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Filed under: Environmentalism Food

It’s organic, it’s local, it’s fine by me.

In the last few weeks there have been a rash of books and articles calling for a return to the good old days of farming, when stoic men with chiseled jaws looked after the land and animals were treated with dignity and all food (like politics) was local. A recent sampling is Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, his article in Mother Jones, the most recent issue of Waterkeeper, and Nathanael Johnson’s article in Harper’s magazine, called “Swine of the Times.” Much of this writing is thoughtful and unexceptionable. The writers are bang on about corporate agriculture, compelling in the call to eat more local food, and justified in asking us to pay more attention to our food sources. But when it comes to whether we should eat animals or not, virtually without exception all the writers talk about eating less meat and actively supporting local meat producers. Ducking out of engaging seriously with how it would be possible for the entire country to eat locally produced, organically raised meat given our consumption of 200 lbs of the stuff per person each year, the writers do the food equivalent of Not in My Back Yard. I’ve got a name for it: YBTV. You Be the Vegetarian.

Part of it, of course, rests with class assumptions. Organic, free range meat is going to be more expensive, not least because it is actually properly costed. That means the wealthier will buy it. What about the poor? Is it factory farmed meat in perpetuity for them? Then there’s the acreage. There’s simply neither enough room nor are there enough resources to produce the meat in the amount that consumers will want.

The short answer, of course, is that there’ll need to be a whole lot more vegetarians around so that the meat-eaters can eat their animals with a clean conscience. It’s the equivalent of a friend of mine, who has chosen to remain childfree, being told by someone who had two children, and was thinking of having a third, “Well, it’s all right. I can have one of yours.” YBTV again: You Be The Virgin.

When will we learn limits before the planet gives us the ultimate lessons in our and its limits? When we will wean ourselves off this compulsion to eat animals or to demand fifteen different strains of apple in our superstores? I’m all for abundance and pleasure, but this is madness. So, let’s step up, and not pass the buck. I’ll be the vegetarian. I’ll be the supporter of the local Community Supported Agriculture, not buy a car, etc. What about you?

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