vegansaurus!

01/19/2012

Freakonomics wonders why all environmentalists aren’t vegan and I’m like, “for real!”  »

Here’s a nice link for you guys!: Agnostic Carnivores and Global Warming: Why Enviros Go After Coal and Not Cows, by James McWilliams.

I think it’s a must-read. Freakonomics summarizes and discusses a recent report (link to PDF, FYI) by the World Preservation Foundation in which they make the case for a vegan diet in the fight against climate change: “As the WPF report shows, veganism offers the single most effective path to reducing global climate change.”

Graph from WPF report

Now, unlike some people suggest, no one is saying you shouldn’t get your Energy Star appliance once it’s time to replace the washing machine—you still should—what it does mean however is that society needs to pay at least as much attention to diet as it does to fossil fuels when it comes to climate change. And maybe it does mean that, in such a dire situation, we should prioritize. 

It also seems substituting one meat for another isn’t going to do much good: “Eating a vegan diet, according to the study, is seven times more effective at reducing emissions than eating a local meat-based diet.” And while substituting chicken for beef may do a little, it pales in comparison to going vegan:

According to a 2010 study cited in the WPF report, such a substitution would achieve a “net reduction in environmental impact” of 5 to 13 percent. When it comes to lowering the costs of mitigating climate change, the study shows that a diet devoid of ruminants would reduce the costs of fighting climate change by 50 percent; a vegan diet would do so by over 80 percent. Overall, the point seems pretty strong: global veganism could do more than any other single action to reduce GHG emissions. 

This brings Freakonomics to their real question: in the face of information like this, why aren’t environmentalists taking a strong stance on veganism? One reason suggested is that veganism just doesn’t grab headlines, it’s ”an act poorly suited to sensational publicity.” What do you think? I think it grabs headlines, they are just usually, “OMG vegans are annoying!”

Another suggestion is that free-range meat pastures aren’t as ugly as giant pipelines. This part is great:

[Shifting from feedlot farming to rotational grazing] all sounds well and good. But if the statistics in the WPF report are to be trusted, the environmental impacts of this alternative would be minimal. So why the drum beat of support for rotational grazing? I would suggest that the underlying appeal in the pasture solution is something not so much calculated as irrational: pastured animals mimic, however imperfectly, symbiotic patterns that existed before humans arrived to muck things up. In this sense, rotational grazing supports one of the more appealing (if damaging) myths at the core of contemporary environmentalism: the notion that nature is more natural in the absence of human beings. Put differently, rotational grazing speaks powerfully to the aesthetics of environmentalism while confirming a bias against the built environment; a pipeline, not so much.

The last hurdle, the article suggests, is one of personal agency. Meat equals freedom! USA! USA! USA!

Finally, McWilliams gives environmentalists some advice: “trade up their carnivorous agnosticism for a fire-and brimstone dose of vegan fundamentalism.” Amen! Normally I just read linguistics stuff on Freakonomics but I think I will have to stop by there more often. Besides, agnostic carnivore is a great term! 

11/11/2011

Meat Week infects NYC  »

Tomorrow, NYC’s Meat Week comes to a close. It’s tragic, really. You know how I feel about Meat Week, but unlike many Meat Weeks I’ve read about, NYC’s carries the message of sustainability. It’s a celebration of “the farmers, markets and chefs who bring sustainable meat to our tables,” to be exact. How very charming! 

While this message seems good, at least better than your “bacon, lulz” Meat Weeks, it’s still off the mark. I refer you to a recent article from The Atlantic by James McWilliams. He makes the point that while people seem more conscious of and opposed to factory farms than ever, factory farms are booming:

Earlier this month we learned that the global production and consumption of meat is skyrocketing. Indeed, according to the Worldwatch Institute, meat production has tripled over the last forty years, growing 20 percent in the last 10 years alone. What’s particularly distressing about this recent 20 percent increase is that it’s occurred as campaigns against factory farms have reached a fevered pitch.”

He goes on to say:

As long as we eat meat factory farms will be the dominant mode of production. In other words, as long as humans deem it culturally acceptable to consume animal flesh — that is, as long as eating meat is an act that’s not considered taboo — factory farms will continue to proliferate. The reason for this strikes me as intuitive: An unfettered demand for meat, in conjunction with basic human choice, provides political, technological, and scientific incentives to produce meat as efficiently as possible. Unless you have a plan to displace capitalism, density of production will rule, billions of animals will suffer, and our health will continue to decline.

His ultimate point: “Until meat as meat is stigmatized, factory farms will thrive as assuredly as a dropped object falls downwards.” He says of course there will always be people who get meat from alternative sources such as small, sustainable farms, but as Laura paraphrased it, “as long as there is meat week, there will be factory farms, and the seven wealthy locavores don’t really matter all that much.” 

So thanks, Meat Week NYC organizers, for continuing to glorify meat despite the fact that it’s cruel and destroying the planet. Meat consumption is an epidemic. It compromises people’s health and quality of life. If Meat Week had a responsible message, it wouldn’t be “eat sustainable meat,” it would be “eat less meat.”

09/22/2011

Guest Post: Oakland’s animal slaughter proposal meets the national audience  »

And locals aren’t the only ones appalled

The Oakland planning proposal to deregulate animal slaughter and officially sanction backyard “husbandry” is the focus of James McWilliams’ blistering critique in the Atlantic. It turns out that reconstructing the city’s yards and vacant lots as “sustainable” animal farms and urban “homesteads” is a bit problematic. (Warning: some descriptions are graphic.) 

Judging from the comments, the proposal is just as contentious outside the East Bay. And to absolutely no one’s surprise, vegan perspectives expressed online are greeted with frenzied blathering and digital tantrums. 

The article, on the other hand, is great!

Framing the local issue for a wider audience, McWilliams makes an important point early on:

As matters now stand, Oakland could very well alter its urban agriculture code in order to allow virtually any urban homesteader not only to raise goats, chickens, rabbits, and ducks, but to slaughter them on site. And what happens in Oakland — a test case of sorts — is bound to be replicated elsewhere.

This point is important for a number of reasons. For better and for worse, the locavores of the Bay (and the East Bay, in particular) have positioned themselves as the leading voices and public representatives of Urban Homesteading and Sustainability (TM). They and those deeply influenced by their thinking would like to see this proposal put into practice, and replicated elsewhere.

For better because it’s enormously important to encourage local, organic food production, address the lack of access to fruits and vegetables in urban food deserts and schools, and foster community self-sufficiency and empowerment. These are all issues that have been championed by the likes of Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, and their acolytes. They deserve credit for bringing them somewhat into the mainstream.

But it’s most definitely for worse: interwoven with this vision, and sometimes eclipsing the original goals, there’s a creepy fixation on the necessity of killing animals, despite such killing being less necessary now than at any time in recorded history. What’s more, the killing is meant to be somehow virtuous and right, a matter of social justice and cultural reclamation. Even if the amateur butchers themselves are not always particularly skillful and humane at the killing part; even if it means more inputs and less land to grow food on; even it means expensive animal products rather than the fruits and vegetables basically everyone agrees need to be made cheaper and much more accessible; and even if the push for deregulated animal slaughter is coming less from those most screwed over by the broken food system than from best-selling authors, upper-middle class hobbyists, and, bizarrely, young, usually white progressives and radicals.  

The backyard slaughtering vision is wrong on multiple levels. It aspires to be an alternative to factory farming but really only offers an addition to it. And alongside the egregious and predictably “excessive” violence against animals, there’s also a crucial insight that’s been hijacked: Our food system really is in bad shape. We really could be feeding ourselves in ways that make much more sense, while also not destroying the world. Addressing food security and access were the original, stated reasons for initiating the food policy discussion in Oakland in the first place, prior to the sudden emphasis on killing animals.  

A key point of McWilliams’ piece is its first paragraph, which has gone totally unremarked in 201 comments and counting (as of the time of this writing):

Over the past ten years the United States has undergone a revolution in the way we eat. Communities throughout the country have localized food systems, placed power back in the hands of local farmers, and shortened the distance between farm and fork. The benefits of this trend have been considerable. Consumers have become more critical of overly processed food, better aware of the connection between diet and health, and more appreciative of eating seasonally. I’ve been critical of this movement from the start, but I admit it has been a cultural achievement of historical significance.

This is absolutely true, and something to be recognized and appreciated. 

But what we strive to put in place of the broken and ultimately self-destructive food system shouldn’t replicate its cruelties, desensitization, and inherent inequalities of access. There is at least a bit of common ground to meet on – specifically, how we need to grow hella food as much as we can – and we should take advantage of those points of agreement.   

Locavores certainly need to stop being so fixated on the virtues of “honest slaughter,” for starters, not to mention on fictitious “closed systems” that ignore the existence of the rest of the world, to all of our detriment. 

And vegans need to engage with these policy debates, because they’re happening with or without us. In our absence, we should probably expect a bunch more proposals like Oakland’s.

Rick Kelley is a recent transplant to the Bay, having fled the brutal Minnesota winters for warmer climes. He spends his days at a Oakland workers’ rights nonprofit and his evenings probably playing moderately accurate renditions of Propagandhi songs with his awesome partner and their rescued pup, Bandit. He’s also currently active in organizing against Oakland’s “Let’s All Kill Some Chickens in Our Yards For Fun” proposal. He used to blog, and might do so again someday. The adorable chickens above were rescued by Animal Place and they’re not for eating, they’re for feeding grapes to! And hugging maybe if you’re lucky.

07/13/2011

Are “conscientious carnivores” only fooling themselves?  »

Of course it’s better for animals to live in comfort on a nice farm instead of a hideous feedlot before they’re slaughtered for food. However, James McWilliams notes in the Atlantic, the outcome is still the same: the animals are killed, and people eat them. That’s the contradiction inherent in “conscientious carnvorism”—your conscientiousness is limited by the violence of your diet. McWilliams’ essay is interesting; he asserts that focus on "happy meat" “narrow[s] our moral vision,” which is the same point abolitionists make when arguing against so-called humane regulations to meat industry practices.

It’s a valid argument, too. What do you think? Are you pro- or anti-conscientious carnivorism? What do you think of the Humane Society’s and United Egg Producers’ proposed legislation that would improve conditions for layer hens? Would it be more profitable for us animal advocates to work toward a vegan world, or making small changes to a system to which we are morally opposed?

Of course it doesn’t matter what we do, we’re all going to die of murderous stealth E. coli and antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea in five years, unless the Japanese people eating radioactive cow develop magical mutant powers and rescue us from the disastrous effects of global warming. The world is super fucking fucked.

09/10/2009

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