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Posts Tagged ‘greenhouse gas’


Posted by tinako on August 19, 2014

20140417173626-cowspiracy_posterThe movie Cowspiracy has come out.  I was so excited to learn that someone was finally asking these questions – why aren’t environmental organizations talking about livestock’s impact on the environment?  It’s such a glaring omission.  I supported the filmmakers on Indiegogo, so I received my promised DVD a few days ago.  You can look up local screenings at their web site.

The film is very well done, and I think it could have a big impact if it is put before local environmental leaders.  Two local vegan/AR organizations I’m in are going to co-host a showing.  Don’t miss it, and be sure to recommend it to your “environmentalist meat-eater” friends.

Posted in Environment | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Energy Fair Tabling

Posted by tinako on June 22, 2014

Water Beef Infographic

I find that I don’t like the picture of packaged body parts on my blog.

For the 6th year in a row, I tabled 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 removed the rather confusing information about choice of car vs. choice of diet and instead put up a graphic showing how much water is used for beef.  That got some comments.

I had tried to update the pie chart on causes of Amazon deforestation but couldn’t find anything more recent than what I had, 2006.

Really, though, I barely need my display any more at this event.  Of the dozens of people I talked to, almost every one knew about the livestock/environment connection.  I’m kicking myself for not asking them where they found out, although several volunteered that it was covered in a 6-week course they took on plant based diets, offered by our vegetarian society’s co-presidents, one of whom is a doctor.  When I first put up this display at the first energy fair six years ago, not a single person knew.  Some of the people I recognize as repeat visitors, but most are finding this info somewhere else.  Great!

So my display was used as casual reference instead of an informational talk, but I also have a tableful of handouts provided by the veg society and a few I pick up at Farm Sanctuary, which has one of the only fliers on the environment issue.

I want to mention that I am aware of and considering the point made by some that to encourage people to eat less meat because it is bad for the environment is a betrayal of the animals, a betrayal of my values.  That is, I would not tell people not to eat children because their production causes greenhouse gases (or because it’s not healthy for you to eat them).  I keep this in mind.  However, it is a fact that I will not be allowed to come to this fair and talk about animal rights.  They do not allow our local AR group to table there.  I’m allowed there because they know me and while I don’t pull punches, and will talk about whatever my visitors bring up, my materials and talks keep on topic (my original pitch to the committee tied in the livestock/environment issue).  Our vegetarian society is invited to health fairs at schools and so forth to talk about health – if our argument is instead all about animal suffering, we won’t be invited back.  We reach a lot of people this way, and I see the same visitors year after year, making progress both personally and in their families.

I also hope that once people are cutting back on meat for environmental or health reasons, they will have less excuse to ignore the suffering.  I think a lot of people avert their eyes from suffering because they don’t want to change their behavior, but if the behavior is already changed, they are free to express their compassion.

These thoughts are in transition (you may see from my posts that I am thinking about AR a lot), but that’s where I am right now.

Posted in AR, Environment, Social Justice | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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!

Posted in Animals, Environment, How to..., Social Justice | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

A World in Denial of What it Knows

Posted by tinako on January 2, 2012

If you are interested in social issues, I bet that title is nothing new to you.  It’s the title of an opinion article in yesterday’s N.Y. Times (link).  The author expands on Donald Rumsfeld’s “known knowns, known unknowns,… and unknown unknowns” to suggest that there are also unknown knowns.

This happens when people ignore something that everybody should really know.  For instance, “What kind of willful obtusity ever suggested that subprime mortgages were a good idea?  An intelligent child would have known that there is no good time to lend money to people who obviously can never repay it.”  The author also mentions Bernie Madoff, whose figures were demonstrated to the S.E.C. nine years before the scandal to be “not merely incredible but mathematically impossible.”

I have been struggling to understand this phenomenon for years, only I have called it the line between ignorance and indifference.  If you have been paying any attention at all to environmental, social, or animal welfare issues, you have probably wondered about this yourself.  I have seen people accept facts and then refute the obvious conclusions.  I have pinned people down in debates to saying the most ridiculous things you can imagine, for instance that a subsistence farming family in South America is to blame for having their only water source, a nearby pond, polluted by foreign farming conglomerates clearing the rainforest for soybean production.  When I asked how this could possibly be their fault, the only thing I could get out of him was, “I can’t let them off so easy as you can.”  Huh?

I think people have worldviews, influenced by their culture (here’s my discussion of American values), prejudices, stereotypes, and habits.  They defend these close to their hearts even in the face of contradictory evidence, because to let them go is frightening.  For instance, the discussion about the South American family was really about bad things happening to good people; the person I was talking to refused to believe in that, I would say because it means ultimately we do not have the final say about what happens to us.  We can wear seat belts and go to church and stay inside when it snows and not use natural gas and still our house can burn to the ground.  This same person once told me that the family of the girl in California who was kidnapped from her bedroom several years ago deserved what happened because her window was not locked, only screened.  When I asked, “What about fresh air?” he said “That’s what air conditioning is for.”  Ridiculous statements to defend a belief based on fear.

Maybe when people refuse to believe that the earth is warming, that we are causing animal extinctions, that starving children and a continent ravaged by AIDS matters, or that suffering is suffering whether it’s a dog or a pig, they are afraid of what it would mean in their lives to accept these ideas.  It would mean changing their habits, for instance driving and eating, and opening up to compassion, even feeling a responsibility to do something.

These issues are a bummer, and sometimes they don’t have easy solutions, or easy solutions are outside what we are willing to consider.  So the defense is to deny them, at the expense of truth.

I don’t have all the answers.  I don’t have a Truth Hotline.  But I know a silly statement when I hear it, such as “It’s logical for me to eat factory farmed pork but get angry about puppy mills, because carrots have feelings, too.”  This is the point at which I suspect we have moved beyond ignorance, beyond indifference, and into the middle of denial, the known we willfully unknow.

Posted in Animals, Environment, Musings | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Just Food

Posted by tinako on July 17, 2011

I’ve begun reading Just Food by James E. McWilliams, but I don’t think I’m going to finish it.  It was recommended by a fellow vegan, activist Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, and I found myself wondering several times whether I’d gotten the wrong book.

I agree that blindly buying local is probably not very helpful.  This has been clear to anyone doing research for some time, but a lot of people still don’t understand, and he seems to do a good job of explaining it.  You’ve probably heard the argument that driving to the farmer’s market is wasteful, but even if you walk or buy local at your regular supermarket stop, it’s not always better.  The problem is that transportation is often such a small part of the overall environmental and energy impact of food production.  Also included are the efficiency of the farm machines, the climate where the food is grown, the use of inputs such as fertilizer, the consumer’s storage and cooking methods, and type of food purchased (here is short post I wrote about Local vs. Vegan).

His next chapter is on organics, and how they are not the golden answer either.  I had been clued into this in a previous book I read, The End of Food, by Paul Roberts.  That comprehensive book was so thoroughly researched, so deep and broad in subject, long and dense with information and thoughts, I was intimidated to post about it and never did.  McWilliams’ main issues with organics seem to come back to its inefficiencies – it takes more land and inputs to get the same amount of food.  Not only is this a waste of these resources, but the system cannot be sustainably scaled up to meet the demands of a growing world population.  As far as reducing the toxic impact on the environment, he points out that, for instance, manure can add heavy metals to the soils and plants use conventional nitrogen more efficiently than organic, leading to leaching and pollution.  Roberts and McWilliam agree that with both conventional and organic there just doesn’t seem to be any getting away from external inputs, trucking something from far away out to the field.  “Closed” systems with cows grazing and chickens eating bugs in the grass can be very efficient but just don’t scale up very well.

Where I part company with McWilliams completely is in his third chapter on GM foods.  I think I can sum up McWilliams’ position like this: he doesn’t like the business tactics of agritech companies, but feels we should trust them and government regulators with regards to safety, give the technology the benefit of the doubt, and in fact GM is necessary to feed the world.

I read a book, Seeds of Deception, by Jeffrey M. Smith.  I am not sure that book is perfect, but it raised some very good points, and left me in doubt of virtually everything McWilliams says on the subject.  When I got to McWilliams’ section on Bt, I had my “gotcha” moment.  I knew he was not giving the whole story.  Bt is a bacterium which kills caterpillars, and organic farmers use it as a pesticide.  It’s not harmful to other species, and so makes an excellent targeted pest control.  Biotech companies have modified the genes of corn, potatoes, and cotton to produce the Bt toxin, and thus their own pesticide.  McWilliams says that the opposition to this technology was about people not wanting to eat a food with pesticide in every cell, but that Bt is harmless to non-target species and in fact sprayed onto organic crops.  I thought that was fair enough until I read this, that GM Bt is not the same as natural Bt, only natural Bt has been tested with humans, and that Bt is now showing up in human (including fetus) blood, which would not happen with quickly-degrading natural Bt.

People were also upset that Bt pollen would get onto milkweed and kill monarch butterflies and their caterpillars, which eat only milkweed.  I didn’t like his criticism of the Cornell study which found this, which begins by telling us that “monarch larvae and their butterflies do not eat corn pollen, only milkweed” [p.82].  This is false, since while they only choose to eat milkweed, they will eat corn pollen if their milkweed is dusted with it, as would happen in or near a corn field, since corn is wind-pollinated.  This is the whole issue Cornell was looking into, not what would happen if monarchs changed their diet.  The rest of his reasons mostly seem to be the hope that corn pollination and monarch feeding would never coincide.  Cornell assumed it might happen at least sometimes, but McWilliams finds it “unlikely.”   I have to let this one go, since I don’t feel I have the knowledge to evaluate the sources of the studies that refuted this.

Which brings me to a related point.  I don’t know who to trust any more.  I don’t consider myself paranoid or a conspiracy theorist.  Maybe I have read too many fear-mongering books, but here’s the running tally: I don’t feel I can trust business, the USDA, the FDA, Congress, the Supreme Court, universities (many of whom rely on corporate funding), or the media (many of whom rely on corporate advertising).  I’m sure these bodies are mostly composed of good people, but so often the ones in real power have an incentive to omit or lie.  In order to know whether Bt crops are truly harmful to monarchs, I need to not only evaluate the study’s methods, which fortunately is done in peer review, but also know who is paying whom. Monsanto is so enormous, has so much at stake, and has clearly engaged in intimidation (seen “Food, Inc”?), that it is not inconceivable that much of this research is biased.  I’ve lost my faith, not in people, but in institutions.

Returning to the gotcha point, there is another issue regarding GM Bt, and I read this chapter in vain for his discussion of it: insect resistance.  Wikipedia puts it well: “Constant exposure to a toxin creates evolutionary pressure for pests resistant to that toxin.”  Organic farmers foresaw this, and indeed it is happening, despite some measures biotech has taken to forestall it.   A population of Diamondback moths is now resistant to the spray form, and a population of pink bollworms is resistant to the GM crop.  Organic farmers are opposed to Bt crops because it takes an important public resource, Bt toxin, makes money off of it for a short term, and then ruins it for everyone and moves on.  Maybe we could call it “resistance pollution.”  McWilliams is silent on this important issue, and it is my main criticism, my firm handle to know that he is leaving important points out of this book.

One of McWilliams’ prime reasons for supporting GM crops is that it reduces pesticides.  Indeed it does seem to, but I don’t think it’s worth it.  As bad as pesticides and herbicides are in the environment, they are nothing compared with a new plant let loose, if it turns out to be bad.  We can stop using pesticides and slowly the environment clears the toxin.  But once you have introduced a seed into the wild, the incredible power of reproduction, the whole reason for all life on earth, takes over.  Unintended contamination has already happened.  We’re tinkering with things that can’t be undone, genies that will not go back into their petri dishes.

McWilliams concedes in the end that this is a very complex issue with many counterarguments.  I just wish he had not come down so squarely on the biotech side.

I’m going to move on to one more chapter, or actually, I just skimmed half of it – on meat, McWilliams and I seem to agree.  He is a very, very reluctant semi-vegetarian, having come to the conclusion that “a necessary precondition for eating a sustainable diet is to radically reduce meat made from animals that dwell on land” [p.118].  It’s too bad he has such a hard time with a vegetarian diet – I wonder if he would do better with more support.  But it does lend credibility to his research, and he seems to do a good job of summing up the enormous breadth and depth of negative impact that livestock has on the environment.

But he was preaching to the choir here, and I don’t think I’m going to read any more, since his Bt resistance omission has caused me to lose faith in his take on other issues I quietly questioned but could not downright refute.  I applaud the idea of a citizen (he’s a history professor) speaking out and challenging the wisdom of the crowds.  I think these are very important discussions to have, even when I disagree with him, and it’s probably unfair of me to criticize him when I didn’t let him finish.

I would recommend The End of Food.  Having read two opinions on the GM issue, I would like to read another book on that, perhaps more credible than either Smith’s or McWilliam’s.  How I evaluate that is beyond me.

Posted in Environment | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

120 More Children Now Know What a Real Farm Looks Like…

Posted by tinako on May 6, 2011

…and why it matters.

I went back to the zoo again today, to give another presentation with fellow vegan Carol like we did last year. This post might only make sense if you have read last year’s.


Darnit, I forgot to bring my camera.  I walked past the lemurs we stood in front of last time.  They still have their 12″ weed in a pot to remind them of the natural world, but I see that their cage has been updated with a 2 x 4 foot scrap of grassy sod thrown down onto the concrete.  I saw these scraps scattered in all of the concrete-floored cages.  I didn’t see any animals enjoying them during my stay.  I saw an emu staring longingly out the back of her cage into the woods, sod scrap ignored behind her.

I found this photo from our zoo online, so you can see the orangutan’s concrete and steel “habitat.”

We were to be talking to 5th graders today, so I altered a little from last year when we had middle-schoolers.  I varied the talk a bit as class by class had their turn, and the following is what we ended up with, seeming to work very well with this age group.  I had decided these were the main points I wanted to make:

  1. Farm animals do not live on idyllic farms; they live on factory farms.
  2. Factory farms pollute.  Also, eating animals is more wasteful than eating plants.
  3. Cutting back on animal products can make a big difference for the environment, probably bigger than most other choices the kids have.  And it isn’t all or nothing.

So, like last year Carol started out asking the kids why they thought someone might want to be vegetarian, and again the kids all mentioned the “not killing the animals” issue first.  Some kids were able to come up with health, but not a single one of 120 kids thought of the environment.  So Carol talked for a minute about how wasteful eating animals is before turning it over to me.

I had copies of the same books as last year, so showed them the same images from Charlotte’s Web and Minerva Louise.  I said I loved these books and thought they were great for depicting kindness and loyalty, for instance, but they they were not very good at showing today’s farms.  I said most animals had not lived on farms like this for 50 to 60 years, and that it was important to understand that because it was hard to see how Wilbur and Minerva Louise could be threatening the environment.

Then I showed them the same three photos from last year, two of battery cage hens and this one of pigs.  I explained what the pictures showed and read the 2007 national average of animals per farm I had posted on my display board:

Old McDonald Had How Many Chickens?
Average number of animals per U.S. farm site in 2007:
Cattle    3,810
Dairy    1,481
Pigs    5,144
“Broiler” Chickens    168,000
Egg-laying Chickens    614,000
Source: Factory Farm Map

The kids were shocked at the numbers for battery cage hens: 200,000 per barn, several barns per farm, that’s over half a million hens, not the dozen we might imagine living behind the farmhouse.

Next I wanted to give them an overview of the breadth of problems factory farming contributes to, so I read from my display board again:

Modern Livestock Farming is a major cause of:

  • Water Pollution
  • Air Pollution
  • Acid Rain
  • Greenhouse Gases
  • Land Degradation
  • Loss of Biodiversity
  • Loss of Habitat
  • Killing Wildlife
  • Diseases like salmonella, e. coli, and MRSA, swine flu, avian flu
  • Antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Then I started tackling as many of those as I could cover, usually just a few, but I had to be flexible because we often had extra time, except for the group where after the teacher got off her cell phone, in the middle of my talk, she began loudly asking the kids who needed to go to the bathroom; after a minute of sorting out where they would meet when they came back, being seemingly oblivious to the fact that I was trying to give a talk five feet away from her, she walked off to the restrooms with half the class.  This was a teacher.  It just occurred to me that possibly it was not just atrocious manners but sabotage.

Slash and Burn

Moving on, I covered greenhouse gases first, because that is what the display had been originally designed about (“A Disregarded Truth”).  I told them about how livestock causes more greenhouse gases than transportation, then moved onto Amazon deforestation with photos like this, as well as a photo of resulting pastureland and soybean fields.  I said the soybeans were not for tofu but for animal feed.  I told the kids I’d heard sort of a sad joke, that chickens were eating the rainforest, and this is what it referred to, chickens eating rainforest soybeans.

Burning Manure Mountain at Nebraska Feedlot

Then I showed two photos that covered air & water pollution and greenhouse gases all at once.  This is my favorite to show to kids.  I say, “Doesn’t this look like a lovely scene?  I might hang this on my wall.  It seems to be some gentle cattle with the snowy Rocky Mountains behind them.  But this is actually the edge of a feedlot,” and I show them two photos of feedlots.  “Can anyone guess what these mountains really are?”  No one could.  “They’re mountains of poop!  Not only that, they’re on fire!  Mountains of flaming poop!”  Fifth graders found this very interesting.  I went on to explain that there are so many animals in the feedlot that there is no good way to dispose of their manure, so it piles up in this mess.  It washes down to pollute the land and water, it puts out ammonia and hydrogen sulfide to contribute significantly to acid rain, which damages aquatic ecosystems, kills fish, and damages forests, among other things.  Finally the poop mountains, in addition to stench, put out methane, a potent greenhouse gas, which along with cow burps and farts makes them a significant contributor to global warming.

Pig Manure Lagoon

This is the second picture, and I would say, “this looks like any pond you might find on a farm.  You’d expect to see ducks on it.  But there’s a sign posted there and it says, ‘Keep Out, Polluted Water.’  You don’t want to swim in this pond, because it’s a pig manure lagoon.  Now, Kodak can’t run a pipe out the back of its factory and pour raw sewage or other toxic pollution into a pit, but farms do not even need a permit to do it as long as they don’t intend to dump in a stream.  But these lagoons leak all the time, have killed millions of fish, and farm runoff is the main reason why 60% of American streams are polluted.”

Then I would talk about the waste of energy using this graphic from Marc Bittman.  Maybe it was because it was later in the talk, but this did not seem to interest the 5th graders as much as the middle-schoolers last year.  Click to enlarge.

I wanted to make the point that what we eat is a really important environmental decision in comparison with so many of the efforts we hear about all the time, like driving too much and turning off the lights, so I talked about this graphic on my display: its-not-the-bag.  I made sure to say that I wasn’t belittling the other choices we are urged to make for the environment, just pointing out that what we eat, though we hardly ever hear about it, belongs at the top of that list.

Lastly, I made the point that while the two of us are vegan, the kids did not need to be vegan to make a difference, and that any amount of meat they cut down would help the problem.

Carol asked if any of the kids thought they might like to choose less meat after hearing what I had said, and most kids raised their hands.  She handed out some materials, mostly PCRM’s Kids Get Healthy booklet, which looked really nice.

Carol told me a fellow vegan had asked her, “They let you talk about vegetarianism to 5th graders?”  She answered, “So far!”

Posted in Animals, Environment | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »


Posted by tinako on February 28, 2011

Worldwatch Institute (Wikipedia entry) is claiming that the 18% greenhouse-gases-from-livestock figure that the U.N. came up with is too low, and the actual number should be 51%.

Last year the U.N. did urge people to move to veganism.

Posted in Environment | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

U.N. urges global move to veganism

Posted by tinako on August 23, 2010

According to The Guardian, a report issued by the U.N. in June states that “a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change.”

This is huge, and yet a Google search does not bring up a single U.S. media that picked up the story, only vegan internet sites.

So pass it on.

Posted in Environment, Nutrition | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Standard American Diet’s Effect on our Environment and our Health

Posted by tinako on July 20, 2010

Leo Horrigan

I read this accessible paper, “How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human
Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture
” (by Leo Horrigan, Robert S. Lawrence, and Polly Walker
Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore), which delivers a crushingly broad indictment of the effects of our industrial diet.

Robert S. Lawrence, M.D.

It concisely discusses the unsustainable and often irreversible effects on the environment of intensive use of water, energy, pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, and genetic manipulations, and modern agriculture’s astonishing increases in topsoil loss, water pollution, animal waste, and greenhouse gas emissions.  The paper also makes the point very clearly that eating meat intensifies all these industrial uses and effects by its inefficiencies.  Ruining the environment doesn’t just mean messing up our nest, it also means messing up our food supply – if we don’t take care of the land and water, inevitably there will come a day when we can’t grow enough food – in the past farmers just moved on to new land, but what happens when even the marginal land is useless?

Then the paper moves on to the effect of all these chemicals and the foods themselves on our bodies.

They sum up:

These phenomena are due, in part, to production and processing methods that emphasize economic efficiency but do not give sufficient priority to public health or the environment.

Some things that surprised me:

The average U.S. farm uses 3 kcal of fossil energy in producing 1 kcal of food energy (in feedlot beef  production, this ratio is 35:1), and this does not include the energy used to process and transport the food.

Thirty-five calories of fossil fuel to make one calorie of food energy!

Barnard et al. estimated that meat consumption costs the United States roughly $30–60 billion a year in medical costs. The authors made this calculation (which they considered a conservative one) on the basis of the estimated contribution that eating meat makes to the diseases discussed above, plus other chronic diseases common in affluent countries and foodborne illnesses linked to meat consumption.

The United Nations has estimated that about 2 million poisonings and 10,000 deaths occur each year from pesticides.

One meta-analysis found that in nine comparison studies, vegans had an average cholesterol level of 158 mg/dL, vegetarians 182 mg/dL, and omnivores 193 mg/dL….  Whereas the average cholesterol level among heart attack victims is 244 mg/dL of blood serum, heart attack risk falls to virtually zero when the cholesterol level is less than 150 mg/dL.

The authors make the point that unsustainable farming is nothing new – many civilizations have collapsed because of their farming methods.  Sustainable methods will consider long-term effects on topsoil, biodiversity, and rural communities, instead of just short-term profit.  Sustainable agriculture will change from place to place and over time.  Sustainable methods might include crop rotation and soil conservation, among others.

So why don’t we do this?  Because farm input required by modern agriculture methods (think fertilizer, pesticides, and the kind of seeds farmers can’t save and replant)  is a huge, powerful business that influences government subsidization of large-scale unsustainable farming.

One thing that would help, they say, is to convince farmers that sustainable farming can be just as profitable, and they give a large-scale example in Gallo Wine.  Urban agriculture is good, and this is about the fourth paper I’ve read that says that farm markets and CSAs are a really important way consumers can make an impact.

They conclude:

Coupled with energy- and resource intensive food production methods, rising population and rising per capita consumption are bringing us closer to the limits of the planet’s ability to produce food and fiber for everyone.

These problems are complex and have no single solution, which leaves many people feeling powerless to affect them.  One personal act that can have a profound impact on these issues is reducing meat consumption.

The Center’s book “Putting Meat on the Table” is available for free download.  Lawrence and Walker offered a course, “Food Production, Public Health, and the Environment” through John’s Hopkins which sounds similar to the Yale course I’m auditing (and from the same semester).  Although JH’s course is less user-friendly (you have to synchronize MP3 audio lectures with PDF slides), it does have a list links of readings which seemed different than those required by Yale.

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One Hundred Children and a Zoo

Posted by tinako on April 30, 2010

I had an interesting experience today.  A leader of my city’s local vegetarian society, Carol, asked for volunteers to join her in a program at our city’s zoo, and I signed up for the first two hours.  Neither Carol nor I likes zoos, but this was an amazing opportunity.  Not only was the society going to be able to table inside the zoo for two days, but for the first two hours there would be groups of middle-schoolers stopping by our table for 15-minute periods, a captive audience.  I asked her if she had ever had an opportunity like this before, and she said no.  We only had a day to prepare, but the theme of the event was “Our Fragile World,” so we came up with some things to tie in to that. In order to appeal to this age group, I visited Farm Sanctuary’s teacher education materials online.  I really liked their idea for comparing the myth of happy farm animals to reality.  I suggested to Carol that if we could break that myth for these kids, that would be really something.

I volunteer in my kids’ school libraries, and I see the farm animal books they have, particularly in the K-2 building.  Of course the fiction books are all happy happy, but even the non-fiction books are fiction.  90% of farm animals live on factory farms; all the animals in the books are living  on the other 10%, but you’d never know that.  It’s not that I want kindergarteners exposed to books about slaughterhouses, but if the real treatment of farm animals is that unpleasant, let’s just skip it altogether rather than lie to them.  The collection of misleading books makes me squirm, but what really made me tear my hair out one time I was in there, was a teacher came in and asked for a stack of books on farm animals, because she was going to do a unit.  I groaned.  Kids trust their teachers, and this teacher was going to actively teach this fairy tale as a fact to a room full of receptive kids.  “Here’s the farmer picking the egg out of the nest.  That’s where your eggs come from, children.”

So the zoo event was this morning.  I have not been to this zoo in over thirty years, and I was chagrined to see it has not changed from what I remember.  The first thing I saw when I went in was a concrete block building with essentially a chain-link dog-run attached, with about a half dozen pheasants of some sort in it.

We were stationed on the other side of this building, in front of the monkeys and apes.  The lemur’s cage behind us was typical of the other primates’ cells.  Theirs was about 15′ square and 18′ high, with three cinderblock walls, a bare concrete floor, and chain-link front wall and ceiling.  They had a metal “tree” in there, and also running through were several large dead limbs and ropes and hammocks.  They had a concrete water bowl.  There was one, one living plant in there.  I am not making this up: in the middle of the cage, in a black plastic 2-gallon nursery pot, was growing a weedy plant, about 12″ high.

My friends who enjoy the zoo here may wish to skip this paragraph, since I’m going to express a strong opinion I usually keep to myself.  I have no knowledge about how well these animals are cared for.  They may get better health care than me.  They probably eat better than I do.  The people who work there are probably dedicated, caring professionals.  But how are these dismal cells better than a prison?  I can think of several ways they are worse.  What did they do to deserve this?  What gives us the right?  The fact that they are better off here than in a factory farm, research lab, circus, or dead, is a very low standard of comparison, and no excuse.  It made me very sad.  There are worse zoos, I know that, zoos where the animals are not cared for.  But a city our size is apparently still not capable of supporting a zoo in which wild animals can at least live in a facsimile of a natural setting.  That fact isn’t a disgrace for our city, but this zoo is.

I had to turn my back on the lemurs and do my best with the opportunity I had with these kids.  Carol got us started by asking the kids why they think somebody might become a vegetarian.  This was a great way to get the kids talking and involved.  Carol noticed that in all five groups, the first thing they answered was “caring about animals.”  She made sure to bring up health and the environment, which most groups did not think of on their own, and then I took over for a few minutes.

Minerva Louise

Charlotte's Web

I brought two books, Minerva Louise Goes to School and Charlotte’s Web.  I showed a picture from each (shown here) which portrayed stereotypical farm scenes.  I told the kids I liked the books and thought they had a lot to teach us, but that they weren’t too great at portraying the reality of farm animal life.  I said that unfortunately, most farm animals had not lived on farms like these for 50-60 years.

I had so little time, I had to focus on one animal, and chose egg-laying hens because I had a couple of good pictures and could say what I knew quickly.  I had timed myself and for some reason it took me longer to talk about pigs.

Battery Cages

So I showed them this photo and said: This is a typical, modern egg farm, and the eggs they bought at the store probably came from a place like this, and there were farms like this nearby.  There are probably 200,000 chickens in this one barn, and probably 5-6 more buildings like this on the farm.  It’s mostly dark, totally deafening, and the smell is unbelievable.  With cages stacked three-high, the chickens’ waste falls down onto those below, and then down into the basement where the manure piles up.  The kids were stunned.  They didn’t seem traumatized as I talked, but I heard gasps every time I showed this first photo.

Battery Cage Hens

Next I showed them this close-up photo, I gestured to show the size of the cage, about the size of a filing drawer, and said that the seven chickens in there were put in when they were young, and the door would not be opened for a year, when they would be removed and sent for slaughter.  Sometimes they would be starved for two weeks to reset their systems, and then those that survived would lay for a second year.  I explained that the food, water, and egg removal were all automatic, so people seldom came through.  I said that both these photos showed industry standard practices and that nothing I described was against the law.  Jaws dropped at that.

I said I was showing them these photos because it was difficult to understand how Minerva Louise’s or Wilbur’s farm could cause environmental destruction, but when you saw these pictures you could see that it is a factory.

Illegal deforestation for soybeans, Brazil

I went on from there to show this graphic, Livestock’s High Energy Costs (left, click to enlarge).  It shows the energy and greenhouse gas comparisons between calorically equivalent plant and meat foods.  Very dramatic.  I mentioned that livestock was the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gases, larger than all transport combined.  One group wanted to know more about that, and I had brought along the display I did a couple years ago on the subject.  I showed them photos of rainforest that had been destroyed to plant soybeans, not for tofu, but for livestock feed.  You can see my essay, “A Disregarded Truth,” for more.

Gestation Crates - Sows spend almost all of their 3-4 years in these.

This same group was interested in pigs, so I showed them two photos on my display showing crowding of pigs in a pen, and sows in gestation crates.  Their teacher in particular was very shocked and moved by all the photos.  We agreed that it was grotesque that the chickens were like sentient cogs in a horrible machine.

Carol took over again at this point and explained a graphic showing how wasteful meat is; I think she said land that will feed one omnivore will feed 12-16 vegetarians.  Then she passed around some brochures she wanted them to take home, and then we answered questions.

Some groups were quieter than others, but all had questions.  Some asked the typical questions, how do you get your protein, won’t they overpopulate if we don’t eat them, etc., but all groups expressed their disapproval of these conditions.  We didn’t want to just make the kids sad and send them home feeling awful, but on the other hand we didn’t want to be telling them what to do – they need to think it over and come to their own conclusions, though the conclusion was pretty obvious – eat fewer animal products.  We kept things matter-of-fact and upbeat, and I hope we were able to pass on our positive vibe to them.  We expressed how much we liked being vegan, how much variety we ate, etc.

I had worried that this age group, 6th-8th graders, would be so wrapped up in peer issues and themselves that they wouldn’t care what these vegan geek moms had to say.  If there’s one nice thing about speaking out against factory farms, it’s that it sells itself.  It’s impossible to ignore when it’s in front of you.  One boy asked me if I was getting paid.  I told him no, the chickens couldn’t speak for themselves so I was there to do it for them.  If you know anything about modern egg production, you know that I really held back, and that those photos are totally tame.  Just this little glimpse of their hell was enough to bother ordinary people.

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