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Veganism: Just Say No?

Arrrggghhhhh! This “article” made me so mad!!!!!!

In this opinion piece, titled “Vegan-organic lifestyle doesn’t help Earth, isn’t necessarily best,” Kenneth Green says that while vegan diets may have ethical foundations, “saving the Earth isn’t among them.” Mr. Green seems to think that because the greenhouse emissions of developing nations like India and China will outweigh those prevented by people who eat a plant-based diet, vegan diets are ineffective in the fight against global warming:

“So, are vegetarianism and organic foods going to save the planet? I don’t think so. They’ll do virtually nothing for the climate, they’ll deplete the soil, they’ll require us to use more land area to grow the same amount of food, and we’ll be exposed to equal or greater amounts of pathogenic bacteria, viruses and so forth.

Waiter? I’ll have the steak, please.”

Of course, he doesn’t talk about how huge the reversal would be if more people—never mind everyone—went vegan, or at least vegetarian.

In April, Jason Das wrote about the findings of Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin, assistant professors of geophysics at the University of Chicago. Eshel and Martin came out in favor of vegetarian diets, citing, among other reasons: “While methane and nitrous oxide are relatively rare compared with carbon dioxide, they are—molecule for molecule—far more powerful greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide.”

Even ABC News—not exactly a stronghold of non-meat-eating “radicals”—published an article about Eshel and Martin’s results, stating that, among other things, “the United States accounts for about 28 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions,” and “Energy used in agriculture has grown substantially in recent years and now stands at around 18 percent or 19 percent of the nation’s energy use.”

Of course, knowing he doesn’t have a leg to stand on, Mr. Green dedicates the remainder—that is, most—of his piece to slamming organic farming, not only because he says it leaves us open to contamination but because it can’t sustain the food requirements of the majority of people. Well, if you talk to the folks over at the Global Hunger Alliance, they’ll tell you pretty much the same thing—but about meat-based diets. And for a variety of reasons:

According to professors Henry Kendall and David Pimentel, “with the world population at 5.5 billion, food production is adequate to feed 7 billion people a vegetarian diet, with ideal distribution and no grain fed to livestock. Yet possibly as many as two billion people are now living in poverty…and over 1 billion in ‘utter poverty’ live with hunger.”

…The majority of people in the world already consume a traditional diet which is primarily or entirely vegetarian. Plant-based foods offer the most safe, sustainable, and cost-effective methods of ending hunger and malnutrition. Plant-based foods do not carry the health and safety risks associated with meat and other animal-based foods. Plant-based foods require much less land, water, and energy to produce. The plants which are traditionally consumed in a region are generally very well adapted to the agricultural conditions of the region and thus require less use of fertilizers, pesticides and other expensive and environmentally damaging inputs.

People in affluent nations must reduce their consumption of animal-based foods so that more people can be sustained by the grains, maize, and soya that are currently fed to livestock. At the same time, more resources must be devoted to the sustainable production of traditional food crops in low-income food-deficit nations.”

I have to admit, Green isn’t the only person who’s upset me lately. In An Inconvenient Truth, which did a great job of outlining the global warming risks we’re facing and most of the means by which to undo the damage, Al Gore avoided the dietary issue. I mean, c’mon, take us to the Angus farm you grew up on, but don’t mention that a vegan diet can help curtail, even reverse, global warming? This after you show us your father’s tobacco fields and tell us that your sister later died of lung cancer, so your dad stopped growing tobacco. And when you manage to tie in the stealing of the presidential election with U.S. nonparticipation in the Kyoto Protocol and the consequences. What’s up with that?

Of course, we all know what’s up. The makers of the film wanted to minimize the number of people they knew they would alienate with the subject matter, and saying that meat is bad for everyone, not just the people who eat it, wouldn’t win them many new friends. Not to mention the fact that Al wouldn’t make a very good spokesman for a plant-based diet unless he were following one himself. He does, at the very least, start to creep toward the truth on the film’s website, advising people to eat less meat (well, something’s better than nothing) and—take that, Mr. Green—to buy organic.

As with anything, we all know that every little bit helps. And if each of us does as much as we possibly can—including eating a plant-based diet—we might just have a future to look forward to after all.

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