Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Is Vegetarianism The Only Moral Choice Ahead?

I've been looking a lot at the possibilities of adopting a vegetarian diet. Reasons I didn't were mainly around convenience and dietary concerns about protein. As a fairly active amateur tri-athlete and cyclists the "enough protein" argument has come up a few times.

Lots of vegetarians and vegans have concerns about the way meat is raised. Factory farms with cows in head-stocks who are overfed to the point where they are nearly immobilized and must be slaughtered. (I'm sure lots of you have seen the PETA video...) Or chickens caged their entire life and fed hormones that make them feel hungry so they overeat and come to their slaughter weight in 1/3 the normal "free-range" time. Obviously disturbing stuff - including health concerns over the hormone/antibiotic laden produce. Yet, animal rights was not a convincing enough reason for me to become a vegetarian.

Well, lots of recent reading has convinced me that not only for health reasons, but for moral reasons, vegetarianism may be the only moral choice.

(As an added bonus vegetarianism is on the list of "Stuff White People Like" - #32!)

Sojourners Magazine reports that a pound of meat takes around 8 pounds of grain to raise an animal to slaughter weight (I heard an NPR report last week that said the cost is closer to 10 pounds...) For this discussion I'll use the lower 8lb figure.

Chicken (35cal/oz) = 560cal / lb
Steak (50cal/oz) = 800cal / lb
Corn/Grain (24cal/oz) = 384cal / lb

That means it takes at least 3072cal (384cal * 8) of grain to produce one pound of edible meat.

Now it turns out that US consumers eat on average 222 pounds of meat a year! Sojourners reports that amount is up 78 pounds from 1950 levels.

So another little exercise...

If I eat 222 pounds of chicken per year that means I would have consumed 124,320cal of meat for a grain cost of 671,994cal.

What is happening to those extra 547,674 calories? It is getting crapped out into cesspools that are polluting our groundwater (OK, a little off topic.)

547,674 calories of grain is equivalent to 1500 calories per day - a caloric intake that most of the world wishes they had available to them.

547,674 calories is 1426 pounds of grain that is being take out of the mouths of hungry people in the developing world so that I can have the convenience of quick energy.

By one person, me, moving towards a vegetarian diet I will consume fewer resources and (theoretically) provide the daily caloric needs for an entire other person. If only it were that easy.

Crusade? Not really. Just one way I can make a smaller footprint - to live simply so that others may simply live.

Of course, the global food crisis is much bigger than a bunch of spiritual/morally motivated individuals changing their eating habits. It involves massive changes in food policies that protect the poorest people in our world. Sojourners Magazine, July 2008, lists "7 Steps Toward Food Sanity":

1) Reduce the influence of money in politics. In the past decade, US agribusiness spent almost $1 billion lobbying our government for policies that often undermine poor people's capacity to feed themselves.

2) Press legislators to shift support to family-scale sustainable farmers in all aid and trade legislation.

3) End export subsidies that undercut small farmers abroad-agricultural subsidies in the industrial countries mainly help the biggest farmers and processors.

(Gregg note: this is the biggest problem with Mexican poverty - massively underpriced subsidized corn exports from the US literally starve Mexican farmers off their land. If we want to see a decrease in undocumented Mexican migration to the US we need to end these unfair practices of NAFTA...)

4) Make real the "right to food," which is now inscribed in 22 national constitutions around the world.

5) End the agrofuel program-one-third of US corn production will go to ethanol this year.

6) Re-establish national and global food reserves to buffer price swings.

7) Create policies that encourage cooperatives and ensure fair wages, progressive taxes, and the right to organize unions.

Long post - more another day...

1 comment:

Janie said...

YEAH, Gregg! Wonderful essay. We should scout the area for vegan restaurants!