Let me start with how much I love meat. Meat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in-between snacks. Allow me to consider all the meat options — beef, chicken, lamb, fish, goat, venison. My favorite meet is lamb! Even my Uruguayan heritage is meat — _Uruguay es la vaca y el puerto_.
Needless to say, it troubles me when I consistently read that the single most important thing I can do for the planet in terms of decreasing carbon emissions, improving water and soil quality, reducing use of fossil fuels, and limiting world hunger is to not partake in this delicious gift from the gods. Surely they are exaggerating the issue of being a meat-lover?
Here are some points in a recent WSJ article by James McWilliams regarding the livestock industry:
- it accounts for over half the synthetic fertilizer used in the United States, contributing more than any other sector to marine dead zones. A cows has got to eat, and typically its eating mutant corn or soy.
- it consumes 70% of the water in the American West — water so heavily subsidized that without it ground beef would cost $35 a pound.
- it accounts for at least 21% of greenhouse-gas emissions globally — more than all forms of transportation combined.
- Domestic animals consume about 70% of all the antibiotics produced, regardless of their health.
But it is kickers like the following that have me shaking a turkey leg at myself: If all the grain fed to animals went to people, you could feed China and India. If I can’t stop eating animals for the sake of well, animals, at least for my fellow man!
So I rationalize with myself, “but what about grass-fed livestock? surely that is better and more humane!”
The fact is grass-fed beef produces 4x the methane — a greenhouse gas 21x as powerful as carbon dioxide — of grain-fed cows. And growing that grass still comes at a cost of heavily fertilized and irrigated grass.
Even the open-pastured pig is typically mutilated to prevent it from rooting.
So like a cow chewing the cud, I continue to ruminate on the matter.