R E C O N S I D E R I N G M E A T
(via EnviroNet, 5/10/89)
Just as heavy reliance on meat protein is now widely acknowledged to have a negative impact on individual health, our culture's meat-centered diet is increasingly recognized to play a hidden role in the environmental crisis of planet Earth.
The first passage below is from DIET FOR A NEW AMERICA, by John Robbins. In his recently released book, Robbins documents connections between meat production and such diverse ecological damage as soil erosion, groundwater depletion, rainforest destruction, global warming, and water pollution. This excerpt was uploaded to EnviroNet by James Cherry.
In the second passage, provocatively titled "Are We Eating Ourselves?" EnviroNet user Ric Jomarron cites information from a variety of sources and shares his reflections on personal responsibility and the environmental impact of vegetarianism.
from DIET FOR A NEW AMERICA:
The current agricultural system, designed to supply America's meat habit, wastes almost all the food it grows by feeding it to livestock rather than people. This creates a constant pressure to get the highest possible immediate yields out of the land, at whatever ecological cost. As a result, we have lost hundreds of millions of acres to soil erosion.
In trying to replace it, we have spawned another major ecological catastrophe: we are destroying our forests. In fact, the United States has converted approximately 260 million acres of forest into land which is now needed to produce the wasteful diet-style most Americans take for granted.
Since 1967, the rate of deforestation in this country has been one acre every five seconds … For each acre of American forest that is cleared to make room for parking lots, roads, houses, shopping centers, etc. 7 acres of forest are converted into land for grazing livestock and/or growing livestock feed …
OUR OXYGEN PARTNERS
We need our forests. They are vital sources of oxygen. They moderate our climates, prevent floods, and are our best defense against soil erosion. Forests recycle and purify our water. They are homes for millions of plants and animals. They are a source of beauty, inspiration, and solace to millions of people …
Of the 260 million acres of American forest that have been converted into land now used to produce the standard American high-fat low-fiber diet-style, well over 200 million acres could be returned to forest if American were to stop raising food to feed livestock, and instead raise food directly for people. Indeed, so direct is the relationship between meat production and deforestation that Cornell economist David Fields and his associate Robin Hur estimate that for every person who switches to a pure vegetarian diet, an acre of trees is spared every year. A lacto-ovo vegetarian diet-style is also helpful, particularly if dairy and egg product consumption are low…
THE FOUNTAIN OF LIFE
Life on earth began in water, and has always depended for its very existence on water. With water, life can thrive and bloom: and deserts can be transformed into gardens, lush forests, or thriving metropolises like Tel Aviv or Los Angeles. Without water, we die.
Yet most of us are so used to having this precious resource at our fingertips that we have come to take it for granted. Sadly, we are fast approaching the time when we will be forced to learn the inestimable value of this natural treasure the hard way. Our supply of good water is disappearing at a terrifying rate.
The source of this ominous trend can be traced directly to our meat habit.
Over half the total amount of water consumed in the US goes to irrigate land growing feed and fodder for livestock. Enormous additional quantities of water must also be used to wash away the animals' excrements. It would be hard to design a less water-efficient diet-style than the one we have come to think of as normal.
To produce a single pound of meat takes an average of 2,500 gallons of water – as much as a typical family uses for all its combined household purposes a month.
To produce a day's food for one meat-eater takes over 4,000 gallons: for a lacto-ovo vegetarian, only 1,200 gallons: for a pure vegetarian, only 300 gallons. It takes less water to produce a YEAR'S food for a pure vegetarian than to produce a MONTH'S food for a meat-eater…
Consumption of so much water has serous economic, as well as ecological, consequences. The economic costs are hidden from us, though, because our federal and state governments subsidize the meat industry's water consumption at every stage of the process. If these costs were not borne unknowingly by
the taxpayer, but instead showed up at the supermarket cash register … the cheapest hamburger meat would cost more than $35/pound.
QUITE A PILE
The standard American diet of today not only wastes prodigious amounts of water: it pollutes much of what is left.
Fifty years ago, most of the manure from livestock returned to enrich the soil.
But today, with huge numbers of animals concentrated in feedlots, confinement buildings, and other factory farm locations, there is no economically feasible way to return their wastes to the soil …
Sadly, instead of being returned to the soil, the wastes from today's animals often end up in our water. This is extremely significant, because the quality of waste is so immense … Every 24 hours, the animals destined for America's dinner tables produce 20 billion pounds of waste. That is 250,000 pounds of excrement a second.
The livestock of the US produce 20 TIMES AS MUCH EXCREMENT AS THE ENTIRE HUMAN POPULATION OF THE COUNTRY! Over half this staggering production - over a billion tons a year - comes from confinement operations from which it cannot be recycled.
A new direction for America's diet-style would do more to conserve and clean up our nation's water than any other single action …
THE ENERGY CRISIS AND NUCLEAR POWER
Growing any kind of food, and getting it to our homes and restaurants, takes energy. But some foods take considerably more than others …
On a traditional farm, pigs and chickens kept warm in the winter by nestling in bedding. And in the summer they would cool off in shady, damp soil. In today's factory farms, however, there is no bedding, and no shady, damp soil. In order to maximize the animal's weight gain under these conditions,
temperatures must be artificially controlled, and that takes energy.
Further heat is needed because the young animals are separated from the warmth of their mothers' bodies. Baby animals by nature are vulnerable to chills, and their situation is more precarious when they are taken from their mothers and put on cold concrete or drafty metal slat floors.
More energy is needed to bring feed to the animals. And more is needed to move their wastes away. In fact, the whole assembly line factory farming system is explicitly designed at every step to minimize human labor, and instead use machines that consume energy …
Agricultural engineers at Ohio State University compared the energy costs of producing poultry, pork and other meats with the energy costs of producing soybeans, corn, and other plant foods. They found that even the LEAST efficient plant food is nearly TEN TIMES as efficient the MOST energy efficient animal
food … Corn or wheat provide 22 times more protein per calorie of fossil fuel expended than does feedlot beef. Soybeans are even better - 40 TIMES more efficient than feedlot beef! …
THE UNFORGETTABLE DREAM
At the present time, when most of us sit down to eat, we aren't very aware of how our food choices affect the world. We don't realize that in every Big Mac there is a piece of the tropical rainforests, and with every billion burgers sold another hundred species become extinct. We don't realize that in the sizzle of our steaks there is the suffering of animals, the mining of our
topsoil, the slashing of our forests, the harming of our economy, and the eroding of our health. We don't hear in the sizzle, the cry of the hungry millions who might otherwise be fed …
But once we become aware of the impact of our food choices, we can never really forget. Of course we can push it all to the back of our minds, and we may need to do this, at times, to endure the enormity of what is involved.
But the earth itself will remind us, as will our children, and the animals and the forests and the sky and the rivers, that we are part of this earth, and it is part of us. All things are deeply connected, and so the choices we make in our daily lives have enormous influence, not only on our own health and vitality, but also on the lies of other beings, and indeed on the destiny of life on earth.
Are we Eating Ourselves?
In this time when deforestation, soil erosion, water mismanagement, and toxic dumping threaten the very existence of life on this planet, few realize that some of the answers to these problems are as near as the dinner table.
If people didn't eat meat or animal products, the U.S. could give 90 percent of it's agricultural land and 71.8 percent of its cropland back to nature. We would no longer use 1.29 billion pounds of pesticides a year, U.S. water consumption could also be reduced by half, and the amount of toxic organics dumped in our freshwater would be reduced by more than 50 percent.
If that were not enough, over 3.3 million acres of farmland wouldn't be lost to soil erosion each year.
If people stopped eating seafood, the world wouldn't each year lose several hundred whales, 50,000 to 124,00 dolphins, an estimated 800,000 seabirds, thousands of Dall's porpoise, as many as 50,000 fur seals, and 11,000 adult sea turtles due to whaling, purse seine fishing, driftnet fishing, and shrimp trawling.
It takes 15 pounds of feed, 2,500 gallons of water, the energy equivalent of burning a gallon of gasoline, and 35 pounds of top soil to produce a single pound of beef.
In realizing this can we continue to allow tax dollars and desperately indebted nations to artificially keep meat prices low at our planet's expense? Naturally one would answer no. But changing one's diet is very difficult. Like anything else, we must first learn to walk before we can run. The first step is to give up red meat such as beef, lamb, and pork. Buy some recipe books to make the transition fun and easy.
Above all let people know what you're doing and why. And remember, you're not saying no to meat as much as you are saying yes to a healthier planet.
SOURCES: Vegetarian Times, June 86; Chicago Sun-Times, Sept. 26, 1986; USDA: Agricultural Statistics '83; A Vegetarian Source Book, by Keith Akers, 1983; Diet for a New America, by John Robbins, 1988; Greenpeace factsheets.