Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A little defensive, no?

Fourteen days and 214 commenter responses later, I'm still thinking about this post at Pandagon. The title, "Can 'Good' Progressives Still Eat Meat?"--which originated not from Roxanne but from Kathy Freston, whose excellent article inspired the post--is intentionally provocative and simplified. But boy did it strike a nerve with Pandagon's readers.

The U.N. recently told us something I've known since I turned vegan almost ten years ago:
The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.
Yet many self-described environmentalists (who tisk dispprovingly at Hummers and buy pesticide-free apples and turn down the heater in winter) aren't giving up (or reducing) pork chops without a fight.

The comments (I stopped reading at about 113) were discouraging, largely in favor of telling vegans to stop whining and start minding their own business (because we all know that "good" progressives shut up and never tell other people what to do). But what's most annoying is when omnivores will fabricate information or turn to prejudice to justify a culturally-sanctioned action that's a major detriment to environmental sustainability. A summary of the comments:

1) Eating organic, locally-farmed meat uses less resources than eating non-local plant-based food!

This was a popular one which, coincidentally, is entirely made up. This might be an example of well-meaning progressives favoring aesthetics over substance. It's the idea behind eating a cow from a neighboring county that appeals to us; nevermind if eating meat still uses ten times the gasoline, water, and fertilizer as eating only plants. But saying that I buy local meat sounds like I'm trying! I blame Michael Pollan. Anyhow, if you're spending the extra time and money to buy only local animal products in the name of environmental stewardship, why not maximize your efforts and buy only local plant products?

2) Being vegan is too expensive.

Which explains why all the poorest nations subsist almost entirely on plant products. Okay, if as a vegan you eat exactly what omnivores eat, just with "gourmet" soy-based substitute products in place of meat and dairy, then taking the moral high ground can cost you. Not only is this dietary chicanery financially expensive, it's also boring and gross. Otherwise, vegan food is the world's cheapest. Beans, whole grains, rice, vegetables, quinoa, fruits--you can't any thriftier than that.

3) Vegan food is tasteless and gross.

My friend, you haven't experienced Millennium. Or my chocolate chip cookies, for that matter. Mmmm ... Earth Balance.

4) If I don't eat meat I get weak and sick.

Then you're doing it wrong. There's an art to getting all of your nutritional bases covered without eating other animals, and it takes practice. But it's a small price to pay if environmental sustainability is actually an important issue to you. Part of being a liberal is making sacrifices--that's what makes us better than conservatives--and it's dishonest to pat yourself on the back for sucking it up and reusing your grocery bags while simultaneously refusing to reduce your meat intake because it would be a pain in the ass.

5) I get to eat meat because vegans are preachy and annoying.

Uh huh.

6) But some fancy-pants Berkeley researcher told me that tens of thousands of years ago the introduction of larger quantities of meat into the diet ushered in an era of profound cranial development and population growth among humans.

And this has to do with humans in 2007 how? Humans also used to poop outdoors. Live in the now! Plus Neanderthal's neighbors didn't have access to agriculture, so they had to diversify their diets in order to survive. (Prehistoric folks, for the record, also weren't consuming nonrenewable resources at alarming rates. They get a retroactive free pass from me.)

7) I totally don't eat meat ... that often! High Five!

A little defensive, aren't we Professor Lefty? But these folks have a point. In the battle against swiftly destroying the planet, every effort counts, and if giving up meat entirely isn't your game, try reducing a little (or a lot). It's like trading in your car for your bike Monday through Friday, but using the automobile when cycling isn't feasible (e.g., when you're picking up that $99 couch from IKEA). A pound of conventionally-produced meat sucks up over 2000 gallons of water (soybeans, by comparison, use fewer than 250); cut out a few quarter pounders a month and you've earned a gold star.

I don't expect everyone to throw down their forks and swear off ribs tomorrow in the name of "good" progressivism. But it's disingenuous to posture at (and congratulate yourself for) self-sacrificing efforts to conserve resources--by driving an expensive fuel-efficient car, taking shorter showers, or even buying locally-produced food--while also giving vegans a hard time for being self-righteous. There really couldn't be an easier way to reduce resource consumption than eschewing animal products. But because meat eating--moreso even than driving a car or running the AC--is so deeply ingrained in our culture as a staple, no, a RIGHT!, even the most self-congratulatory liberals will balk at the idea of taking a simple step toward practicing what they preach.

1 comment:

Zack said...

If Millennium is as good as vegetarian restaurants get, then you walk a more principled road than I previously thought.

Other than that I can agree with your points.