[EVLiving - opinion]
Ask most Americans about what causes global warming, and they'll point
to a coal plant smokestack or a car's tailpipe. But it's two other
images that should be granted similarly iconic status, says the
July/August 2008 cover story of E - The Environmental Magazine (now
posted at www.emagazine.com): the front and rear ends of a cow.
According to a little-known 2006 United Nations (UN) report called
"Livestock's Long Shadow," livestock is a "major player" in climate
change, accounting for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.
That's more than our entire transportation system.
But vegetarian diets are rarely proposed by environmental
organizations. The "meat is good and necessary for health" message is
routinely reinforced through advertising and by the cultural signals
we're sent at school, work and church. Vegetarianism is depicted as a
fringe choice for "health faddists."
Even such an enlightened source as the 2005 Worldwatch report "Happier
Meals: Rethinking the Global Meat Industry" is careful not to advocate
for a vegetarian diet, including it in a range of options that also
includes eating less meat, switching to pasture-raised "humane" meat,
and opting for a few non-meat entrees per week. Vegetarianism is the
"elephant in the room," but even in a very food-conscious age it is
not easily made the centerpiece of an activist agenda.
CSPI's Jacobson argues that cutting down meat consumption should be a
public health priority. "From an environmental point of view, the less
beef people eat the better," he says, citing not only the release of
methane from livestock but also increased risk of colon cancer and
Offer these facts to many meat eaters, and they'll respond that they
can't be healthy without meat. "Where would I get my protein?" is a
common answer. But the latest medical research shows that the human
body does not need meat to be healthy. Indeed, meat is high in
cholesterol and saturated fat, and a balanced vegetarian diet provides
all the protein needed for glowing health. Were humans "meant" to eat
meat, just because our ancestors did? Nonsense, says Dr. Milton Mills,
a leading vegetarian voice. "The human gastrointestinal tract features
the anatomical modifications consistent with an herbivorous diet," he
With the recognition of meat's impact on the planet (and the
realization that we don't need it to stay healthy), is it possible
that the human diet will undergo a fundamental change? The fact that
the cornerstone of the American diet aids and abets climate change is
an "inconvenient truth" that many of us don't want to face, says
Joseph Connelly, publisher the San Francisco-based VegNews Magazine.
He takes a dig at Al Gore for not mentioning meat-based diets in his
film and only dealing with them glancingly in his book, An
Inconvenient Truth, and not at all in the film.
A 2003 Harris Poll said that between four and 10 percent of the
American people identify themselves as vegetarians. So far, Connelly
says that number seems to be holding steady. "From a sustainability
point of view, what's really needed is for people to understand the
connections between factory farming, meat eating and environmental
impacts," he says. "That's the first step."
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