Carnivores, Vegetarians, and dilemmas
Okay, up front I admit that we all like reading stuff that tells us what we want to hear. I don’t want to be a vegetarian. I tried it for six months a few years ago, and I wasn’t happy or healthy on it. And that was plain old veggie-ness; I still did dairy and cheese. So anything that says “Yes! You can eat meat and not be an environmentally irresponsible person!” is something I’ll read and enjoy rationalizing.
But these are two interesting articles: Nicolette Hahn Niman’s op-ed piece in the Times entitled “The Carnivore’s Dilemma,” and David Friedlander’s “Vegetarian’s Rebuttal to ‘The Carnivore’s Dilemma,” on Tree Hugger.
In the former, Hahn proposes a moderate approach to meat-eating–eat a little, eat it occasionally, and when you do, make sure you select meat that’s ethically and responsibly produced. (Er…okay, as much as I love my free range chicken or occasional burger, one has to question the whole “raising living things to eat them” thing when talking about being “ethical,” but that’s an old argument I don’t want to go into. There will be no winners.) (Though when looking for local grass-fed meat, I was a little creeped out by one farm which proclaimed “we treat our animals like our own children!”–eeg. Think about that. Shades of a bad John Carpenter flick.) Hahn is a rancher who raises cattle, goats, and turkeys the right way–grass-fed and pastured. And she points out–rightly–that given the problems with plant products transported all over the world (emissions) and the soy industry’s propensity for deforesting croplands, and it’s becoming harder and harder to guarantee onesself “ethically grown” soy (But not impossible.) , it’s not a given that eschewing meat will necessarily make one more environmentally responsible.
Friedlander’s rebuttal is exactly on target, although it doesn’t seem to me to be much of a rebuttal: he says the problem with Hahn’s article is that she compares industrial vegetarianism to small-farm omnivorism, saying that the latter has less impact on the planet than the former. I personally don’t see why that’s a problem at all–people who give up meat to save the planet, assuming that giving up meat will help the environment, need to know that’s not necessarily true. On the other hand, he has a point when he says that conscious veganism will always and forever have less of a carbon footprint than the most conscious meat-eating could ever hope for. True enough.
I know I say it again and again and again–it’s not about adopting some sweeping lifestyle change. It’s about paying attention. It’s about knowing what you’re eating, where it comes from, and what it costs–not just your wallet, but the planet and the community of humanity as a whole. Read the labels. Read the green blogs. Eat locally.
Oh, and don’t forget to see Food, Inc.