Earth Day 2012 is coming up this weekend, leading to much needed talk about how our food choices impact the planet. Most of this talk, as usual, centers on “veg centric” diets with all of us strongly urged to take the Environmental Working Group’s Meatless Monday pledge.
I personally am not about to take that pledge though the Environmental Working Group's slogan “Reduce your impact, improve your health” sounds like a “win/win.” EWG, for example, tells us that Americans who skip meat and cheese just one day a week can cut carbon emissions equal to taking 7.6 million cars off the road. EWG furthermore promises that reducing meat consumption will lower our risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Sadly, it’s not that simple. Far from contributing to personal and planetary health, Meatless Mondays encourage people to feel “feel good” about their “green” consciousness while distracting them from exploring and adopting genuine, sustainable solutions. Although the Environmental Working Group has talked up “greener” meat -- and not just “less meat” or “no meat” -- the catchy “Meatless Monday” slogan perpetuates the myth that meat is evil and that plant-based diets are good.
Here’s why I’m keeping my Mondays meaty!
- The true threat to our environment is not animals — which have been covering the earth with manure and emissions for tens of thousands of years — but the globalization and industrialization of agriculture with its unconscionable, factory-farming practices, toxic use of pesticides, herbicides and commercial fertilizers, plundering of natural resources, draining of the water table, and bankrupting of small farmers and cottage industries.
- As for all that climate-warming gas, animals emit far less gas when they eat natural, grass-based diets and not unnatural, hard-to-digest feeds manufactured from soybeans, corn and other grains.
- Plowing pastures and rangeland in order to plant crops is not sustainable and won’t do much to feed the hungry or save the environment. Only about eleven percent of the land on planet earth can be farmed, a percentage that cannot be increased without deforestation, irrigation, chemical fertilizers, and other destructive ecological practices. Old-fashioned organic mixed-use farms are the answer. And animals are essential, not optional, for healthy farms.
- America’s top soil has been devastated by mono cropping, lawns and other unsustainable practices. While mixing, rotating and composting plants is a start, land cannot be restored without the help of animals. They are needed not only for their rich manure but for rotational grazing. Animal waste is truly a horrific problem with factory farming but is valuable and collectible on small, mixed-use farms.
- Overgrazing has certainly damaged much of America’s land, but the solution is sustainable grazing practices. And that solution, properly handled, serves the land far better than leaving it alone for “conservation.” As Joel Salatin has described so well in Folks, This Ain't Normal, The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer, Everything I Want to Do is Illegal and other books, diversity, interdependence and layering are the keys to honoring and restoring our land.
- Animal foods are often blamed for the diseases of modern civilization, including cancer and heart disease. But the 20th century saw a decline in the consumption of meat, dairy and butter consumption, but a sharp increase in the consumption of sugar, corn syrup, white flour, liquid and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, artificial flavorings, preservatives and other known health hazard of processed, packaged and fast foods.
- Contrary to popular belief, science does not support the idea that saturated fat and cholesterol found in animal products contribute to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. All health problems associated with animal products lie with factory farming and other commercial and non-sustainable farming and food processing practices. As for plant-based diets, vegan diets especially can lead to vitamin, mineral, fatty acid and amino acid deficiencies and imbalances, contributing to myriad health problems, including cancer and heart disease.
- As for that recent headline-making study out of Harvard that indicted red meat, bacon and sausage, the data did not say these meats would kill us off 13 to 20 percent faster. Rather it showed an increased risk at just 0.2 percent at most -- and that was for people eating supermarket meat from factory farms who also happen to smoke, couch potato, and eat their red meat wrapped up in white bread and buns. The study was pseudo science at its best — an observational study using notoriously fallible food-frequency questionnaires, with researchers drawing unwarranted conclusions based on mere associations. In other words, much ado about nothing.
- The idea that eating lowfat could be eco-conscious defies traditional wisdom and common sense. The lowfat gospel is a key reason why factory farms — including so-called organic factory farms — grow freakish hens with size DD breasts. Big Agra’s goal with such chickens is to minimize the less-profitable dark meat and maximize the lowfat white meat preferred by “health-conscious” consumers. The lowfat message pleases Big Pfood immensely because it profits mightily when whole foods are divided into several different products — which is to say multiple profit centers. All of these, of course, will require manufacturing, packaging and long distance hauling As for the skim milk recommended by EWG, nature put fat in milk for a reason, and that reason was not to kill us. When people drink skim milk, their bodies need and crave that missing cream, leading to compensatory bingeing on ice cream and other unhealthy treats high in both fat and sugar. Lowfat thus leads to increased consumption, more packages, more products, higher profits, ill health and environmental destruction.
- The Environmental Working Group in its Meatless Monday promotion has reported that buying vegetables locally helps the environment, but buying eggs, milk, fish, poultry and meat locally has only a minimal effect. Indeed, EWG cites this as a primary reason to cut back on all meat and adopt a “veg centric” diet. Such a bizarre finding could only be the case if the researchers evaluated the environmental impact of buying animal products from factory farms — including “Big Organic” operations — located close to home.
- Animals play a critical role in restoring our soil and growing nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits. Without animals nearby, farmers must use fossil fuel fertilizers and/or compost and manure transported from far away. Not good for the environment!
- Finally, if people give up or minimize meat, what will they eat instead? EWG suggests grains, beans and tofu. In other words, vegetarian foods that are most likely grown and transported from a distance. Furthermore, the mistaken goal of eating less meat will drive many consumers to buy processed and packaged vegetarian entrees full of soy protein isolate, corn syrup, MSG and other excitotoxins, “natural” or artificial colorings and flavorings as well as other dubious and non-green ingredients. Clearly not an option for wellness seekers or environmentalists.
What to do instead? How about committing to one day a week in which the menu includes nothing that comes in a package? How about eating nothing with a label or a barcode? How about 100 percent local, preferably from farmers who use only locally obtained feeds, fertilizers and workers? In other words, boycott supermarkets and join the ranks of the “Non Barcode People.”