Meat as an environmental hazard

I often get frustrated when I’m eating among people I don’t know well and they see I don’t eat most meat (though I do eat fish). Very often someone will ask, “is it for moral or ethical reasons?” First of all, what the hell does that mean? I think it means, do I not eat mammals because of animal rights or because of some other, more humanistic reason, though maybe I’m giving people too much credit. Whatever it means, I’m often frustrated that I’m asked to explain and justify something that to be and others is rather personal.

Another common response is for people to challenge my eating habits, trying to poke holes in my “argument.” I rarely ever make an argument in defense of how I eat, especially before I’m approached about it, yet people often feel justified debating with me.

The point is, and I think this is true for a lot of vegetarians (or, as I am, lacto-ovo-pescatarians), much of my motivation is intuitive. I don’t often think about why I don’t want to eat certain things, I just feel that it’s right in my gut (sorry, I just couldn’t hold that pun back).

Nevertheless, every once in a while I come across an intelligent, reasonable argument for vegetarianism that I find virtually irrefutable, like this one. In it, Dan Brook makes an environmental argument for vegetarianism using a metaphor familiar to all of us: the SUV versus the hybrid.

Geophysicists Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin from the University of Chicago concluded that changing one’s eating habits from the Standard American Diet (SAD) to a vegetarian diet does more to fight global warming than switching from a gas-guzzling SUV to a fuel-efficient hybrid car.

I find it a pretty effective argument. In addition to resource consumption, the huge number of livestock themselves add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by, um, doing what we animals do: burping and farting. In fact, “belching, flatulent livestock emit 16 percent of the world’s annual production of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.”

Even the rainforests are being armed by meat farming. Check out this mixed metaphor:

“In a nutshell,” according to the Center for International Forestry Research, “cattle ranchers are making mincemeat out of Brazil’s Amazon rainforests.”

There’s much more. For all of you that need to argue with me about what I eat, instead of opening my mouth and saying something reactionary I’ll just send this and its comment thread your way.

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