What we eat will determine how green the future is
Posted by: "karmayog - tanya" info@karmayog. org
Tue Jul 28, 2009 2:17 am (PDT)
Food For Thought
What we eat will determine how green the future is .........Ambika Hiranandani,
Salman Shaheen & Roland Miller McCall
What do George Bernard Shaw, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Leo Tolstoy, Leonardo Da
Vinci, Paul McCartney, and Pythagoras have in common? If your answer is they're
all towering figures of European culture, you're only half right. The answer
is: they've all been passionate promoters of vegetarianism. While Pythagoras
dealt with three straight lines, McCartney sang about the long and winding
road. Indeed, the effort to promote vegetarianism has been a very long and very
winding road. But with the former Beatle's initiative of meat-free Mondays, and
the Belgian town of Ghent pledging to go vegetarian one day a week to do its
share for the planet, the only direction that road is heading is forward.
While these laudable actions are finally grabbing headlines in the West, in
India vegetarianism has quietly been a way of life for centuries. But, whereas
in Europe and America vegetarianism goes hand in hand with liberalism and
progressive values, the opposite seems true in India. It is almost as if meat
eating is seen as an act of rebellion against 'orthodox' society, a sort of status
symbol drawing on markers of western identity. With many Indians upwardly
mobile, increase in purchasing power has seen a parallel rise in meat
consumption. Unfortunately those who have turned non-vegetarian are often
unaware of the direct causal relationship between what they eat and the poorest
having nothing to eat. Put simply, over-consumption of meat directly
contributes to world hunger.
India, where precious national parks are already under threat from illegal
cattle-grazing, is the world's eighth largest producer of meat. Despite the
sacred place cows occupy in Hindu culture, and despite the importance of
buffaloes in agricultural work, India continues to churn out an annual 4.9
million tonnes of meat. Statistics compiled by the United Nations' Food and
Agriculture Organisation (FAO) show that the total number of animals
slaughtered for meat in India nearly doubled from 66,299,600 in 1980 to
106,239,000 in 2000. In a world increasingly facing scarcity with regard to
basic human requirements, as evidenced all too clearly in last year's global
food shortages, increasing meat production looks to be progressively
Rearing animals for human consumption is a grain-intensive process. According
to Kaushik Basu, professor of economics at Cornell University, as the
populations of India and China begin to consume more meat, an increasingly
greater strain will be placed on grain supplies, exacerbating world hunger.
It's a point also made very clearly by David Pimentel, professor of ecology at
Cornell University: "If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the
United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could
be fed would be nearly 800 million."
Ksenia Glebova, a member of the Finnish Green Party turned vegetarian after
volunteering in India. "The meat industry wastes huge quantities of food
and water which are required to raise animals. Instead these resources could be
used far more efficiently and equitably," comments Globova. Her call is
supported by research from Cornell University, which reveals that for every
kilogram of grainfed beef, 100,000 litres of water are used. This finding is
nothing new to animal rights organisations that believe alleviating the
suffering of animals also helps alleviate human suffering.
Most crucially, as governments around the world struggle to lower their
dependence on fossil fuels responsible for pumping millions of tonnes of
greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we must also recognise the part played by
our diet. The FAO has found that global livestock production constitutes 18 per
cent of total greenhouse gas emissions. This figure is expected to more than
double by 2050, precisely because of increased meat consumption in developing
countries such as India.
"In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about
reductions in a short period of time, going vegetarian clearly is the most
attractive opportunity, " says Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the
United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
There are various compelling ethical reasons to abandon animal slaughter. The
conditions of animals in slaughterhouses are heartwrenching. They led Bernard
Shaw to highlight the key point that slaughterhouses are kept far away from
human eyes because that makes meat much easier to digest. As Jane Goodall so
succinctly said: "Thousands of people who say they 'love' animals sit down
once or twice a day to enjoy the flesh of creatures who have been utterly
deprived of everything that could make their lives worth living and who endured
the awful suffering and the terror of the abattoirs."
Perhaps the next time we sit down to dinner, we should think about what we are
doing. Not just to the animals, but to the planet too. It may be a long and
winding road to a green future. But there's only one way to go.
Hiranandani is an environmental lawyer, Shaheen studied social & political
sciences at Jesus College, Cambridge, and Miller McCall studied climate law at
the Australian National University College of Law.
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