I’m not one of those…

… “damned environmentalists!” … Ok… maybe I am. Regardless!

Jade’s right: there are many other solutions to the environmental problems facing our generation. A big first step would be the radical reduction of carbon dioxide belching coal-fired electrical plants. Another would by the American adoption of the Kyoto Protocol.

There is, however, no environmental panacea. Environmental damage comes from myriad sources; there is no single “cure-all” for environmental issues. The solution is complex and multifaceted. Finding sources of green energy is part of the solution. Recycling is yet another part of the solution. Changing our habits of consumption, yet another part. And– changing our diet may, too, be a part of the solution.

I can’t change energy policy decisions. Nor can I, even though I vote, get America to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. I can, however, recycle my beer bottles, ride my bike from time to time instead of taking my car (being sure to come to a complete stop at all stop-signs! ug!), and try to reduce my meat consumption: all infinitesimally small parts of a gargantuan solution. It’s what I can do. Here and now.

Look: I am not saying that everyone needs to suddenly stop eating meat! I admit that, by becoming a vegetarian, I am an extreme example. It’s not an example that I try to push on to others, or expect others to follow. I do contend, however, that reducing (not eliminating!) our global meat consumption is an important part of a sustainable future.

I don’t suffer any delusions of grandeur: I don’t think of myself as “saving the planet,” or even “just doing my part.” I’m not on a mission to save the world from itself. I’m just … not eating meat.

But you don’t have to become a vegetarian. Really! That doesn’t bother me. But what I DO want is for you to realize that, when you go to Wendy’s, it’s not just $.99 you’re paying for your Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger. I want you to make an informed choice– or what I consider to be an informed choice, anyway. (I mentioned externalities as a cause of market failures below. Imperfect information, is another (of four) causes of market failures.)

So yeah, there’s a political agenda to me being a vegetarian. I want to
   1) increase awareness of environmental issues surrounding the meat industry
   2) encourage the development of an alternative, non-meat-centric cuisine.

Meat is tasty– there’s no denying that. But vegetarian dishes can be equally tasty. (Want proof? Come over, and I’ll cook you dinner some time.) The reason that vegetarian food has unsavory connotations is simply because our Western culinary tradition has not invested itself into meat-alternatives.

We have this sacred “meat and potatoes” mindset: that, for some reason, every meal must contain meat. Perhaps this is a hold-over from our “rugged”, romanticized American past: ranching is as mucn an inviolable stronghold and romanticized images as the small, American farm (or homestead).

As an aside, just doing a little reading on farm subsidies should be enough to convince you that we could do well to stop nurturing and protecting this (small American farm) icon from our past, and to open American agriculture to the vagaries of the open market. (What’s this? Am I supporting the removal of government subsidies? Yeah, I am: they don’t make sense, especially in this case.)

Anyhow. Back on track: It’s not true! You do NOT need meat at every meal. This is an anachronism: an unfounded and illogical bias that has no place in a modern world. It should be abandoned in the rubbish heap of the past, where racial segregation and sexist discrimination reside! “Meat and potatoes” is parochial and passé, regardless of the going trends in Miles City, MT or Kaycee, WY. I’m emphatic on this point!

Whew…. deep breath… count to ten. Ok. Much better. Back to business:

Indian, Italian and Mexican culinary traditions place far less emphasis on the meat (although this fact is often lost in the Americanized representation of these respective genres: Tex-Mex is often little more than Mexican, con carne). And, frankly, I prefer each to our often bland and uninspired “American” cuisine– consisting largely of hot dogs, hamburgers, “casseroles”, and “hot dishes”.

About Mark Egge

Two truths and a lie: Mark Egge is an outdoor enthusiast, opera singer, and a transportation data scientist. He lives in Bozeman, Montana.
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6 Responses to I’m not one of those…

  1. jaderobbins says:

    While I applaud your efforts, I have two problems with your statement. The first being that the amount of methane that cows make effects the environment. All animals produce methane. Do you feel that we should stop the reintroduction of the American Bison because their future giant herds produce methane?

    The second is that you think that vegetarian cuisine is much more environmentally friendly. If there was a sudden surge in vegetarian eating there would require much more fossil fuels to farm it, pesticides to make it grow efficiently, etc. My argument for protecting the environment is much simpler than most: population control. If we can decrease the population density of the human race it would slow down our rate of environmental “tainting” (couldn’t really think of the best word there).

    I didn’t mean to make it sound like I was calling you a crazy environmentalist, I did it mainly to spur a discussion (which it has!), my main point was, though, that I think there are far better
    ways to try and change public opinion and do your part than to stop eating meat. I just personally find the argument frivolous and in the end just a gimmick to be “hardcore”.

    Now the health implications of eating too much meat are undeniable, I’m right there with ya. I HATE that meat is so bad for you (because I just really, really love it) but I definitely recognize that I need to diversify my eating, not only for health but for monetary reasons as well. Now time for my anti-socialist rant ;) As far as health concerns for the rest of Americans I have one thing to say: Fuck em. If they want to eat more meat and get fat and die, I really don’t care. I’m overweight, but I recognize that I am in control of that and no one else. It was my decisions and responsibility that got me to this weight and I’m currently in the process of fixing that: myself. Basically if I don’t have to pay for their medical bills (which I really shouldn’t!) I don’t really care. People are in control of their own weight and body destiny, not me.

    My political mind recently has been focusing more on preserving people’s rights and powers of choice and really don’t focus on the environment much, which is funny because I’ve also re-surged my love of the outdoors. I guess I don’t think about environmental issues much because I’m spoiled with clean air and beautiful mountains and forests, also I know there are many champions of the environment out there trying to do their hardest and are much more active than I am.

  2. jaderobbins says:

    Oh, another note if I may “conspiracy theory” out on you guys for a second ;) I think that the information is totally biased towards environmentalists because they are primarily vegetarians and just try and mix agendas. Almost like an agenda earmark :D

    Note: no facts, just good ol fashioned information-less speculation :D

  3. jaderobbins says:

    did you take econ 132? Sounds like a lot of marginal social cost vs marginal individual cost :D I’m trying to figure out what econ classes to take this semester, i just can’t float it at 12 credits, i feel like a loser.

  4. markegge says:

    Do you feel that we should stop the reintroduction of the American Bison because their future giant herds produce methane?
    At their peak, Bison herds may have numbered as many as 20 million across North America– a number considered by Range and Conservation Scientists to be ecologically out of balance. At their greatest number, they numbered less than a tenth of the world’s current cattle population. Despite successful reintroduction, Wikipedia says there’s only some 300,000 buffalo, currently. So yeah– I’m all for the reintroduction of the buffalo. And if there were, say, only 20 million cattle on earth, rather than 1.3 billion, I wouldn’t be a vegetarian.

    If there was a sudden surge in vegetarian eating there would require much more fossil fuels to farm it.
    Well, not really, though. The cattle industry is the single largest user of agricultural land, as I may have mentioned already. That’s the whole point, actually: that if the whole world suddenly became vegetarian, then all the grain that is currently sent to feed lots could be sent for human consumption, instead– required in a seventh of less quantity. The actual concern here is that there would be a general agricultural recession for several years because agricultural supply would vastly exceed human demand.

    I took Econ 101 (ug!), but supplemented it with some reading of my own. I’ll be taking Econ 250 this spring, and then I’ll be right into the 300s next fall.

  5. jaderobbins says:

    Are you serious? Human tastes are much more fickle than cow tastes. We simply can’t take the grains and hay that we currently farm for cows and draw it over for human consumption.

  6. meagain says:

    doing the same thing –
    so cows produce methane – big whoop. cows are horrible for the environment at their current numbers for a number of reasons – as previously noted, the amount of land that it takes to produce a cow, the feed, the amount of land to absorb the manure – and that’s just the production side of it. The other huge issue with eating meat – especially beef – is the care (or lack thereof) in the poduction – that the usda/fda has little to no control, the speed of the line (and associated injuries), the uncleanliness that it requires, as well as the social stresses of illegal immigrants (those willing to work in such crappy conditions, which corporate heads really like – if they get injured, it’s all the easier to sweep them back to mexico unreported).

    Point 2 – I’m very glad that you noted that your points were mostly speculation and not much fact. To even suggest the use of pesticides and such on vegetables and other plants grown for human consumption proved your ignorance about what ‘sustainable food systems’ would require. If anything, meat is processed more than vegetables, requiring more fossil fuels to transport than would ever be needed for pesticide use, using the conventional methods of agriculture (read: monocropping). At the current rate of 1000 miles for each food product, the most efficient programs are those who encourage local diversified diets. This doesn’t require the complete elimination of meat products, but focuses on those that leave less of an ecological footprint – goats and pastured poultry are the most common examples. In this scenario, a diversified garden (possibly even community supported agriculture model) would make the most sense – paying the farmer up front for a membership, allowing him/her to produce a diverse aray of plants – those that can manage pests and weeds by integrated processes. This eliminates, or at least greatly reduces the needs for fertilizers (legumes, anyone?) and pesticides while providing a nutrient diverse diet for people. Also, by having a local markete, food miles and CO2 emissions are reduced. Another point for conservation – that of culture. To make this system better, use native crops – they are better suited to the region, the soil, the climate – and you are preserving part of the regional culture – growing away from the ‘romanticized’ that is ‘meat and potatoes.’ Lastly, to make the greatest impact, perennial crops could be used, therefore stabalizing soil, preventing erosion, helping with organic matter, and otherwise helping the earth.