September 28, 2007

Rant: Relative Ease

Posted in environment, rant, vegan, veganism at 2:55 pm by nevavegan

I’m perplexed by the level of hostility I’ve seen in some recent blog comments regarding the connection between eating animals and global warming. It would seem that not only are a lot of self-proclaimed environmentalists unwilling to give up meat, but they’re hostile to the very mention of the idea and want to encourage others to keep putting animal products on the table.

Why should this confuse me? Because it’s so, so illogical. I’m going to try to break down why I find this illogical bit by bit here.

First, it’s not just me, it’s not just PeTA who are saying animal agriculture is the single largest contributor to global warming, it’s the United Nations. Do they have a vegan agenda? Are they out to destroy your fun? No, they’ve never promoted vegetarianism before, they are merely interested in protecting the most vulnerable people on the planet from the ravages of global warming. They did the research, and that’s what they found.

Secondly, some environmentalists have objected to my use of this study by saying it really only talks about beef and pork production and doesn’t study the effects of factory farming of chickens or other birds. Surely, since the study doesn’t say that chickens contribute to global warming, then we can still eat chickens and eggs. Tell you what, come with me back to Harrisonburg, VA where I went to school and tour some intensive farming operations for chickens and eggs, and tell me what you think that does for the environment. Then let’s go to an outdoor stream near a large poultry operation and you can drink that water. I’ll bring a cup. And if you don’t want to drink that water, I have to ask why you’d expect anyone, including wildlife, to drink it.

Global warming is one major harm to the environment, but there are other harms as well including water pollution, overuse of antibiotics and hormones, and so on and so on.

So, ok, the environmentalist counters, factory farms are definitely bad for the environment, but you can’t convince me that it’s bad for the environment if I keep some chickens free-range in my yard and eat their eggs and occasionally slaughter them and eat them. Not only do environmentalists think this is not bad for the environment, but they point out that someone raising a few chickens surely has less environmental impact if they drive little, don’t have kids, and use energy saving devices, than the impact of a vegan who drives a lot, has kids, and throws away a lot of trash. Ok, chicken-obsessed environmentalist, I promise that I won’t argue with you about environmental reasons for veganism if you move to a tiny, energy efficient shack, stop driving, promise not to have kids, and raise a dozen chickens in your yard, Then I’ll only talk to you about the ethics of veganism. But keep in mind that no environmentalist who has ever used this line of debate with me has lived like that. Most eat meat of some kind every day anyway–raising a dozen chickens in your yard might mean eating meat once a month. Most live in urban areas and drive. And besides, the few well-treated, free-ranging, bug-eating chickens in the yard is not a viable solution for our huge population, most of whom live in densely populated urban areas.

Next the environmentalists want to talk to me about how they feel there are other areas we need to improve first before we can worry about what we eat. What about cars, they want to know, do you drive a hybrid?

I don’t drive a hybrid. I’d love to, but a hybrid car is expensive and I don’t make a lot of money. I did move as close as I could to my work to limit my commute though.

But here’s the thing—a hybrid is a very good idea. Like I said, it’s on my dream list, some day, when I save up the money. But veganism is relatively simple. I can do that, right now, today, with really no special equipment, minimal supplies. Sure fresh vegetables can be expensive, but everyone is supposed to already be eating them. Beans, lentils, rice, flour, and so on are all inexpensive. Anyone can start being vegan today. Buying a hybrid car means money and maybe even a significant wait time. Installing solar panels is hard, you’d probably need to hire someone and maybe it’s not even possible to do this where you live. Trying to get the Chinese to control factory emissions, that’s a long-term goal. Changing over to a vegan diet sounded hard before I did it, but really it was pretty easy and painless.

Also, the UN ranked animal agriculture ahead of cars in environmental harm. So if you have something that’s relatively easy to change, and is one of the most harmful things you do, why postpone making that change while concentrating on harder to solve problems that do less harm.


September 21, 2007

Human Concerns Are Also Reasons for Veganism

Posted in environment, vegan, veganism at 5:36 pm by nevavegan

Sometimes people will tell me that they think veganism is a good idea, but they’re more concerned with helping people. Of course I’m concerned with helping people too, and have volunteered and donated through the years to many human causes as well.

But I resent the idea that veganism is all about helping animals at the expense of people. Instead I see it as holistic, an approach to life that helps animals and people.

When I first became vegan I was motivated by concern over animal cruelty, animal use, and the environment. But I also made the change because I believe that it’s easier for us to feed the world when we concentrate on a plant-based diet. With an unprecedented human population we need to start thinking seriously about how we utilize our food and water resources.

I was in late elementary school when we were bombarded by TV images of a famine in Ethiopia. There are few things sadder to witness than footage of starving babies, who are so innocent and helpless. When I saw these images I thought famine must be a huge problem that’s almost impossible to solve. Then I learned how simple the needs of these people were. They wanted grain, any grain would do. Wheat or corn would be nice, but hominy grits could keep them alive. They wanted dried beans, and they needed clean water. How could people be dying of hunger when it would take so little to save them?

Yet, year after year the location may have changed, but we still saw babies starving, or lying dead next to their emaciated mothers. We saw lines of starving people marching away from their homes, sometimes trying to carry others who were too weak to walk, sometimes forced to abandon loved ones because they themselves were too weak to help them. We saw the people who lived so simply that they hardly harmed the environment at all destroyed by starvation while people in the US struggled with an epidemic of obesity.

I later learned that while people starved worldwide, the US feeds most of the grain and soybeans we grow to livestock to fatten them up, and because we want to eat more animals than we have grazing lands to feed them. We use much of our clean water to water these animals and to periodically clean out their housing. In addition many people lack access to clean water because the water is being polluted with animal waste from farming or ranching.

Even more shocking, our government subsidizes meat with our tax money to keep it cheap, while people elsewhere starve, while even some children in the US go hungry, and while so many people in our country lack basic health care. So the poor can afford burgers, but they can’t afford greens or dental care. This sadly means that we don’t see the true price of animal products, but we pay these intensive farmers to pollute and over-consume resources.

Growing up in a sparsely populated area, where our chickens pecked at bugs and spent all day outdoors, and cows from neighboring farms sometimes went feral and hid in our woods, I never knew what it took to create the huge amounts of meat Americans ate. It was a stunning revelation. I thought that if we continued to grow grain and soy in the same amounts as before, but ate it ourselves and exported the remainder (rather than feeding it to farm animals) nobody would ever have to starve again.

Of course as I got older and made friends with people who’d survived the Ethiopian famine, I learned more about political systems and came to understand that world hunger is a more complex problem, often fueled by war and political unrest. Still I think cutting down on the wasteful process of feeding most of our plant-based foods to animals bred for food is a big step in the right direction. We need both, more available food and a more peaceful world. One of those things I hope to affect primarily via the voting booth and letter writing, but the other I support every day through what I choose to put on my plate.

Also, let’s not forget that the environmental crisis is about to become a human crisis as well. Changing climate will produce more famines world wide. Rising ocean waters threaten unique human cultures. The poorest people in the world will bear the brunt of global warming, but none of us will be immune from it. When the UN says that animal agriculture is the single largest contributor to global warming, and we know global warming is already killing people across the world, we have an obligation to change.

May 7, 2007

Your House Is On Fire and Your Children Are Gone

Posted in animal advocacy, environment, save the earth, vegan, violence at 3:44 pm by nevavegan

So go vegan!!
(warning graphic material—might be extremely upsetting/triggering)

In my second to last entry I said that while I really know from experience that there are very bad people in the world, I also know that there are wonderful, kind, generous people in the world. There are people that when the chips are down, they really go the extra mile. They put themselves in danger; they make sacrifices.

History shows us that sometimes the people who come through in a crisis weren’t really extraordinary prior to the crisis. Some weren’t even particularly nice, or civic minded, or caring. Sometimes people who had been criminals saved others during a disaster. Somehow the urgency of the situation can bring out the good in people. Sadly there are also stories of such situations bringing out the worst in some people, but I suppose that’s always how it goes.

I find myself a little unsure of what I should say and not say here, but maybe this story is helpful or appropriate to what I’m about to say. Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was attacked. And the person who attacked me knocked me out cold with a single strong blow to the head. When I came to I didn’t know where I was or what was going on. Everything seemed pitch black and all I was aware of was that I hurt and then I was overwhelmed with nausea and all I wanted to do was turn over and get up onto my knees so I could throw up. Only I couldn’t seem to move, and then the blackness faded, though I was still dizzy, weak, and nauseated, and I realized that the reason I couldn’t get up was that someone was on top of me, continuing to attack me, holding me down. That’s when I started screaming and screaming. Someone heard my screams and came running and literally picked my attacker up off of me and threw him and when he started coming back, my rescuer fought him off. Who knows what might have happened if he hadn’t come, if he hadn’t come running, if he’d ignored my scream, or if he’d been more worried about his own safety than mine (not that I could blame him for that)? But when the chips were down someone decided to be a hero, and I’m forever grateful.

So this is how I know the immense goodness that is out there in the world. People who watch TV, eat junk food, laze around playing video games all day on their day off, in other words, normal people that you’d never look at twice, have this ability to be so much more when it’s really down to it. When it’s do or die, or even do or let someone else die.

I know that if the world goes to hell in a hand basket and the ice caps melt and people are starving to death, I know that so many people out there will put themselves on the line to help. I know that even if they’re hungry themselves they’ll share what they have. I know that if the worst of what we expect comes through, some people will be capable of things they never thought they were.

The thing is: we’re actually in the crisis right now. We need people to be heroes right now. But a lot of people are ignoring the screams, because they’re distant. They think maybe others should act. They think maybe it’s not really that bad. They are able to ignore the effects of global warming that are causing polar bears to die and inflicting famine on the human and animal residents of Africa, the droughts in Australia.

Our house is on fire right now, and ignoring it isn’t solving anything. We can all do better.

Studies show that the energy saving benefits of adopting a vegan diet outweigh the benefits of a hybrid car. I mean, by all means, get the hybrid car if you can. But going vegan means conserving all the energy that went into raising the animals to eat, and all the energy that went into raising the grain and soybeans to feed them, it means cutting all those green house gasses created by animal agriculture. It means fewer drugs and antibiotics and just waste released by run off into our water supplies. It saves all that water used in animal agriculture. I really think this is the first and primary thing. The effects of making this one change are huge.

If you’re the kind of person who thinks you’d rush in when someone is being attacked, can’t you change your diet when the planet is being attacked? Can’t you change your diet if animals, who are trusting and gentle or terrified and traumatized are being attacked?

There are of course other things to do as well. Drive less (I live very close to my work right now, happily). Drive smarter (see if your work will let you work flex time so you can commute when traffic isn’t as heavy). Drive together (carpool and ride share whenever possible). Use environmentally friendly cleaning products. When the cashier asks “Paper or plastic?” say “neither!” and bring out your re-usable shopping bags. Switch out your light bulbs for the energy conserving kind. Make sure your home is properly insulated and the windows properly sealed (to reduce the need for heat and/or AC). Use your heat and AC less (bundle up in the winter, wear less in the summer). You know the drill.

Here are some links if you want to learn more:

UN Report: Cattle worse than cars

How a vegetarian diet reduces global warming

Cool Article: Vegetarian Is the New Prius

Think leather is good for the environment, think again?

Other quick steps to conserve energy and limit waste