So I recently watched Hank's video I AM A BAD PERSON (catching up on the videos) where he talked about meat eating and asked whether we thought is was bad to eat meat, as well as what we thought about factory-grown meat.
I feel that I have to express what I think about this subject, so much so that I decided to make my first post here on the ning. Feel free to debate/ask questions/disagree. I recently received a degree in Sustainable Development, where I wrote many a paper on this subject (I'm not trying to sound pretentious or say I'm an absolute expert, but I do think I have a little more knowledge than some in this area, or at least my loan debt would make me believe so).
Is Eating Meat Bad?
I don't believe that eating meat is inherently "bad." I do believe that the industrial way in which the majority of American/Western world meat is grown is most definitely bad. There are ways of producing meat/raising animals that is not harmful, and in fact beneficial, to the environment, the animals, and humans. Local, humanely-raised, entirely grass-fed beef is going to produce very little greenhouse gases because the cows are eating what they have evolved to eat. When they are allowed to graze rotationally (moving the herd from section to section of a pasture over time), they act as the native bison would on the prairie. Grass-fed and pastured meat is going to be higher in vitamins and omega-3s, and is typically lower in fat. Less erosion of the soil will result in grass-fed over grain-fed beef as the low-intensity grazing promotes biodiversity in the pasture (rather than the monoculture of corn grown in plowed fields, which does not absorb rain as well as native habitat). Most importantly, well-managed pastures can actually be carbon sinks by not plowing the land and instead letting the carbon from the atmosphere work it's way back into the soil through the plants.
So if we can raise animals in a way in which they are living the way that they were meant to live (many of these small farmers will note that their animals actually seem happy), and that it is a environmentally, socially, and economically beneficial way to do so, does that still make eating meat bad? If we take the destructive manner in which we currently produce meat out of the equation and replace it with a beneficial one, does that make eating a bad thing to do? I think that eating meat can be a very personal decision, though I don't think that one should entirely give up meat because of the guilt one feels for the industrial model of food production. I think that when one has the choice to eat meat, they should buy it from their local farmers (at that higher and more fair price tag) that have raised the animals humanely and allowed them to eat what they would naturally eat. Otherwise, as Michael Pollan would say, eat mostly plants (of course, I could now go into the the ethics of plant eating, the similar industrial model of plant agriculture, etc., but I'll stop myself :)
For myself, lab meat sounds absolutely disgusting. Is sounds like a solution that is just asking for trouble (Mutant Meat, coming to a theater near you this summer). It is taking the industrial model of producing meat just another step further, out of the sun and air and into the closed lab. It sounds like an attempt at sterilization of nature, trying to take all the unknown variables out of growing food (exactly what our current mode of agriculture tries to do through monoculture and standardization). With the idea of factory meat we are trying to find a solution for our guilt for raising animals brutally for our own consumption, but rather than adding a positive (raising animals with love & care) it is trying to subtract a negative (our guilt for treating animals the way we do in meat production).
In my mind, in order to live we must consume life. Be it plants, animals, or by-products of animals (milk, cheese, honey), we must digest and convert that life into energy for ourselves in order to live. We cannot consume plastic and expect to sustain ourselves. In that same vein of thought, the "more life" the things we are consuming have (I think of this as the happier or closer to its true nature it is allowed to be) the more life/energy we will gain. Lad-grown meat, in my opinion, does not have that spark of life that raising a real live animal would, and, I believe, where that gut reaction of "Gross!" comes from.
Anyways, I could go on but I'll stop myself. If you have read this far, congratulations. If you would like to read further here are some good articles/books:
A short Time article that goes into grass-fed beef and greenhouse gases.
A very good Mother Earth News article that goes more into depth into grass-fed beef.
The Omnivore's Dilemna by Michael Pollan, a staple-food for your brain if you want to learn about modern food production.
Anything by Joel Salatin. He is a very intelligent farmer that is a leader in the grass-fed farming movement.
Real Food by Nina Plank. Used to sell this book at a farmer's market I worked at, near where Nina Plank used to have a farm. It's a great book. She writes about eating traditional, whole foods, rather than processed industrial foods. It may or may not be for everyone but I love it and love the philosophy behind it.
The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer. A very thought provoking book about, well, the ethics of what we eat.
What do you think? Do you think I'm totally off base, or do you agree? Do you think I'm trying to justify a degree I can't get a job in by ranting online about it?
The world has to learn how to feed itself.
I was raised under the belief that the world doesn't change until people make it change. I.E, it wouldn't change if it was just left alone.
I'll admit that it's entirely possible that the poor will eventually, collectively lose their hunger, their poverty, their suffering, all on their own accord. However, I--and everyone around me--have the resources to make it happen quicker.
The world doesn't need to learn how to feed itself--I certainly didn't, and I'm going to a university in a year. I'm going to succeed. So what purpose does prolonging the suffering of the impoverished serve? Does it build character?
It is my moral, my religious, and my evolutionary duty to help others. Tikkun Olam. Do not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbour. Et cetera, et cetera. Social darwinism requires the rich to give to the poor, so I might as well contribute.
Wayne, while I don't agree with your belief that industrial agriculture doesn't produce greenhouse gases (read: Iowa State article), I actually do agree that poorer nations should relearn how to supply their own food stocks. There are many factors in why many of these nations have become, for lack of a better term, "underdeveloped," but I'll mention two:
1) These nations have been caught up in a system that forces them to use their resources towards exportation in order to pay off loans from the IMF & World Bank (called "structural adjustment packages"). This mean that they are working to provide us developed nations with, say, a banana crop or cheap computer parts, rather than working on the family farm or providing other local services. These SALs create environmental harm (as the production methods are often through unsustainable exploitation of their resources), social harm (social spending is cut & leads to a higher poverty rates), and economic harm (only a select few from all the countries with SALs actually improve their economic situation). It is because of this that
2) International aid is needed to feed the poor in these nations. If we just look at aid in the form of donated food (rice, corn, etc.) we can easily see an unsustainable practice. Because these crops were raised in monocultures, grown on fossil fuels (fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides), and funded through government subsidies, they are not resilient to shock (resistant pests, sudden weather pattern shifts, changes in government funding, etc.) -- not to mention the fuel it takes to transport food that they could be growing themselves. We can see the problems this system creates in the world-wide food shortages. These poorer nations easily become dependent on our aid, which leaves them more vulnerable and less resilient.
Better to focus on the other problems it has than inconsequential greenhouse gases it causes.
18% of greenhouse gas emissions (a larger section than transportation) is hardly inconsequential - and that's only the amount attributed to livestock.
So you will not feel bad when billions start to die in obscure corners of the world, while we in the successful parts continue to stuff our faces with meat and pie?
It's already started on the horn of Africa. As we speak, there's a famine affecting 10 million, and who knows how many more once the food-aid stocks run out. The region is immensely over-populated and will never reach natural sustainability as it is now. We're talking 100 million people basically living in the desert or desert-like terrain. I don't know what to do about it really... Maybe we should just leave them alone and let nature sort it out, but I would feel really bad about it... Not as bad as they of course...
If we can find a way to mass produce vegetarian meat, then great. Outlaw the inhumane meat factories, give bonuses to the scientists who find the tastiest synthetic meat available, and have the humane farmers serve their stock to whomever it is who wants real meat over the more healthy stuff that doesn't cause animals to suffer.
I'm a vegetarian, so I may be a bit biased, but I don't think we should, as a society, eat meat in the quantity that we do. We could feed the hungry if we took the cow's grazing lands and turned them into rice and corn fields or whatever. Maybe we should eat meat once a week or month or so to keep ourselves healthy, but it's bad for the environment to eat meat at the excess that we do. I'm not saying everyone should become a vegetarian, because I have fish once a week because I'm bad at planning out my diet, and that would be hypocritical. I'm just saying that we should watch what we eat. So if we can eat synthetic, plastic based artificial beef, great.
I absolutely agree with you, that we shouldn't eat as much meat as we currently do as a society. I was just trying to make the point that on the occasion that we do eat meat (or in your case, fish), it should be from a local/sustainably-raised source.
But one thing: are you saying that you would willingly eat "plastic-based" meat? That just sounds gross.
I'm glad we agree.
Assuming that it's non-harmful and provides me with the nutrients I need with no side effects, then of course. It might be a bit disgusting to think about, but I'm sure it's less disgusting than your typical ballpark hotdog, and I eat those.
If we can find a way to mass produce vegetarian meat, then great.
You mean like reconstituted soy stuff?
The only problem I have with this is that the soy market has exploded in recent years, causing problems with the soy plant in itself. Soy (a main constituent of artificial meats) is currently so over-genetically engineered that scientists are having problem with the hormone output of the plant's meat. The hormones can wreak havoc on the body (they did mine) and can make an individual moody, unpredictable, or just plain depressed. Also, some people (I happen to be one of these people) have difficulty metabolizing non-heme-iron. There is an age old argument of leafy greens being better for you as a source of iron as meat, that for some reason I was never able to jump on. I am severely anemic, take a multivitamin and an extra iron supplement every day, and still have an iron level that is below-detectable in a test. My doctor told me to eat more spinach and when I told her that I was eating about 2-3 cups of raw spinach every day (and I was not exaggerating, as I was very careful about my diet in my 3 years of being a vegetarian) she just about had a stroke. I simply cannot absorb non-heme-iron (heme-iron is pretty much blood iron, which generally means I'm a vampire...ha. ha. ha. *hangs head*) Once I switched back to eating meat, I'm a picture of health!
I think that the human body needs meat in it's diet, it has adapted to eating meat over a course of a few years, the problem with meat is the form we eat it in. We eat meat ground and smooshed into patties, stuffed into casing, and forced into models that don't even resemble meat. I eat steak, I eat steak often, but I don't eat burgers and I don't eat processed meats. If our culture could simply go back to eating meat as it's intended to be eaten (...a steak.) our problem would disappear. It is much harder to eat a pound of steak, than it is to eat a pound of ground beef, because of the effort chewing takes up (and chewing depreciates hunger.) Instead of making meat unavailable in the quantity it is, change the form. You can have meat, but don't put it in a tube, don't put it in a pastry (think of how much of the meat market is pepperoni hot pockets) just put it on a styrofoam tray under plastic.
Hey, I think this is interesting, in that it shows that everyones bodies are different. While one person might be able to process iron from spinach, another might only be able to process it from meat. Diet isn't a one-size fits all thing and we shouldn't advocate one thing for everyone.
For instance, my boyfriend is a vegetarian (well, pescitarian really) because he physically cannot digest meat. Since he was a teenager he would get horrible digestive problems if he ate meat or anything with meat in it. We're not sure why this is, though we have some ideas.
It could be that you are able to digest steak better is that it is usually one of the highest quality cut from the cow. Ground meat is typically lower grade and a variety of different cuts. That's just a thought. Good to know that you figured out what works for you!