J500 Media and the Environment


Flogging a Dead Horse Raddish by acbowman
March 11, 2008, 9:33 am
Filed under: Food + Health | Tags: , , , , ,

There has been a number of posts on our blog suggesting that the answer to the environmental impact is eating local and vegetarianism.

I don’t buy it. The solution is getting rid of corporate farming in favor of sustainable farming techniques.

Vegicrazy

Let’s deal with vegecrazyism (like the guy above) first. Vegetarians argue that it takes more land to grow meat. Land that could grow far more vegetables and grains for human consumption. Yet, we already grow enough food to feed everybody on the planet. The problems with hunger are more economic and political reasons rather than food shortages. Vegetables (with the exception of avocados) and grains are already at bargain prices. If there is a flood in the market because all agricultural land is converted to crops for human consumption, prices would drop. This would cause an economic drought on the family farms we have left and their already tiny incomes would dry up and blow away.

An argument brought up in the poorly researched Vegetarianism is the New Prius (all of her sources were from practically the same place) says that meat production also degrades biodiversity. What? That doesn’t make any sense. If you are growing vegetables for human consumption, you cant grow native species grasses. Cows can feed on native species grasses. By keeping the native grasses, all the other critters that are part of that ecosystem remain in the ecosystem. How would growing vegetables maintain biodiversity?

Some vegetarians argue that people would be healthier with an all veggie diet. There is no conclusive evidence of this. Doctors have found evidence for and against vegetarianism. (If you’ll notice in the two linked articles, the pro-meat argument is far more researched than the pro veg one.) Then there is the argument that human beings didn’t evolve eating meat. Poppycock. What do you think all the animal bones in prehistoric caves were from, a Neanderthal veterinarian clinic?

Further, a discussion that doesn’t seem to take place when talking about the environmental impact of beef, is all the other products we get from cattle. It’s not just food people. So rather than waste all that tasty meat, why not eat it.

Then there is the local movement. Buying local seems like a no brainer when it comes to fighting our eco footprint. But there are some problems in the local food movement.

Not all farmers live near municipalities large enough to sustain their farms. And not all municipalities are located near enough farms to feed their entire population locally. There definitely seems to be agreement that family farms are a good thing. So how do you keep family farms from dying if they are looked down upon for not living closer to a city?

If small farmers are only operating on a local level, there are some economic hurdles to overcome. Local burger is a fantastic restaurant, but their prices are not for the average college student. Or for the average small town family. If a farmer is trying to sell his local goods to a tiny town, chances are they are not able to pay the prices that the farmer needs to remain economically sustainable. By having a world wide market for agriculture, there is a set price for certain goods. This ensures that farmers get paid roughly the same.

I just called my Uncle Larry to get his thoughts n this idea. He is a wheat farmer about 20 miles from Concordia. He says there are two main factors that would hurt farmers in a local food market. One is volume. Most farmers grow far more food than they could sell to a town of roughly 5,500 people. He is primarily a wheat farmer. Right now wheat is double what the price of it was last year. Part of that is the terrible wheat year in Australia and South America. By having the global market, countries can save each other from drought years. What if cities were set up for local food only, and another dust bowl happens. What are people going to eat then?

Traditional Old Farmers

The other problem is man power. Larry said that in the olds days, there would be 8 farms to a section. Now there is a farm every 6 sections. Since one farm is bigger than it had been, if he wanted to diversify and turn his wheat farm into what he called a “truck” farm, meaning growing a variety of things for public sale, it would take a ton of manpower. Most small mid-western towns don’t have that man power anymore.

I am not making the argument that people should only buy food from china, far from it. I would encourage you to buy local when you can. But recognize that local isn’t a reality that is going to solve our food transportation problems.

As for vegetarianism, well… I have no problem with people eating veggies. But again, the world going vegetarian isn’t a real approach to solving anything.

The emphasis should be sustainable farming practices. True, right now there is no way around the oil dependency, but it will come. What we can do is protect our land, our water, and our ecosystems through smart sustainable agriculture. And keep working on alternative fuel sources.

-Adam

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7 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I have two things to say:
1. Great info. for animal products, particularly research on the health BENEFITS of saturated fats and cholesterol is a book entitled ‘Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats’ by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. Also check out the research website for the Weston A. Price Foundation.
2. Besides all the great information about eating local around this area -including the health, economic, and environmental benefits – I want to address your point about production exceeding consumption. I will be bringing in information about a project I’m starting to promote local food preservation in Lawrence this summer, where basically, participants will learn how to freeze, dry, and can seasonal produce to deal with these problematic “glut” crops of which you speak.

–Jennifer

Comment by jkongs

Well, here I am again. 🙂

A few points to ponder:

1. Will there be enough room on this planet for all people to eat meat that comes from local or small family farms from grass-fed animals?

As the population increases and more cultures strive to adopt a more “American” lifestyle, more land will have to be devoted to meat production, resulting in ever-increasing emissions, factory farms, etc.

2. If eating meat is natural, why does it have to be cooked? I feel sorry for those poor cavemen who had to learn that the hard way.

I challenge you to be a vegetarian for a week and see what you think of it. I am sure there are health benefits from eating meat, but since becoming a vegetarian I feel healthier, happier and not weighed down.

There are no solutions to this problem, and it’s tough to accept this. Vegetarianism will never be a complete solution in itself, but instead a step toward reducing consumption.

–Lauren

Comment by Lauren Keith

There is overwhelming evidence that a diet high in saturated fats and cholesterol greatly increases the risk for heart disease (diabetes, stroke, heart attack, etc.), but this is exactly the kind of diet Nourishing Traditions and the Weston A. Price Foundation recommend.

I’ve read that Nourishing Traditions has over 200 references, many are antiquated, with poor observations. For the most part, the authors reference their own articles and those of other Weston A. Price Foundation authors. Only fourteen of the references are from peer-reviewed journals published in the last ten years, and for most of those fourteen, the authors misrepresented what was stated in the articles.

Additionally, while the Weston A Price Foundation is funded by private donors, by their own admission, “many of our members are farmers.”

I trust their information about as much as I’d trust an organization that touts the benefits of smoking and is funded by private citizens, who also happen to be tobacco farmers. This is especially true when you weigh the information the WAPF espouses against the massive scientific evidence (from peer reviewed studies) to the contrary.

– David

Comment by dshawla

Argh… who has time to argue with a mutually-exclusive argument style? There is no ONE solution to a complex issues EVER. And with that in mind, it’s naive to think that environmental impact will be solved with eating local, vegetarianism, OR sustainable farming. It’s time to start thinking thoughtfully about a bigger picture.

Comment by gillian

Gillian,
Can you elaborate, please?
What is this bigger picture that we need to think thoughtfully about?
Thanks,
Simran

Comment by j500

Jennifer,
I like both of the things you say. I am interested in having the production exceeding consumption discussion. Currently I don’t think that farmers could sustain themselves if they only grew enough for the local community to eat. I think there is a niche market for that, and more power to people who want to reduce their carbon footprint by doing so, but I don’t believe everyone can be fed that way.

Lauren,
yes I believe there will be plenty of room for meat production. For example in many of the North West states where winter is far more abrasive than here in Kansas, and elevations are far greater, not much human consumption food can grow. But you can graze cattle at 10,000 feet. We don’t have any shortages of food. If the world populations and needs get so great that meat isn’t a sustainable product, we have a bigger problem.

Secondly, you can eat organic fresh meat raw. I try to eat as much rare meat as possible. Love it. But the reason we began cooking is like many of our societal problems, overcrowding.
When people lived away from each other, they didn’t have to worry about sewers or sanitation. When they lived out on their own, they didn’t have to worry about food born illnesses as much either. But when you start feed lots, and meat packing, which isn’t natural, those illnesses arose and cooking became more important.

David,
You are right, a HIGH saturated fat diet is a bad plan. Moderation in all things.
I will add that I trust pro vegetarian articles on the web as much as you trust the Weston A. Price Foundation.

But here are some other sources about meat
http://www.hopkinsbayview.org/healthydirections/stayinghealthy/foodfitness/cholesiqanswers.html
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/Press_releases/2005/11_15c_05.html

As you notice, they are preaching moderation. Definitely public health can benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables in their diets. But meat is going to be in the picture, so lets work to make it sustainable.

Gillian,
Why wouldn’t anything strive to be sustainable? Wouldn’t that be discussing the big picture? I am trying to argue that vegetarianism and local foods, although having their benefits, are not a sustainable global food solution.

Simran,
I got nothing for you, but since you commented, I didn’t want to leave you out. 🙂

-Adam

Comment by acbowman

Adam,

I agree that meat will be in the human diet as long as there are humans.

I just found a report from a massive study on animal agriculture called “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” that details the immense environmental impact of livestock farming and the consequences of sticking with current farming practices. When I have had time to read through it all, I’ll put up a post about it.

It was written by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and published in 2006. Their purpose was to call attention to the environmental problems in modern animal agriculture and propose options for moving forward.

As soon as I’ve read through it and taken notes, I’ll post a summary and link to the paper. So far, it’s a fascinating and slightly depressing read.

Comment by dshawla




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