I thought this is one of the best article on vegetarian questions/issues in a good while. I love how chill he is, how not arrogant.
Interview with Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals at The Atlantic
I thought this is one of the best article on vegetarian questions/issues in a good while. I love how chill he is, how not arrogant.
I started my “How Much Is Enough?” series back in February, but haven’t quite got to it yet. Until now.
A while back I read an article about how, if you calculate the environmental cost of shipping ceramic mugs and the heat used to make them and the energy used to clean them it actually turns out to be better to use paper cups and throw them away than to tote your coffee mug around with you and use that. (This ended up not being true, but the point is that there are articles out there making such claims.)
It made me want to bang my head on the table. Because, just when you think you are doing the right thing, an article comes out and tells you that, actually, no you are not.
Then there was the article about how doing a search on google somehow uses more carbon than… well, something. The point is, of course, that it doesn’t occur to most of us that doing a google search uses any carbon or does anything bad, right?
And then, there was the fairly traded vanilla at Whole Foods for $9.99. Could that possibly be worth it?
And, there is my recent checking of the “yes I want to use green energy” box on the form when I signed up for electricity in our new home. I got our first bill and realized that this costs about $70 more a month! That is A LOT. And I have been reading articles about how the new light bulbs that use less energy actually cause as many problems as they solve because they have mercury in them which leaks when they are thrown away, poisoning things.
Aaaaaa! What is a green wanna be to do? How much is enough? And how much is too much? When is it “green washing” and when is it really better? I mean, if I buy unfairly traded vanilla for $1.99 and then give the other $8.00 that I would have paid for the fairly traded vanilla to a NGO, isn’t that probably better than spending $10 on vanilla? What about the extra $70 it costs us to get green electricity? We are still debating if we can actually afford this at all – can we buy $70 less in groceries each month? Yet, if we aren’t willing to do that, can we really say we even try to live up to our values, especially if we can afford it if we make adjustments?
I am pretty sure I am not the only person struggling with all of these questions.
Here is my theory on how much is enough when it comes to buying green:
First, take it easy. The reality is that our individual decisions are not going to make or break the future of the planet. What we do is important, but it is important not to inflate the difference we can make. Although I know it maybe sounds a little bit cheezy, I think we can only create peace in our world if we are peaceful. We cannot be peaceful if we are freaked out about every lightbulb.
Second, do what you can. We all have different things we can do/will do/want to do. We should push ourselves to do more than what is just easy to do. We probably can pay extra for the elecricity, even though it is a stretch. We don’t eat meat, but we fly and drive too much. We buy recycled toilet paper, but we can’t bring ourselves to use reusable wash clothes for this purpose as some do. We can’t all do it all, but we can push ourselves to do more.
Third, use some common sense. I know people are all into calculating this and that, but I think common sense probably goes further than we think. If $10 fairly traded vanilla seems absurd to you, it probably is. Biking is better than driving. Apples from your local orchard are better than ones from Australia, even if the local ones are not organic and the Australian ones are. While some things may need to be researched and carefully calculated, the whole reuse, reduce, recycle goes a long way.
Please feel free to leave your two cents in the comments. I would love to hear someone who has figured this out better than me!
Greetings blog readers. I have blog posts floating around in my head, but neither the time nor energy to articulate them. Blogging for me seems to have ups and downs. Such is life.
Plus, I get the distinct feeling that I write about the same themes and questions over and over again. Like they say, preachers all have one or two great sermons and they just give them in a bunch of different ways. Such is the case with many of my blog posts. I guess this post is no exception…
Courtney over at feministing.com posted this today:
1. What is the accurate, once-and-for-all differences between men’s and women’s brains?
2. How can a woman who’s super invested in mothering also protect her own creative/intellectual/professional life?
3. What truly works when it comes to rape and violence prevention?
4. When do I focus on being right and when do I focus on being effective?
5. When do I address sexism directly and when it is best to handle it indirectly?
6. How can society still be so invested in the categories hetero, homo, and bi when sexuality so obviously exists on a spectrum?
7. Why do so many feminists resist being critical about the institution of marriage?
8. How can we have no holds bar honest conversations about race and class disparities within feminist circles?
9. How important is it that women embrace the feminist label?
10. How ethical is it that feminist writers like Judith Butler and even bell hooks are hard for my women’s studies 101 students to understand?
I thought it was good. I feel like I have some similar questions that I come back to over and over.
1. How do I balance between living an enjoyable life that involves some unnecessary but enjoyable comforts (vacation, new clothes, eating cheese) with living a simple, ethical life that I often feel called to that better takes into account sustainability, justice, equality, and fairness?
2. I like Courtney’s question about, “When do I focus on being right and when do I focus on being effective?” When do I temper my rhetoric/position in order to work toward incremental change, and when do I speak completely honestly, speaking what I believe to be right, even if it is so radical that people will dismiss me? This also plays into her question about handling sexism (or other injustice) directly or indirectly. I guess it often comes down to discerning a strategy to move toward what we want to see in the world. What are the most effective strategies for change? I know this obviously varies.
3. Is it wrong to look at celebrity gossip websites that I find in many ways deplorable, but also intriguing and interesting? I don’t click on the ads, but I know my browsing of the site must impact the overall click count which makes the site be able to charge more for advertising….
4. How nice and kind should I be to people? When am I just enabling weird, needy people?
5. Why can I never water an aloe plant the right amount? They either drown or thirst to death.
6. How do I balance between success and hard work, and just enjoying life even if it slows down my professional progress? How can I tell I am being successful toward some end and when I am just achieving things because I want to be special/approved/unique?
7. How does one communicate the direness of a situation without making people feel hopeless?
8. How do we balance between being hopeful and positive and being realistic and practical? Or rather, when does hopefulness become naive and just to make us feel better, not anything actually helpful?
I have more, but those are some. I don’t expect you to actually answer these. These are life-long struggles for me. I found it hilarious that some people took Courtney’s questions and then went through them one by one and answered in the comments like “There you go.” As if they could be answered easily and clearly.
What are your enduring questions?
Kind Green Planet has the coolest thing for you then! It is called Vegan at Heart. You get an email “mission” every day for thirty days that takes only 1 to 10 minutes. I was lucky enough to be able to be in the test group for this project and it helped sooooo much and was fun (and if you skip a day, you can save it for later or, don’t tell anyone and no one will ever know….). The “missions” are little tips, projects, websites or suggestions about gently incorporating more veganism into your life. I loved it so much because it is non-judgmental, supportive, and fun. I love the title Vegan at Heart because I relate to it so much as someone who really really wants to be vegan but really really is a picky eater and not a good cook in the first place. I am big on “baby steps” (anyone remember that from What About Bob? I loved that movie.) This is a great little thing to sign up for even if you are just VC (veg-curious) or you just want some fresh ideas for ways to incorporate more sustainable practices into your life.
p.s. The woman who designed Vegan at Heart is a Unitarian Universalist who is very nice and friendly and would probably answer your individual questions too if you have them along the way. :)
NYTimes isn’t exactly on the cutting edge of vegetarian and environmental propaganda, so those leery of vegetarian overstatement can rest assured that this isn’t the same as if PETA came out with such an article. The times has a spotty record of publishing articles about vegetarianism and the environment, including a painfully misinformed article about veganism last year and an article that tells people how they can save the planet with easy, simple steps rather than actual sacrifice (I wish this was true, but it just isn’t – you can only slow down the destruction with easy, simple steps).
Anyway, they NYT has come through, however, with an impressive article about the environmental consequences of meat-consumption. Interestingly, the guy who wrote it is not a vegetarian. I always find that interesting that folks can have all the info in the world (hey, including myself) and know what is best, but not do it. It shows that rationality is overrated.
In “Rethinking the Meat Guzzler“, Mark Bittman writes:
To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days….
Perhaps the best hope for change lies in consumers’ becoming aware of the true costs of industrial meat production. “When you look at environmental problems in the U.S….nearly all of them have their source in food production and in particular meat production. And factory farming is ‘optimal’ only as long as degrading waterways is free. If dumping this stuff becomes costly — even if it simply carries a non-zero price tag — the entire structure of food production will change dramatically.”
Animal welfare may not yet be a major concern, but as the horrors of raising meat in confinement become known, more animal lovers may start to react [Elizabeth’s note – do we need to be animal lovers to want to prevent very serious suffering?]. And would the world not be a better place were some of the grain we use to grow meat directed instead to feed our fellow human beings?
I suggest reading the whole article, but those are some of the highlights. A good point that I came away with is that it isn’t like everyone has to become vegetarians (although, of course, I would like that!). But if everyone did some reduction, it would have more of an impact than if a small number of people became vegetarian. I found that once I started thinking out of the “meat is the center of a meal” box, I learned to eat a lot of things I wouldn’t have other wise. Like Michael Pollen (non-vegetarian) says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Here is an article in the New York Times that lists five steps families (especially those with children) can take towards going organic. Since I think many of us have given up the idea of large numbers of people making significant, big changes that are better for the planet, the best we can hope for is a lot of people making a lot of small changes. This will at least somewhat lessen and slow the damage – to ourselves and the planet – where possible. And articles like this are a great place to start.
I must say that the first suggestion in the article about milk seems important if you drink milk, but having switched to soy milk a few years ago (it does take some getting used to) you also might want to think about that. You can avoid the pesticides and hormones that way too, and its healthier for you and happier for cows. They have made great strides in soy milk (and they now have soy creamer which looks white just like milk which, for some reason I really like).
For other postings on the environment, you can see my post “I could keep living generally the way I wanted” which actually sort of contradicts my somewhat new-found resignation to incrementalism, reflected above. There was also a recent post on environmental legislation vs. personal conservation over at Looking for Faith. You can also read about how our clothes choices and food choices impact the environment here and here.
Happy planet saving!