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Sustainable Meat and Localized Agriculture

[ 127 ] April 13, 2012 |

I don’t agree with all of James McWilliams’ attack on localized agriculture, but it is useful correction to the fawning deification of Michael Pollan, backyard chickens, grass-fed beef, etc. All of those things have their very important qualities, but if we are really serious about creating more environmentally-sustainable food without cutting back on meat consumption (and let’s be honest, as a society we are not serious about this), we should be aware that these are complex questions without easy answers.


Comments (127)

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  1. rea says:

    In a couple of decades we’ll all be eating cloned animal muscle grown in vats. Problem solved.

  2. Marc says:

    It appears that he’s simply a strict vegan attacking half-measures. There’s nothing wrong with that. If your basic posture is that eating meat is wrong I’d prefer to have you say so directly than to construct an elaborate attack on people who still eat meat, but prefer that the conditions of the animals not be so awful.

    • justin says:

      And Pollan and the other sustainable meat advocates are perfectly clear that greatly reducing meat consumption is a necessary part of the solution (“eat food, not too much, mostly plants”). It’s disingenuous to suggest that they’re arguing for $1 McDonald’s cheeseburgers made from grass-fed beef.

      • pacifist viking says:

        Yet one of Pollan’s major functions is to defend eating meat. He assuages consciences, telling people that while they are right to think about what they eat, they need not actually stop eating animals (as long as they try to eat less of them, and the right kind). Pollan may say we need to eat less meat, but whenever confronted with a vegan/vegetarian perspective, he insists that people can/should still eat meat.

        One would think if his commitment was really to eat less meat, he would praise rather than criticize vegans/vegetarians. Yet he’s made it clear his commitment is firmly for meat.

        • Lee says:

          People like meat, dairy, and honey. Most people find nothing morally wrong with eating meat, dairy products, honey, or wearing leather.

          This doesn’t mean that we recognize that industrial meat and dairy production has some rather serious problems. What it does mean is that we want to reduce these problems rather than get rid of meat and dairy in their entirety.

          Pollan doesn’t praise vegans and vegetarians because he doesn’t think they are right. Lots of people agree with him. This is their right.

          • DrDick says:

            That would emphatically include me. I have cut back on how much I eat (mostly owing to cholesterol and weight issues), but no way am I giving it up.

            • Lee says:

              Yeah, I cut back on my meat eating to loose weight. Currently, I tend to buy my meat at foodie grocers. This isn’t because of enviornmental issues. Its because foodie grocers are where I can buy smaller amounts of meat.

              • DrDick says:

                I usually buy larger portions and divide it up and freeze it (I but whole chickens for instance and break them down, using the backs and wings to make stock with). We actually have a number of sustainable suppliers here in western Montana, but it tends to be a bit too pricey for my budget.

            • JoyfulA says:

              I discovered that the only diet that works for me is low carb. And my cholesterol levels improved on that diet.

          • pacifist viking says:

            If the goal is to get society to consume less meat, vegans and vegetarians are helping to achieve that goal. Of course it is Pollan’s right to disagree with vegans. But if his stance is really that society needs to reduce the amount of meat that it consumes, it seems strange that he does criticize vegans/vegetarians specifically (and he does).

            If somebody regularly defends meat and criticizes vegans/vegetarians, I don’t think I’m wrong to see that person on the side of meat, and to see that person’s claims to try reduce meat consumption as, at least, compromised.

            • Lee says:

              Vegetarians and vegans, especially the latter, want people to consume NO meat ever. Pollan and company want people to eat less meat. Eating less meat is a completely different thing than eating no meat.

              Pollan does not praise vegans and vegetarians because they have very different goals than he does. Pollan’s believes that people should eat less meat, that is eat at fewer meals and in smaller portions. He doesn’t think it should be eliminated entirely from the human diet becuase humans are omnivores.

              You are assuming that the only way people could be genuinely for reduced meat consumption is if they are against it in its entirety. This is not the case.

              • pacifist viking says:

                I’m thinking in social rather than individual terms. Let’s say your goal is to reduce (not eliminate) car traffic. You may try to encourage every driver to drive less, and that may (or may not) work. But if some people abstain from driving altogether, you are actually removing people from the road, and reducing traffic. In other words, the non-drivers have just opened up space for the drivers.

                To say that one’s goal for society is to consume less meat, but then single out people who eat no meat for particular criticism, seems strange.

                • BigHank53 says:

                  Pollen’s specific criticism of vegans was not so much their veganism but rather their tendency to consume a lot of highly-processed, long transport items with a large carbon footprint. He had a special grudge against a lot of soy products, if I recall correctly.

          • Joe says:

            Many people are willing to accept various reforms along the way here such as Temple Grandin’s activity in trying to make animals’ lives less stressful. Many deep down sorta don’t want to think about how things work don’t care enough to stop. If they cut back even 1/4 (or more), it would be significant. It need not be all or nothing here and realistic vegans/vegetarians, like many a promoter of a cause accept it.

        • fasteddie9318 says:

          Is he really criticizing vegans or is he just arguing that sustainable meat production as a viable part of an overall sustainability effort?

          Because, like it or not, if society is presented with a choice between everyone going vegan or dooming the planet to destruction, you can kiss the planet goodbye unless you’re prepared to institute some kind of global totalitarian system to force compliance.

          I don’t know enough of Pollan’s writing to say, so maybe he really does beat up on vegans even though that seems bizarre. But advocating for policies that will help the environment while not forcing people to make lifestyle choices that most would frankly refuse to make is a good thing, in my view.

          • Lee says:

            Getting people to stop eating meat is probably going to be as the campaigns to get people to stop having sex. Not very.

            • fasteddie9318 says:

              I could imagine it being less successful, since at least abstinence campaigns are usually only telling you to wait until you’re married, and you can always fall back on (morally frowned upon!) masturbation as an imperfect substitute.

              I enjoy tofu quite a bit when it’s prepared well, but it’s not even the jerking off to steak’s tantric sex, and don’t get me started about some of these other meat “substitutes.” All perfectly cromulent in their own way, and if that’s what you enjoy eating go for it, but none of them could get even the majority of the US population to give up meat for life, let alone the entire US population plus everyone else in the world.

              • Lee says:

                And if you add a campaign against dairy to the mix, you are looking at even more failure. Try telling people that they can’t have cheese on pizza, milk in their cereal, tea, or coffee, and ice cream period. Soy milk and other vegan substitutes for dairy do not even come close.

                At least with vegetarianism, dairy is still an option.

              • Spud says:

                Plus, a lot of the “meat substitutes” are heavily processed, laden with salt and preservatives and may have a greater evironmental impact than the animals themselves.

                Its very tough to look at something like this
                and get people excited to eat it.

                I shudder to think what the byproducts of a Tofurky plant look like.

                • R Johnston says:

                  Speaking as someone who loves a good steak, the whole concept of “meat substitutes” is just wrong. A veggieburger is not a substitute for a hamburger; it’s just a particularly poor way to serve vegetables.

                  If you want a meat eater to try a vegetarian dish then attractive, tasty, well prepared dishes that aren’t designed to make the meat eater declare them inferior substitutes to meat seem the way to go, and that seems the right alternative if you’re a vegetarian as well.

                  If you’re going to blend your vegetables into an indiscernible mass then at least have the decency to be making soup.

                • If you haven’t been to a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant you’re doing yourself a disservice. The fake meat is awesome. And I am a meat eater.

                  Not that you’d mistake what’s served for meat, but the effort produces some admirable dishes.

                • R Johnston says:

                  I’d certainly be willing to give it a taste, and maybe some people can turn out fake meat that’s quite good, but I’d still be willing to bet that the rest of their vegetarian dishes are generally better.

                  I’ll also clarify that simply substituting vegetables or vegetable products for meat in a dish can work out quite well; it’s trying to get the taste, texture, or presentation of meat that seems to always be wasted effort.

                • Give it a shot. Given what variants of tofu are like ordinarily, different tastes and textures and presentations are a good thing.

                • R Johnston says:

                  Well, I don’t often find myself in Buddhist restaurants, but I’ll give it consideration the next time I am and I’ll be sure to at least share a bite if someone else at the table orders.

                • guy on the inside says:

                  I happen to be in a good position to assuage your fears. The byproducts of a Tofurky plant look like either raw bakery dough or regular cooked Tofurky that doesn’t pass quality control because of net weight or product/packaging damage or whatever. Most of it is sent to a nearby composting facility.

                  It doesn’t have any preservatives, has lower sodium than its real-meat counterparts, and has a substantially lower environmental impact.

                  Sales of Tofurky have been growing by double digits for years now, and this year looks to be one of record growth. So while you might not find the idea particularly exciting or palatable, a lot of other people apparently do.

                  Regarding the OP’s comment about our society not being serious about limiting meat consumption, my recollection is that domestic meat consumption is down 12% since 2007.

                • chris says:

                  If you want a meat eater to try a vegetarian dish then attractive, tasty, well prepared dishes that aren’t designed to make the meat eater declare them inferior substitutes to meat seem the way to go

                  This is a perfectly good way to get a meat eater to consume *one* vegetarian dish, and maybe even to lower their meat consumption per year, but it’s a lousy way to get them to give up meat eating completely and for life.

    • Bart says:

      Yes, I found this statement –

      Pastured organic chickens have a 20 percent greater impact on global warming.

      not supported by facts.

      • Spud says:

        If you haven’t been to a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant you’re doing yourself a disservice. The fake meat is awesome. And I am a meat eater.

        I have. I love the stuff. I am glad you brought it up.

        There is a vast gulf between the skilled handcraft of a Buddhist restaraunt (which relies on real ingredients and generations of skill and effort) and what passes for a meat substitute in a local supermarket. Like the difference between a ribeye and pink slime.

        Indian and Buddhist cuisines are wonderful in their own right. Its a far cry from the processed, heavily preserved stuff they pawn off on vegans.

        I like tofu, but I cheat by slathering it with ground meat and mabo sauce, put in miso soup with bits of pork or just covering it in bonito flakes.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          “I like tofu, but I cheat by slathering it with ground meat and mabo sauce, put in miso soup with bits of pork or just covering it in bonito flakes.”

          Of course this isn’t cheating at all because tofu is not primarily a meat substitute in Asia.

  3. J.W. Hamner says:

    It should be noted that McWilliams is a vegan whose opposition to meat consumption is moral not environmental, and I think most of his points are post hoc working back from the premise that nobody should be eating meat. Indeed, much of his opposition to places like Niman Ranch is more about yuppies/hipsters assuaging their conscious about their meat consumption by imagining idyllic farm lives for their food.. than issues of scaling something like that to 6 billion people (though obviously that’s a problem).

    You’ll notice he never mentions what accurate carbon pricing would do to the sustainability of agriculture… and you never will, because he’s just not interested in anything other than ending meat consumption period… no matter that arguing against sustainable and ethical meat production does more to encourage animal suffering than any yuppie and their $40 steak.

    I have no problems with vegans (my girlfriend used to be one) or moral arguments against meat consumption… but I find his constant trojan horsing of his vegan advocacy in environmental arguments to be dishonest and completely misguided.

    • Lee says:

      This. I think that vegans make environmental arguments against eating meat and dairy because most of them know that making moral arguments won’t work. Most people simply see no moral issues with eating meat and dairy and never will. Therefore, vegans make the environmental argument because they, probably correctly, believe that this is their only remote chance for success.

      • Mark Field says:

        I’m puzzled by the “environmental” claims for veganism. Take North America as an example. Before the arrival of human beings, this was not a continent filled with amber waves of grain. It was a continent filled with browsing and grazing mammals.

        Modern agriculture is at least as destructive of the environment as modern ranching. At least the “grass-fed beef” folks are focused on a goal which is plausibly similar to the original environment.

        • Joe says:

          There are ways to make modern agriculture less destructive. But, it is particularly destructive when modern ranching, poultry raising etc. is mixed in on top of agriculture for merely human use.

          We would have to greatly restrict our meat use to be able to go back to the way animals were in the days of yore. Factory farming is what occurs given current use. This is very hard on the environment.

          • Mark Field says:

            Sure, but we’d have to greatly restrict our consumption of all foods in order to create true environmental balance. Feeding 9 billion people a vegan diet is a recipe for environmental disaster given current agricultural practices, so I can’t see “environmentalism” as an argument favoring veganism.

            • Joe says:

              First, no one seriously thinks world peace or whatever is going to occur tomorrow. Second, if in imaginary world where everyone in this country went vegan, replacing those factory farms and all the crops used for animal feed with human food would not be “a recipe for environmental disaster.”

            • chris says:

              Well, to be honest, feeding 9 billion humans *anything* is going to have some kind of massive impact on ecosystems that developed when the human population was less than a tenth of that.

    • Spud says:

      Of course the flipside to the arguments is that it makes commercial cannibalism a very appealing prospect.Maybe Leatherface hit on the right idea.

      It reduces the environmental impact caused the humans being eaten. They do not need grazing land and can be penned into much smaller areas than cows or pigs. They can be sustained with artificial constructs of soy, corn and animal byproducts (like those from AFA Foods).

      Plus all of this has great political benefits as well. We reduce the amount of money in entitlements and programs for the poor (What? Like rich people are going to end up on the dinner plates?)

      Its a win-win for almost everybody

      • redwoods says:

        Heee, it’ll end up all Transmetropolitan, with Long Pig chain-restaurants and vat-grown human stock sans a brain, with a wiff of scandal because the stated stock can’t possibly account for how much product the company pushes, and they might be buying prisoners and war orphans from other quarters to make up for the shortage. Ellis loves him some dystopian America.

        • Spud says:

          The vat grown thing seems awfully expensive from an R&D and production standpoint. Human beings take a long time to gestate and grow to optimum harvesting size. Especially since we have a surplus world population of people on this planet in prime years for mass consumption.

          Prisoners, refugees, homeless and war orphans are plentiful and cheap.

          If you are already willing to go full Eating Raoul, why quibble over the source?

  4. Jane says:

    Ugh. McWilliams makes terrible arguments. For instance, he says that grass-grazed cows emit more methane than grain-fed, which may or may not be true, but so what? If I have 20 grass-grazed cows compared to your 2000 stock-yard cows, what real impact does the grass-grazed methane emission have? He also makes the same non-point with respect to pasture-raised chickens, and quickly follows that up by claiming (without reference) that “many” farmers who raise chickens on pasture use industrial breeds that are prone to leg injuries. Are you kidding me? “Many” huh? I don’t know how anyone can take McWilliams’ arguments seriously, when McWilliams clearly does not.

    • fasteddie9318 says:

      For instance, he says that grass-grazed cows emit more methane than grain-fed, which may or may not be true, but so what?

      I love this, because it’s offered as a once sentence statement in McWilliams’ screed when in fact the issue of the carbon footprint of pastured cattle is far more complicated than whether or not they fart more than grain-fed cattle, to say nothing of their overall environmental impacts. Feeding corn to cattle means you have to produce more corn, which is an environmentally damaging process in its own right, whereas pastured cattle can maintain and fertilize their own pastures like, you know, cattle of various forms did for millenia before we decided to start force feeding them an unnatural diet for political reasons. Grain-fed cattle are pumped with hormones that then leech into the environment. And if grass-fed beef costs more than grain-fed, then maybe that means it’s more accurately reflecting the real costs of beef production and ideally will mean lower consumption which means fewer cattle overall.

      This on top of thee fact that pastured cattle having a significantly healthier omega 3 profile and CLA content than grain-fed and we care about that kind of thing too, right?

      Sorry, I (apparently) take grass-fed beef pretty seriously and McWilliams’ article is bullshit.

    • blowback says:

      Often overlooked in these discussions is that much land in the world is suitable for nothing other than pasturing animals. Try ploughing and planting any crop in, say, the Pyrenees outside of the valley bottoms and see how far you get. However, the land is ideal for pasturing cattle, sheep and goats for meat, milk and cheese and pigs for meat.

      • DrDick says:

        Or much of the American West. Eastern Montana and Colorado, western Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas are much more economically and ecologically managed as grazing lands than under agriculture. Attempts to farm the region are already draining the Oglala aquifer dry.

    • Bart says:

      Here is central VA our little town has special road crossings for lame chickens.

    • redwoods says:

      Oh the chicken thing was just damned ridiculous. Saletin is an obnoxious fundie, but really, that was some high-test fact-free bullroar.

  5. j says:

    I’d like to know where the 10 acres per cow number comes from. I raised cattle when I was younger. We were able to raise 10-15 cattle on 8 acres of alfalfa that we harvested, and let them roam on a 3-4 acre patch of grass. It wasn’t accelerated growth, but we always sold a few every season.

  6. mpowell says:

    I don’t see this as a stalking horse for veganism. Maybe his data is wrong, but I wouldn’t find it all that shocking to learn that grass fed beef has a greater environmental footprint compared to industrial beef production. And this is a major potential problem with the push for grass fed cattle. Arguing that you just have fewer grass fed cattle is basically proving his point: you only get a reduced footprint by consuming less beef.

    He also has a book criticizing local source produce for, I assume, similar reasons. Namely: it’s not actually more green because what you gain in transportation you lose in the inefficiency of growing produce out of season in the wrong climate.

    • Jane says:

      Maybe I’m confused, but I thought that consuming less beef was always part of the push for grass fed cattle.

      What’s the title of the book where he claims that local produce farmers grow their crops out of season in the wrong climate? I’d be interested in seeing that, because that doesn’t reflect my admittedly anecdotal experience.

      • mpowell says:

        Well, if all you’re worrying about is environmental footprint, it definitely matters whether industrial beef production or grass fed cattle have a greater footprint per pound of beef produced.

        • Jane says:

          But, as FastEddie9318 points out above, the environmental impact of different methods of cattle-raising is much more complicated than which type of cow farts more. I don’t know how to link to a comment properly, but I’ll quote a portion of his comment:

          Feeding corn to cattle means you have to produce more corn, which is an environmentally damaging process in its own right, whereas pastured cattle can maintain and fertilize their own pastures like, you know, cattle of various forms did for millenia before we decided to start force feeding them an unnatural diet for political reasons. Grain-fed cattle are pumped with hormones that then leech into the environment. And if grass-fed beef costs more than grain-fed, then maybe that means it’s more accurately reflecting the real costs of beef production and ideally will mean lower consumption which means fewer cattle overall.

          This on top of thee fact that pastured cattle having a significantly healthier omega 3 profile and CLA content than grain-fed and we care about that kind of thing too, right?

          • DrDick says:

            If there is a lower cost, it is only an economy of scale, in that you can raise more cattle per acre grain feeding than by grazing. I also do not think he is factoring the massive costs (water, carbon, petrochemical based fertilizers and pesticides) of industrial agriculture.

        • fasteddie9318 says:

          Yes, it does, but it also matters if you’re producing fewer pounds of beef and bringing the aggregate environmental impact down. And it’s pretty clear that “which kind farts more” is not a good approximation for the relative environmental footprints of both types of cattle.

          It’s a shame McWilliams chose to toss off a one-liner instead of giving the issue the attention it deserves.

    • blowback says:

      I’d say that most locavores also push seasonal food so the issue of inefficiency of growing produce out of season shouldn’t arise. However, I would say that at this particular time of year in the northern latitudes, the seasonal locavore’s diet can be pretty boring and very restricted unless they’ve preserved or frozen last year’s crop or they’ll consume canned food. Hungry gap kale and potatoes anyone?

      • JRoth says:

        FWIW, I only eat a few out of season, non-canned tomatoes a year. It’s more about taste than sustainability, but those two are linked (ceteris paribus, more sustainable tomatoes taste better). Those are the clearest example, but I treat non-local, non-seasonal fruit the same way – as a treat, not a staple.

        I think an awful lot of criticisms of locavores and others who attempt to eat more sustainably come down to perfect vs. good arguments, and I always wonder what interest they’re serving.

        • JoyfulA says:

          “It’s more about taste” is also my developing view of eating meat. I don’t eat chicken anymore because it’s like one of those winter tomatoes: it doesn’t taste like a chicken used to/is supposed to taste. (I grew up eating chicken, as well as duck and eggs, that came from barnyards, so maybe I got spoiled, but chicken tasted OK until the last 10-15 years.) So I don’t eat chicken anymore because there’s no point.

  7. bobbo says:

    McWilliams suggests that localized agriculture that includes raising meat is no more sustainable than industrial agriculture. But he says nothing about the sustainability of an all-vegan diet. How much land does it require? How much water? Can we do it worldwide without relying on fossil-fuel based fertilizers and pesticides? Can everyone be a vegan?

    • fasteddie9318 says:

      If we turn over all our vegan farming to the underpants gnomes, I’m sure they’ll figure out how to make it work.

    • mpowell says:

      It’s pretty widely accepted that a vegetarian diet requires far fewer resources and has a much lower footprint, mostly because of the large amount of grain calories that have to be produced for each beef calorie ultimately delivered to a person. I doubt veganism is any different.

      • fasteddie9318 says:

        That it requires fewer resources is probably not seriously in question, but that still doesn’t mean it would be sustainable. Maybe feeding 9 billion people will be unsustainable no matter what we do.

    • Joshua says:

      Each pound of meat costs more than one pound of whatever that animal eats. I’m not an expert on this or anything, but that, to me, says that a lot more people can be a vegan sustainably. If you need 3000 pounds of grain to build up a 1000 pound cow, cut the cow out of the equation and you have 2000 pounds more food to give to people.

      Obviously this is a simplistic example. Maybe, as fasteddie says, 9 billion people is simply not sustainable on this planet (it wouldn’t be the first time that was said, though). But it does seem that a lot of people can go vegan sustainably.

      • Spud says:

        Each pound of meat costs more than one pound of whatever that animal eats. I’m not an expert on this or anything, but that, to me, says that a lot more people can be a vegan sustainably.

        Except for one pound of what the animal eats usually lacks the nutritional value of the one pound of meat for an omnivore. We can’t metabolize vegetables for protein as efficiently. Most of what we feed animals is unusable for humans (grass, low quality grains)

        There are very few plants which have the protein content high enough to substitute for similar volumes of meat.

    • The Bobs says:

      Veganism is not a sustainable diet for humans. It requires B12 supplements, which cannot come from plants.

  8. C says:

    McWilliams’ more elaborate argument in Just Food is straighforwardly pragmatic. His concern is with how it will be possible to feed 9 billion people in 30 years without destroying the planet. His recommendations (in a nutshell) 1. GMO’s will have a place 2. Locavorism is irrelevant and is primarily indulgence for the affluent 3. Pure organicism is counter-productive though we will need to be thoughtful about these things 4. Meat eating will need to be drastically reduced (and it is the one actually productive thing that can be done to head-off the looming crisis) 5. sustainable aquaculture (yes, you read that right, he argues for sustainable aquaculture in the developing world) will play a big role in providing protein for the planet.

    So if you set aside the ad hominems above (he’s a vegan!) and the desperate attempts to justify meat eating on environmental grounds, his fundamental point holds for sustainable meat aficionados just as it did for locavorism. They’re dodging the real problems with a thin veneer of moral equivalence or superiority that crumbles in the light. Pollan and his food-conservative allies (Salatin et al) are doing as much harm as they are good, just like the locavores during the 90’s and 00’s. Time to bite the bullets.

    • fasteddie9318 says:

      desperate attempts to justify meat eating on environmental grounds

      Nobody’s doing this. Meat consumption makes for a bigger environmental footprint than plant consumption. I would think that would be inarguable. What should also be inarguable is that, if your prescription for the environment is that the entire planet must go vegan, you’d better be preparing to recruit, train, and equip a modern army to conquer the planet, because that’s the only way you’re going to succeed.

      • JRoth says:

        Pretty much. That line is pure strawmannery.

        As is McWilliam’s absurd calculation that advocates for pastured meat want to raise the same number of steers as we currently do, but outdoors. That was the line that made me stop taking him seriously.

        I might add that meat reduction is actually making inroads in American culture. I fear that it’s purely recession-driven (as was the temporary death of the SUV), but things like “Meatless Mondays” have developed wide awareness, to the point where the Today Show and the like will have cooking segments. I don’t have high hopes for Americans to drastically cut down on meat before disaster strikes, but there is movement in that direction, and such things have happened before (not only smoking, but also alcohol; my understanding is that per capita consumption is drastically lower now than it was pre-Prohibition).

        • chris says:

          I don’t have high hopes for Americans to drastically cut down on meat before disaster strikes

          Gradual change has a way of gradually sneaking up on people. I think it’s completely plausible that a removal of subsidies and some more or less Pigouvian environmental-impact taxes could substantially reduce American meat consumption without anyone (much) feeling like they’re being repressed (of course meat would be more expensive, but that’s the point — its current low cost is fake, like the low cost of gas).

          If that agenda could pass in the first place, that is, which points directly to the big problem with moving America toward more sustainable eating: the Republican Party. They don’t give a damn about the environment and would love for the red meat for their party base to be literal red meat. It would play right into all the lazy-minded gendered pseudo-thinking about food and liberals.

      • C says:

        Actually it is argued and arguable. Fairlie’s Meat: A Benign Extravagance being the most recent case, nevermind Salatin and a whole host of others who start from the premise “I like meat” and try to find a way to internalize the constraints that vegans and veggies have been arguing for 40+ years need to be imposed on meat production. Though this is preferable to the CAFO-factory approach, it still rests on desperately ignoring that killing a sentient creature for trivial reasons does not reach even the standard of minimal moral decency, no matter how humanely or natural a life that was lived prior to that “one bad day.” These are arguments of moral desperation, even if from a neutral perspective it is preferable that every farm becomes salatinized, it still won’t be decent.

        • Lee says:

          C, cattle, pigs, chickens, and some other animals are completely dependent on humans. We raise them and take care of them in return for their products: meat, dairy, eggs, and leater. If we stopped using them as food, most of them would just die in the wild. Is that moral?

        • Jane says:

          No one is “desperately ignoring” that living creatures are being killed for meat consumption. Having grown up in farm country, I’ve witnessed my grandmother twisting the head off a chicken, and I certainly can’t claim to be unaware that the chicken died. Where we differ is that you think that killing animals for meat consumption is immoral. I do not, and am certainly not arguing from “moral desperation.”

        • fasteddie9318 says:

          I notice somewhere in there we switched from arguing about the objective environmental impact of meat consumption to arguing about a subjective moral determination.

        • bow says:

          I kill animals for one simple and non-trivial reason – to provide for my family. The vast majority of the meat we consume over the course of a year is procured from our land as is a large portion
          of our fruits and vegetables. When I have a successful day hunting I am thankful and happy.

      • njorl says:

        I would think that would be inarguable.

        You’d be thinking wrongly, then. There are niches where meat production enhances efficiency.
        Many vegetable byproducts which are indigestable to humans can be fed to animals. They convert the caloric value of cellulose to animal flesh. As long as care is taken to recoup the mineral nutrients from the animal, and return them to the soil, animals can enhance the efficiency of a primarily vegetarian diet.

        Granted, the amount of meat produced this way might not be enough to give everyone a pork chop on their birthday.

        • fasteddie9318 says:

          This is all true and worth noting, but the point that meat production as currently practiced is in the aggregate more environmentally impactful than plant production is still true. What we do now, shoveling corn that we wouldn’t otherwise be growing into animals that wouldn’t otherwise be eating it so we can artificially manipulate the food market, is environmentally catastrophic. Something like, say, going back to all-pastured cattle would actually help return animal husbandry back to the kind of productive use that you’re talking about.

      • Lee says:

        Again, this point can’t be stressed enough. Why do vegans think that they could get people to stop eating meat without coercive force? People like animal food products. Meat, cheese, eggs, milk, ice cream, and butter are considered great joys. Most people see no fault in eating animal food products no matter what arguments are made.

        At least other prohibtionists are intelligent enough to recognize that coercive force was necessary to achieve their goals.

        • DrDick says:

          Even the most traditional vegetarian cultures in the world, like India, often rely heavily on dairy. While we can survive on vegan diets, they are not natural. Humans are omnivores and meat is a natural part of our diet. We clearly eat more meat in the US today than we need to or than our ancient ancestors did, but pretending that humans do not like or even crave meat is wrong.

          • The Bobs says:

            “While we can survive on vegan diets, they are not natural.”

            No, we can’t.

            • GeoX says:

              …and yet, people do.

            • DrDick says:

              Speaking as an anthropologist with some actual background in the subject, you are simply wrong. People can and do survive quite well on vegan diets. You have to work somewhat harder to get complete nutrients, but it is not that difficult in an advanced industrial economy. Soy products, unlike most plant foods, do contain complete proteins.

              • chris says:

                You have to work somewhat harder to get complete nutrients, but it is not that difficult in an advanced industrial economy.

                But is it scalable to the whole planet? There’s a big difference between “I can survive on a vegan diet” and “We can survive on a vegan diet”…

                • DrDick says:

                  I am not sure, but probably. We already grow most of the crops we would need in sufficient quantities, but we feed them to livestock instead of eating them. I am not advocating that we do so, as I am a confirmed meat eater, but it could be possible. The problem is that there are many parts of the planet (such as the Great Plains, much of East and South Africa, Central Asia) were raising livestock, especially grass fed, is the best human use and more ecologically sustainable.

          • LeeEsq says:

            There are some vegans I’ve met who attempted to argue, not well, that humans aren’t really omnivores and that we were meant to be vegan. The argument revolves around teeth, which really makes no sense because human teeth establish that we evolved to eat an omnivorous diet.

    • Josh G. says:

      His concern is with how it will be possible to feed 9 billion people in 30 years without destroying the planet.

      It won’t. 9 billion people is far too many. The world population should be about 10% of that figure.

      • FKW says:

        Do your part by not reproducing.

      • wengler says:

        From which part of your ass did you pull out that number?

        • R Johnston says:

          At six people per square kilometer you can wander around all day without much risk of actually encountering people unless someone is deliberately seeking you out. Any greater concentration of people and the risks of accidental human interaction increase astronomically.

          That explanation is, of course, pulled out of my own ass, except for the population/land mass ratio.

  9. I totally skipped not only the linked article but most of the no-doubt-excellent comments here to respond to OP’s throwaway parenthetical item. As a society, we may not be serious about reducing meat consumption, but should that be the end of it?

    I mean, I could dismiss any ideas anybody has about reducing inequality, reducing dependency on fossil fuels, reforming the tax code, whatever, with that same line. Just because we, as a society, are not serious about the need to raise taxes on the rich does not mean that we’re not headed for disaster if we don’t eventually do it anyway.

    • Joe says:

      Yes. Given the breadth of these problems, even a small improvement means a lot & we as a society CAN do so. Take homosexuality. In my lifetime, it was seen officially as a psychiatric disorder, now the POTUS supports giving same sex couples equal rights. The idea that cutting down meat production is not possible is silly. Again, in not too long of a time, I have seen a big increase in use of meat substitutes and so forth.

  10. Lee says:

    Semi-OT, are there any vegetarians left in the world? People who do not eat meat but do consumer dairy products and honey. It seem that vegetarians have all but disappeared.

    • dsn says:

      My fiancee, for one.

    • njorl says:

      I’m curious about the reason for not eating honey.

      For dairy, there is the biological justification that it is essentially a meat protein. There is also the near certainty that the animal is being exploited. Even if you treat the cows as nicely as possible, they are still an overbred travesty.

      I just don’t see that for honey. It’s not environmentally harmful. Honey production enhances other natural processes. It isn’t intrinsically unhealthy in small quantities. It isn’t necessarily exploitative of bees.

      • DrDick says:

        Strict vegans do not eat any animal products at all.

      • Hob says:

        There are three vegan arguments I’ve seen about this: 1. Yes it is exploitative of bees (true by the strict definition of exploitation, but not really a persuasive argument if you’re not already a vegan). 2. Over-reliance on bees as pollinators is ecologically disruptive (I have no idea if this is true). 3. Consuming any animal product other than human milk is just gross, because.

      • Lee says:

        I never heard any vegan compare dairy to meat protein. I have heard them protest it on the grounds that dairy production involves exploitation to animals, which does make certain sense, and is not natural becasue only humans consume dairy passed weaning, which is a really moronic argument.

        There does not seem to be any good argument against honey except that it comes from animals and that its stealling from the bees. Again, these arguments are really unpersuasive.

        • chris says:

          I don’t see how you draw a clear persuasiveness distinction between “it’s stealing from the bees” and “it’s murdering the embryonic chickens”, or, for that matter, “it’s murdering the adult chickens”. What is persuasive depends on who is being persuaded.

      • elm says:

        My understanding is that there is actually debate in vegan circles about honey, i.e. not all vegans abstain from honey for exactly the reasons you say. I don’t know enough to know how prevalent honey-eating vegans are, but I do know they exist.

      • Joe says:

        To collect the honey for the supply needed, you likely will harm bees. We don’t just let the bees go away and take the honey.

    • DrDick says:

      There are several million of them in India, as well as large numbers elsewhere in Asia, mostly for religious reasons.

    • GeoX says:

      Me. My brother. Several friends and relatives of friends. It’s not rare at all, in my experience.

    • elm says:

      I’m a vegetarian, so we aren’t completely dead yet.

      • chris says:

        I even know some partial vegetarians, who still eat fish and other seafood (as well as dairy and, IIRC, eggs) — they only avoid red meat and poultry.

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