on in my next post. There is so much environmental information available now, one needs to make a conscientious effort remain uninformed!

The average American consumes about 200 pounds of meat a year – that is about 1/2 lb a day assuming that everyone eats meat. We don’t. About 7.3 million Americans don’t eat meat at all, while just fewer than 23 million eat a vegetarian-inclined diet. I am not sure what this means, but I doubt they eat vegetarians who are known to be lean and bad tempered when someone sticks a fork in them.

How does this effect our economy? That’s for another post.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

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