That might seem like a strange sentiment given the content of this blog so far but here’s the thing: I’m not really a hippy; probably more of a pragmatic idealist. I know how I’d like the world to be, but I understand that it’s unlikely and I prefer focussing on what I can do right here and right now, rather than on the general state of humanity.
The problem with your real “I’m a world-changer me” nutters is that they pursue their beliefs about wrong and right with an almost religious fervour, thrusting leaflets into your face at Muni entrances and preaching every-which-where about the dangers of capitalism.
Each to their own, but as an opponent of the American christian right will tell you, religious fervour can be a dangerous thing. It changes people; wraps them up in the belief that they (or their god, be he Jehova or Karl Marx) are undebatably right. And when that happens, the truth starts to slip away into middle-distance. After all, what’s a little distortion or exaggeration when you’re supporting the adoption of the One True Way?
But it’s bloody annoying, especially when it comes from those hippies.
It’s annoying because I can easily come to the same basic conclusions which they do regarding issues like meat production. But I’m a software engineer – I want to make my decisions based on reasonably verifiable facts; preferably hard data – not hyperbole.
And it’s really hard to get those facts. I’ve read “statistics” which claim that an average meat eater’s diet uses 16 times as much grain in a year as a vegetarian one. Yes, feeding cows is wasteful, but those numbers push the limits of believability.
So I’ve had to spend some time searching for information on the environmental and ethical concerns surrounding meat production in order to find just a few sources which I feel I can trust. I’ve come down to just two. Bear in mind that these are “primary sources” whose overall agenda doesn’t seem tainted by wild-eyed “Socialist-Worker”-waving fervour, and whose basic premises and facts are verifiable via other sources.
Those two sources are the Beyond Beef campaign (who came under particularly close scrutiny given their ties to McSpotlight) and Erik Schlosser’s book “Fast Food Nation”, which is ultimately a surprisingly sober and balanced overview of the fast food market.
And based on those sources and the facts that I’m pretty sure about, here are three reasons why I’m increasingly struggling to enjoy a good steak.
These are mostly US-centric, but then, so are my domestic arangements these days.
1) Meat production is Environmentally damaging
- The annual beef consumption of an average American family of four requires more than 260 gallons of fuel and releases 2.5 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, as much as the average car over a six month period.
- The United States has lost one third of its topsoil. An estimated six of the seven billion tons of eroded soil is directly attributable to grazing and unsustainable methods of producing feed crops for cattle and other livestock.
- Cattle ranching is a primary cause of deforestation in Latin America. Since 1960, more than one quarter of all Central American forests have been razed to make pasture for cattle.
- The world’s 1.3 billion ruminant livestock emit approximately 60 million tons or 17 percent of the world’s total Methane emissions. One methane molecule traps 21 times as much solar heat as a molecule of CO2
- Nearly half of the earth’s landmass is used as pasture for cattle and other livestock.
- Nearly half of the total amount of water used annually in the U. S. goes to grow feed and provide drinking water for cattle and other livestock.
- Seventy percent of all U.S. grain — and one third of the world’s total grain harvest — is fed to cattle and other livestock.
- Asian adults consume between 300 and 400 pounds of grain a year. A middle-class American, by contrast, consumes over a ton of grain each year, 80 percent of it through eating cattle and other grain-fed livestock.
3) Meat production is unbelievably cruel
No, I’m not about to start going all PETA at this point. Frankly, I think PETA are an awful pantomime of an organisation, and I find it very hard to believe a single word they publish.
Whilst I touched on the issues of killing animals for food last time, I’m more concerned (from an ethical standpoint) with the way that the meat industry finds and uses its workers.
- Every year, 29 out of every 100 meat processing workers sustains a work-related injury or illness that requires treatment beyond first aid.
- Slaughterhouses typically recruit unskilled, recent immigrants many of whom are unfamiliar with U.S. labor laws, and/or unable to speak English and who are unlikely to file complaints about company policies or attempt to organize labor unions.
- In 2002, employees in meatpacking plants made, on average, 24 percent less than their counterparts in other factory jobs.
There are far more graphic descriptions of the day-to-day life of a meatpacker in places like “Fast Food Nation”. Let’s just say that the job they do for a pittance, in highly dangerous conditions, isn’t a pleasant one.
I should make it clear here – I really don’t want to put anyone else off meat, unless I’m inadvertantly helping them along to a conclusion they were already making for themselves. But the issues above (and countless more surrounding and intersecting with them) are what have driven me to consider vegetarianism for the first time in my life. And I should also point out that, had I never moved to the US, I might never have made this decision – whilst the meat industry in the UK isn’t all happy, fluffy farmsteads and ruddy-cheeked rural folk, it’s not quite the over-the-edge conveyor-o-cheap-protein which the US meat industry has become.
Finally, whilst a lot of the reasoning quoted above focuses on red-meat (particularly beef) production, there are similar (if less severe) issues with production of almost any other kind of meat. Now, I could switch to only buying meat from verifiable, organic small-farm sources, I’m sure. But honestly, it wouldn’t be long before the more factory-farmed sources started slipping back in, whether in restaurant meals, or in “picking up a quick meal at Safeways, ‘cos it’s right there.”
Next time on “I’m not a hippy, I just play one on Yahoo! 360″ we’ll look at how an omnivore turns into a herbivore, and what he decides to do before he gets there.