When I wrote a recent post disputing Dr. Dean Ornish’s cherry-picked evidence that meat will kill you, I ignored his closing paragraph. That’s because I wanted to focus on the Meat Kills! nonsense.
Here’s how Ornish finished his essay:
In addition, what’s good for you is good for our planet. Livestock production causes more disruption of the climate than all forms of transportation combined. And because it takes as much as 10 times more grain to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, eating a plant-based diet could free up resources for the hungry.
This has become the latest weapon in the arsenal of The Church of the Holy Plant-Based Diet. They’ve tried convincing us that meat causes heart disease and cancer, but fewer and fewer people are buying that line — because it’s nonsense. So the thinking seems to be Well, that didn’t work. Let’s scare them away from meat by insisting that livestock are ruining the planet. I give it maybe five years before The Anointed float the idea of requiring meatless days in school lunches.
What, you think I’m being paranoid? Don’t forget who decides which foods can be served in schools. And they’re apparently on board with the Meat Kills The Planet idea:
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a federally appointed panel of nutritionists created in 1983, decided for the first time this year to factor in environmental sustainability in its recommendations. They include a finding that a diet lower in animal-based foods is not only healthier, but has less of an environmental impact.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said sustainability is an issue that falls outside the scope of the guidelines. But members of the committee say they had free reign to discuss food supply in recommending what people should and shouldn’t be eating.
“The scope is ours to fully define,” said Barbara Millen, chairwoman of the advisory committee and a professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.
Translation: We’re The Anointed. We can tell you what to do even when it’s not our official mission. After all, given the wild success of our dietary advice in making Americans leaner and healthier, it’s only natural we should expand our focus and save the worldwide environment too.
This is, of course, exactly the kind of theory The Anointed absolutely love. The mission is HUGE — after all, what’s more important than saving the entire planet? – which means it will require a Grand Plan, which makes The Anointed feel So Very Important. Given the opportunity, they will feel justified in imposing the Grand Plan on all of us – for our own sake, of course. Remember, they’re trying to save the planet! Just where the heck do you selfish meat-eaters think you’ll live after your livestock causes global warming – uh, I mean climate change – and renders the planet too hot … or too cold … or flooded because of the torrential rains … or barren because of the lack of rain?
Best of all, as with any Grand Plan, there’s no real way to prove The Anointed wrong. They want us to give up meat so the planet doesn’t boil (or freeze) in 50 years or so. If the planet isn’t boiling (or freezing) in 50 years, The Anointed who are still alive and remember the Grand Plan can claim it succeeded. However, if the planet is boiling (or freezing), they can say we didn’t do enough to stop it. The Grand Plan should have been bigger.
Lierre Keith dealt with the notion that a vegan diet will save the planet in her outstanding book The Vegetarian Myth. Keep in mind she was a committed vegan for 20 years and used to believe all that stuff. But then she educated herself. Here’s an excerpt from my review of the book:
As Keith explains in section two, Political Vegetarians, eating soy burgers won’t save the planet, either. All those goofy vegetarian arguments about how many more people we could feed per acre if we all ate the crops instead of the animals who eat the crops are based on a flawed idea: that the animals who provide our meat are supposed to eat corn. They’re not. They’re supposed to eat grass. Keith recalculates the calories-per-acre figures assuming we were smart enough to raise our animals on their natural food, and not surprisingly, the disparity shrinks to nearly zero.
And feeding the masses is only part of the equation. When you raise animals in a pasture, you create topsoil — you literally can’t create topsoil without animals. But when you raise corn, you destroy topsoil. It’s mono-crop agriculture that uses extraordinary amounts of water and creates soil runoff. Then, of course, there’s all that fossil fuel required to keep the crops growing as the topsoil disappears. (Imagine the fun of explaining to your wild-eyed vegan friends that their “sustainable lifestyle” is enriching the oil industry.)
Since vegans are pushing the idea that going meatless will somehow prevent global warm– er, climate change – I re-read portions of The Vegetarian Myth today. Here are some quotes:
The vegetarians aren’t looking for truth about sustainability or justice. They’re looking for the small slice of facts that will shore up their ideology, their identities. This is where politics becomes religion, psychologically speaking, where the seeker is looking for reaffirmation of her beliefs rather than active knowledge of the world. I was one such believer.
After quoting one of the vegan zealots who was yammering on (like Ornish) about how many more people we could feed if we didn’t waste grain on cattle, Keith writes:
Yes, it is a waste, but not for the reasons he thinks. As we have seen in abundance, growing that grain will require the felling of forests, the plowing of prairies, the draining of wetlands and the destruction of topsoil. In most places on earth, it will never be sustainable, and where it might just possibly be, it will require rotation with animals on pasture. And it’s ridiculous to the point of insanity to take that world-destroying grain and feed it to a ruminant who could have happily subsisted on those now extinct forests, grasslands and wetlands of our planet, while building topsoil and species diversity.
I can vouch for animals creating topsoil. The soil in our chicken yards is rich and alive, thanks to all that chicken poop. For a couple of years now, Chareva has been scooping poop-laden straw from the hen-houses and adding it to her compost pile. The compost has been going into the garden, because it’s great for growing plants.
Later in her book, Keith writes about the “green revolution” – a misnomer if there ever was one. There’s nothing green about it, at least not if we’re using green to mean good for the environment:
Between 1963 and 1997, worldwide crop yields doubled. This doubling came at a cost: fertilizer use increased by 645 percent … the practice of repeatedly plowing the fields, removing the covering of grasses and poisoning the bugs and the weeds robs the soil of its most life-giving characteristics.
We’ve already seen how these crops demand more water from dying rivers, sinking water tables, emptied aquifers, how irrigation creates a wasteland of salt-caked desert. My point here is that this abundance of grain is no true abundance. When the vegetarians claim, for instance, that Britain could support a population of 250 million on an all-vegetable diet, they are basing those numbers on the over-inflated production only made possible by fertilizer from fossil fuel.
Anyone who believes eating soybeans and whole grains will somehow save the planet is blissfully ignorant or deluded. To quote Keith again:
To eat the supposedly earth-friendly diet Motavalli is suggesting would mean that everyone in a cold, hot, wet or dry climate would have to be dependent on the American Midwest, with its devastated prairies and its ever-shrinking soil, rivers and aquifers. It also means dependence on coal or oil to ship that grain two thousand miles. So you’re an environmentalist; why are you still eating outside your bioregion?
The logic of the land tells us to eat the animals that can eat the tough cellulose that survives there. But the logic of vegans leads us away from the local, our only chance of being sustainable, back to the desperate Mississippi and her dying wetlands, her eroding delta. Yes, eating grain directly is less water-intensive than eating grain-fed beef. But why eat either? Animals integrated into appropriate polyculture destroy nothing.
That is the point the political vegetarians need to understand. In the end, all our calculations don’t matter. Who cares if more food can be produced by farming when farming is destroying the world?
But .. but … it’s a plant-based diet!!
Keith argues in the book (and I agree) that none of this is sustainable long-term. Barring some breakthrough in food production (one that doesn’t require even more pollutants), at some point we’ll probably blow through the resources we’re now using to feed 8 billion people. If anything will destroy the planet, it’s overpopulation. But I don’t see anyone – vegans included – offering to commit mass suicide to save the environment.
If you want to save the planet, buy grass-fed beef. Better yet, raise a cow on grass. Raise chickens in a pasture. That soy-burger – grown with fossil-fuel fertilizer and shipped halfway across the country — won’t do diddly to help.
I’ve posted this before, but it’s worth seeing again. Here’s how properly-raised livestock could perhaps save the planet: