Paxman: "Have you become a vegetarian?"
Gore: "No, I have not. ... I don't plan to. I respect those who do. But it's a personal choice and will remain so."
... with these words from James McWilliams, author of the recent "Just Food," writing in The Washington Post yesterday:1
First he set the scene:
"I gave a talk in South Texas recently on the environmental virtues of a vegetarian diet. As you might imagine, the reception was chilly. In fact, the only applause came during the Q&A period when a member of the audience said that my lecture made him want to go out and eat even more meat. "Plus," he added, "what I eat is my business -- it's personal."Then argues the opposite of Gore:
"It's hard to avoid concluding that eating cannot be personal. What I eat influences you. What you eat influences me."And gives these statistics to argue his claim:
- The livestock industry -- as a result of its reliance on corn and soy-based feed -- accounts for over half the synthetic fertilizer used in the US, contributing more than any other sector to marine dead zones.
- Livestock consume 70% of the water in the American West -- water so heavily subsidized that if irrigation supports were removed, ground beef would cost $35 a pound.
- Livestock accounts for at least 21% of greenhouse-gas emissions globally -- more than all forms of transportation combined.
- Domestic animals -- most of them healthy -- consume about 70% of all the antibiotics produced. Undigested antibiotics leach from manure into freshwater systems and impair the sex organs of fish.
- If all the grain fed to animals went to people, you could feed China and India.
He wraps it up:
"Now, if someone told you that a particular corporation was trashing the air, water and soil; causing more global warming than the transportation industry; consuming massive amounts of fossil fuel; unleashing the cruelest sort of suffering on innocent and sentient beings; failing to recycle its waste; and clogging our arteries in the process, how would you react? Would you say, "Hey, that's personal?" Probably not. It's more likely that you'd frame the matter as a dire political issue in need of a dire political response.Lots to chew on.
Vegetarianism is not only the most powerful political response we can make to industrialized food. It's a necessary prerequisite to reforming it."
One last point. He said this about some popular alternatives:
"We've been inundated with ideas: eat local, vote with your fork, buy organic, support fair trade, etc. But these proposals all lack something that every successful environmental movement has always placed at its core: genuine sacrifice."It's true.
See my follow-up post for more opinions and a poll.
The livestock picture links to the Food and Agriculture Organization's summary of their landmark 400-page report, "Livestock's Long Shadow," published in 2006.