From The New York Times: Meat Consumption Is an Environmental Issue

February 1, 2008

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.”

You Know You Want It: Tofurky Jurky

December 26, 2007


Back about 18 years ago at Franklin Monroe Elementary School, you could buy a slim jim beef jerky for 35 cents. I LOVED these. Loved loved loved. I continued to get them at gas stations and the store up until 2002 when I listenend to This Steer’s Life on NPR and swore off animal as food. But don’t think that this made me not miss beef jerky (and barbeque at our family’s very famous and impressive cookouts or burgoo or hot dogs). While I have yet to find a really impressive replacement for barbecue (aside from just sipping on the sauce, which I actually really like) THERE IS A GOOD BEEF JERKY REPLACEMENT (the spicy one tastes best to me). This is not a half-way, almost-like beef jerky replacement, but actually tastes just like beef jerky. Go out and buy this as soon as you can. I’ve had to ration myself. Only two servings a day. A great way to get protein no matter what your eating persuasion. And one more thing you can easily replace without much suffering on your part (along with soy milk and deli turkey, but those are for another post).

New York Times Article “Five Easy Ways to Go Organic”

October 23, 2007

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!

Death by Veganism: A Response to the NYTimes Article (Food Post III)

May 27, 2007

As many of you know, I am a wanna-be vegan. Not quite there yet, but making good progress. This is something my partner and I have researched and read quite a bit about. Wolfgang is practically a walking encyclopedia of vegan nutrition and animal and environmental facts. Thus, you can imagine our horror when we read a very poorly researched and irresponsible article about veganism in the New York Times titled “Death By Veganism. ” You can read it, in all its inaccuracies, here. Please also take the time to read the letters to the editor which respond well to the article’s problems.

Her argument is, in short, that “You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.”

I’ll respond to what I see as three main problems with the article:

First, as far as I can tell, she is not arguing against a vegan diet, but rather against vegetarian diet. On top of arguing (with no supporting evidence) that eggs and milk offer complete proteins, essential fats and vitamins (that, I assume she means you cannot get from plant sources) she argues that kids need fish to be healthy because of the Omega-3 fatty acids. First, tons of kids never eat fish anyway. I hated fish growing up and it just isn’t a regular part of lots of people’s or kids diets, especially in less developed places where people don’t fish and it can’t be imported. So if you want to make the argument that fish are essential, and that somehow ground flax seeds, flax seed oil, walnuts, walnut oil, canola oil, soy products, soybean oil, hempseed oil, and wheat germ are not adequate sources of omega-3 fatty acids (although I am not aware of any evidence that demonstrates that they are not), fine. But that seems largely unrelated to veganism and vegetarianism, and is more just a general question of what is and is not included in a healthy diet. (She also doesn’t mention the huge problem with fish being very contaminated and that children and pregnant/lactating women need to be careful about this). She also refers throughout the article to the need for things in meat. I suspect that she frames this in terms of veganism, and not vegetarianism, because vegetarianism is becoming more mainstream and accepted and she doesn’t want to step on the many toes of vegetarians that read the Times. I imagine “Death by Vegetarianism” would not be well received by many. Rather, she picks veganism because she sees it as a relatively easy target. People still see this as a bit extreme and she runs with that.

Second, I think her science is just wrong. She claims that “dairy and eggs” are needed “for complete protein, essential fats and vitamin.” She also says that “animal proteins and fats” contain “essential amino acids needed for life in the right ratio. This is not true of plant proteins, which are inferior in quantity and quality.” She writes that “soy inhibits growth” and finally sums it all up by saying, “A vegan diet may lack vitamin B12, found only in animal foods; usable vitamins A and D, found in meat, fish, eggs and butter; and necessary minerals like calcium and zinc.” So there you go. But, I’m not really sure what studies she is referring to. You certainly can find studies that show a set of vegans lack a certain vitamin or this or that. But, um, you can find just as many showing that omnivores lack certain vitamins or enough of this or that. It isn’t like I would sacrifice my health, or the health of my future children, so I could eat a vegan diet. Nor would all the other very conscientious vegan families. As far as I can tell, children can do just fine with well-planned vegan diets (you can see lots of examples of them here). I think, perhaps, she confuses a vegan diet with a poorly planned vegan diet which, like any poorly planned carnivorous diet, can be harmful. (She also fails to mention the very direct link between the Standard American Diet (SAD) and a range of cancers and health problems. I mean, if you are so concerned about kids and their diet, the concern is that too many of them are overweight and suffer from childhood diabetes. The number of vegan children is minuscule compared to the number of kids with health problems because of eating a SAD diet. But I digress.)

Finally, the third problem is that she refers, very irresponsibly, at the beginning of the article, to a baby that died being fed only apple juice and soy milk and whose parents claimed to be vegan. However, feeding your baby only apple juice and soy milk has absolutely nothing to do with being vegan. These people were criminals who killed their baby by starving him. It is as if you fed your infant only hamburger meat and then when he died people said, “Well, see, a carnivorous diet kills babies.” And the author should have known this. I cannot imagine she didn’t. If she didn’t, it is another indication of how poor her research was. If she did know what she was talking about, and used it anyway, it shows her desire to portray veganism as something that it isn’t. One google search would have confirmed that this terrible death of a baby had nothing to do with veganism or the science/nutritional aspects of veganism.

Veg Family News has compiled a great collection of responses to this poor article, and also includes lots of links to medical articles from normal, reputable sources that affirm the health of vegan pregnancies, babies, and children. You can see it here:

I didn’t plan for this to be The Weekend of Food Posts. I just have more time now that school is out and they sort of came up.

Yay for summer finally being here! Makes me so happy. More soon, I hope.

Much peace, Elizabeth

Scott Wells on Good Food (Food Post II)

May 26, 2007

Well, it seems like this is the weekend for food posts. I suggest you go over to Boy in the Bands and read Scott Well’s a healthy, sustainable diet (i.e. buying locally, eating good, whole foods). I think I underemphasize this in my wanna-be-veganism. Since a big part of my eating thoughts and practice have to do with the environment and wanting to be more gentle on it, I should point this out more. Buying organic Spinach from California uses a darn lot of gas to get it over here to MA, not to mention the fertilizer trucked in from who-knows-where. Anyway, local is good. Whole food/real food that you actually have to buy and then cook yourself is harder work than veggie rice bowls from Trader Joe’s (ahem, note to self).

There is a chapter about this in The Simple Living Guide (chapter 9 cooking and nutrition), a book which is really great at being reasonable, yet encouraging about living a simpler life. It is one of the few books that makes it seem do-able, rather than just overwhelming.

Over at Trivium: More on Ethical Eating (Food Post I)

May 25, 2007

Over at Trivium, Jaime Goodwin writes about how annoying he finds it that most of the food at church events is dull – that is, vegetarian or vegan, and that he feels like those who make this food are saying that they are better somehow better. He notes that “he has a hard time with the ethical eating concept.” It was interesting for me to read, given that I am working on a post that responds to the New York Times op-ed piece irresponsibly titled “Death By Veganism” and I’ve been thinking a lot about these questions lately. (More on the NYTimes article very soon.)

I appreciated Jaime’s post – it gives me pause to reflect on the way I go about my life and how I can most lovingly and gently share my excitement about the potential for veganism in terms of compassion for animals and environmental friendliness, while at the same time bend over backward to be non-judgmental and empathetic to the choices and trade-offs we all make in doing our best to live out a life that balances high ethical standards with the realities of life in today’s world.

A few thoughts:

Jaimie writes:

Again.. my respect for another’s beliefs is why I have such a hard time with Ethical Eating as a concept. To me the concept is this… I made a choice to eat a certain way, I like my choice, now I am going to point out that everyone else who has not yet made this choice that they are not as good of a Unitarian Universalist as I am. I care more about Health and the environment than they do, and my life has become much better than theirs because of this choice.

What? You say… you do not mean to send this message? I believe you. I know that you do not MEAN to send this message, but you are sending it… to me. I would imagine to others as well.

This relates to a dilemma for vegans and vegetarians. Granted, there are some that are over-zealous and who literally do say, “I care more about health and the environment than [meat-eaters], and my life has become much better than theirs because of this choice.” But I think most don’t say this or think this. It seems to me that the very fact of being vegetarian or vegan is often understood to send the message that other ways of eating are not adequate or good enough. But, when I foster kittens, no one understand this to mean that they should foster kittens or are bad because they don’t help stray animals. Or when I drive a fuel efficient car and tell people how much I like it, this isn’t interpreted as meaning that they should drive a Scion or feel bad about the car they drive. Yet, these are the exact reasons that I am vegan (or, more honestly, an almost-vegan) – the desire for animals not to suffer and the environment. As I have asked before, is there no way to share my excitement about veganism or the benefits I see to it (like I do with kitten rescuing or fuel-efficient car-driving) without it being interpreted as judgemental? I ask this just to point out that it is a difficult balance, and that all of us on every side should be understanding about the difficulty in balancing this and how food and food choices go very deep, no matter what our choices are.

As I have noted before, to me, my vegetarianism/veganism is one way that I try to live out the values that are important to me – care for the environment, love of animals and the desire that they not suffer. BUT, I do SO MANY not good things or not good enough things. I drive too much. I fly too much (especially bad). I use a hair-dryer too much. A clothes dryer too much. Too many paper towels. Don’t buy enough local food. Could foster more cats. Could volunteer more. The list goes on. To me, vegetarianism/veganism is where I feel like I am able to make a difference. But it is just one way to make the world a better place. It is the way I do it. Others do it their own way. I think we need to both call each other to be our best selves – to do our best – and yet understand that we are all struggling along in this world together, doing the best we can. It is a hard balance. We don’t always all get it right. I guess what I hope is that I can do my part in sharing vegetarianism/veganism as one option, while also making clear that it is just one option and that we need to all support each other in a range of choices we make, particularly as a faith community.

Jaime also writes, “personally I think vegan eating is dangerous and unhealthy.” I will address this in my post on the NYTimes Op-Ed piece on veganism, but I just hate it when people don’t want me to judge their food choices, and then go and judge mine. A well-planned vegan diet is neither dangerous or unhealthy. There are many studies that confirm this. Many examples of healthy vegans. Just like any diet, vegan diets need to be well-planned. There is quite a bit of evidence that meat-heavy diets can be very unhealthy. If you eat all steak and eggs and bacon and whole milk and fried potatoes, you are going to be in trouble. Just like if you drink only soy milk, eat potato chips, drink pepsi, eat cashews, and cucumbers for your vegan diet.

But more on all this later.

In short, thanks for your honest post, Trivium. Vegetarians and vegans out there! Try to be FRIENDLY, LOVING and EMPATHETIC. Maybe I’ll start a FLEUNJVV movement – friendly, loving, empatheic, understanding, non-judgemental vegetarians and vegans…

Read Reader Responses to UU World Ethical Eating Article

May 16, 2007

Some may remember a discussion that took place about Amy Harringer’s Ethical Eating article in the UU World a while back. Here is the original article:

And now UU World has printed a nice selection of reader responses:

If interested here are some of the posts that mention the ethical eating article:

My thoughts on it. Some follow up thoughts.

Philocrites writes on it. And Katharine does too.

Finding my UU Soul writes about the article and vegetarianism here.

And I could swear there was a post on Debitage on this topic but now I can’t find it.

So there you go.