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How Green is Our Cuisine?

Posted by tinako on March 20, 2012

I went to the University of Rochester today to participate with R.A.V.S. in the Great American Meatout.  Two of us manned our table.

How Green is Our Cuisine? (Click to Zoom)

I trotted out my old “How Green is Our Cuisine?” display, and that was very useful (again).  I can’t believe I considered dismantling this display after the first time.   I thought this time I’d take a picture and tell you what’s included and what I plan to update.  If anyone wants the Word or Jpg files, I still have everything and am happy to share.

After researching, I had a LOT of info I wanted to include.  It is a very busy display, but I am always there to walk people through it.  It’s more of visual aide for my spiel.  The main focus is on greenhouse gases, and assuming people already knew that global warming is very bad, I wanted to make the point that diet is a big part of it (bigger than many other decisions we make for the environment), and how it plays such a big part.

I wrote the information I researched into an essay, A Disregarded Truth.  But verbally, my catch question is, “Did you know that what we eat has an enormous impact on the environment?” I talk about how many people think animals are still raised on a Charlotte’s Web type farm, and it’s hard to see how a nice farm like that could spoil the environment, but that those farms mostly disappeared decades ago and that the vast majority of farm animals lived on factory farms like those show in these pictures.  I go over the chart showing the numbers of animals on the average American farm, ending with egg-layers = over half a million – I point out the photo of 7 hens crammed in a cage and then the one showing them stacked 3 high and back into the dark distance – there are probably 60,000 hens in that one barn, and about 10 barns on a farm.  I say it’s probably easier now to see that these farms could have big environmental impacts.  I go over the list of environmental disasters that factory farms are a major contributor of, and then hone in on greenhouse gases.  I mention the 18% of greenhouse gas emissions fact, which everyone I talked to at the Meatout already knew – great job getting the word out, everybody!  One vegan did gently dispute that number, saying he’d heard it included transport, so somehow it wasn’t right to compare it to transport separately.  I pointed out to him that this wasn’t a pie chart where each slice was separate and all had to add to 100%.  The breakdowns are too complicated for that, and what these numbers say is that if all transport ended, 15% of current greenhouse gas would be saved, and that, separately, if all livestock ended, 18% would be saved.

Anyway, next I usually say, “You might be wondering how livestock can cause so much greenhouse gas,” at which point I start working down the left side of the display.  Amazon Deforestation is the largest single source of livestock’s contribution, and then Enteric Fermentation is second.  I have a lot of fun with the photos showing mountains and ponds of poop.

Next I usually go over the image from the N.Y. Times which shows Livestock’s High Energy Costs and Carbon Footprint.  The veggies vs. meat comparison is an eye-opener.  Over on the right I have two sections which try to put diet in context with other decisions that we make.  I chose to illustrate that study from the University of Chicago which looked at choice of car.  However, I have found these charts to just be too complicated.  They’re coming off the display.  Down below, however, is a really neat comparison of choice of bag (paper vs. plastic) compared to choice of what goes in the bag (one day’s groceries for a family of four, omnivore vs. vegan).  People really like this graphic.  I try to be sure to make the point that I’m not belittling these other environmental choices, just showing that diet needs to be way up there on the list of things an environmentalist thinks about.

I put my favorite food pyramid down at the bottom in case anyone asks me what you eat when you don’t eat meat (hey, that’s a catchy caption!).

When I updated this display for schoolchildren last year, I wanted to make it about more than global warming, so I removed a page about What Are We Eating (a lot of meat) and replaced it with some things I wanted to say about the broad range of ongoing disasters of which modern livestock farming is a major cause.  I’ll probably put What Are We Eating? back when I take off the car info. One bit of info I plan to add after “Killing Wildlife” is how many animals the Fish and Wildlife Service kills to protect livestock every year – had a question on that today and couldn’t remember.  It’s a lot.

The photos I swiped off the internet.  I deliberately chose mild images that do not show violence, only environmental messes and ordinary crowding.  Nevertheless, people tell me they are shocked.

One last point – notice that I include sources with everything.  I may start with vegan organizations or someone’s blog, but I always follow the sources, make sure they are sources people will trust (like the USDA or UN, not PETA, for instance) and I always print them.  What could be more embarrassing than standing there at an event and having someone tell me, “That’s a myth” or “Why should I believe them?”

All of this said, when I am talking to individuals I seldom yammer blindly on, instead listening for what is important to them.  For instance, someone I talked to today grew up on a farm.  She really wanted to talk, to tell me about her experience, so I listened and asked a lot of questions about how her family related to the animals, how they cared for the environment, and so forth.  After a while I could see that she had strong opinions about caring for animals and was certain that a business that didn’t could not prosper long term.  Every one of the pictures, she said, “I have a problem with that.”   I was able to explain to her how, despite the animals’ poor health, these businesses were able to prosper and even out-compete for the present, but that yes, it put an unsustainable strain on the land and it’s ruining our planet.  I didn’t see any need to argue about whether her small farm practices were a good idea for the planet, health, or peace.  Small steps, low-hanging fruit.  We had a great talk, I learned more about small farmers’ attitudes towards animals and what happens on a small farm, and she went away understanding how most meat in the stores is produced now, and the impact it’s having.   What would have happened if I hadn’t listened first?

I encourage anyone to do outreach like this.  Brush up on the issues, have some visual materials (you can reproduce my display if I send you the files), and get out there.  Earth Day is coming up – what’s going on in your community?  All the environmental events I’ve been to, I alone or with RAVS am the only one talking about diet.  If you’re not there, is anyone talking about it?  My first event I wasn’t even a member of RAVS – I just talked the event organizers into letting me have a table for free!  I’m an introvert by nature, but I walked in with just this display and a smile.  Visitors asked, “Who are you with?”  Me!  Just me!

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4 Responses to “How Green is Our Cuisine?”

  1. […] « How Green is Our Cuisine? Refugee Steer […]

  2. Very cool! Great work!

  3. […] I wanted to learn more about our diet’s direct effect on wildlife, since I mention it on my display and someone asked me for details last time and I was […]

  4. […] at my town’s energy fair on the topic of livestock’s effect on the environment.  Here’s a post about what I say, and it includes a closeup of the main display I made for the first energy fair; this year I […]

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