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Yup, vegans are “wreaking havoc on the environment”

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A few weeks ago we were cult members. This week, according to Kyle Smith in the New York Post, we are a cross between sanctimonious prisses and villains who are wreaking havoc on the planet. Sounds like a wacky “Try It With A Friend” Snapchat filter. The two articles may be separated by the Atlantic Ocean, but they have one thing in common: they are both rubbish.

Before I even start, let me address something that has only now become apparent thanks to this fabulous reportage. The veganverse has let me down. NO ONE told me that when I went vegan I would need a costume, particularly flowing robes and/or capes. I like to be prepared, you know, and now I feel decidedly underdressed. To remedy, I believe it is now time we design an appropriate vegan costume. Please write-in with your suggestions.

In his informative piece, Mr Smith declares that you, along with Nature, can punch vegans in the face! How nice. I look forward to that. The reason for this universal face violence is this study examining land use efficiency of ten diets, vegan and non-vegan, in the United States. From his reading of a summary of the study in an online magazine – because actually reading the study might take twenty minutes instead of three – Mr Smith concludes “vegans are the ones who are wreaking havoc on the planet compared to omnivores.”

Smith’s reading of the summary of the study (yes, this bears repeating and I am serious, he does not even link to the study, he links to a magazine) leads him to declare that a 13% reduction in meat consumption suffices to be sustainable (whatever does sustainable mean, we are not informed). However, because we are sanctimonious and villains, merely reducing does not give us an “eco-warrior thrill as announcing, with all the fervor of the crazy monk whipping himself in ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ ‘I’m a vegan.’”

I have never read or seen “The Da Vinci Code.” I am, however, certain that it is fiction pretty much exactly like Mr Smith’s piece. I am not a scientist, but I can read, presumably a skill I share with Smith. So, I went and read the study. Whoa. Punch me in the face now!! Unsurprisingly, the study does not say what Mr Smith concludes.

The sole purpose of the study is to determine efficiency of land use in the United States, within the framework of the currently existing farming methods and recommended American diet, with the ten diets used as the test variables. Land use efficiency means how many people can be fed on any particular diet on the available agricultural land. The arguably “unique” part about this study is that its authors partition the land “between grazing land, cultivated cropland, and perennial cropland.”

The study does not look at water availability, health or environmental concerns, CO2 or methane emissions or any other fallout from animal farming. The study also does not consider any ethical obligations we owe to animals, or even to humans. The diets themselves are problematic because I do not believe the majority of Americans are actually following the “recommended” diet. If they were, the food-related health problems would not be so prevalent and severe. Therefore, when the authors conclude that a 13% reduction of meat consumption would increase land use efficiency (not “sustainability” as Smith stated), what exactly does that percentage represent and where does it get us? Nothing and nowhere, respectively.

Thus, within this flawed and limited framework, the study also concludes that a vegan diet uses land less efficiently because grazing land could not be used to grow crops. This seems circular to me. Sure, grazing land would not be used for food, but other types of, and spaces for, farming plants would become a reality. It is not the study’s goal to examine any of this.

And let us just stop and ponder efficiency itself. Only some parts of Nature are based upon efficiency, particularly calorie consumption vis à vis physical activity. Otherwise, the concept is purely man made.

But if Nature, as Mr Smith declares, wants to punch us because of the “selfishness” of our deeply held ethical belief that we should not use animals, which could lead to a theoretically less efficient use of land, then why should Nature, Smith and whoever else not punch anyone who is not perfectly efficient for whatever reason? Why should anyone have the liberty to move freely between jobs? Why in Nature’s efficiency’s name, should anyone actually get paid to work, vote, speak or think freely, learn to read and write or even be free from discrimination? None of these things are efficient in terms of production, just like “grazing” land may not be efficient for growing plant crops, yet we all acknowledge that they are good and necessary things and we adjust our society to account for such good and necessary things.

Only part of being vegan has anything to do with health and the environment. The primary focus of veganism is justice; that justice which we owe to those beings we kill and exploit for nothing more than our pleasure and convenience. This is no more a matter of being prissy or sanctimonious as is supporting justice in any other context. It does not make us better or worse than anyone else. It is only the least we can do.

The above paragraphs are dull in comparison to Mr Smith’s punching, whipping, Da Vinci and “global warming hysteria,” but a NY Post journalist’s gotta do what he’s gotta do, right? He needs journalist-warrior thrills too. So he asks, “’But what about my good intentions?’ cry the recycling Nazis, the warmist alarmists, the get-that-disgusting-butter-out-of-my-sight vegans. The response to that should be simple: ‘What about my planet?’”

This is a curious conclusion because there has been no real discussion of the planet or of intentions. The problem is transparent. Smith does not want to be inconvenienced by reading a scientific study or by concepts that might cause him to question and change his actions. The question is not “what about my planet,” Mr Smith, because it is not all about you. The question is: what about Our actions?

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  • You’ve written an excellent smackdown here, but the header does it a disservice because the Internet doesn’t have the necessary sarcasm filter. It might be better rewritten from “Yup, vegans are ‘wreaking havoc on the environment'” to “Vegans ‘wreaking havoc on the environment’? Smith belches load of greenhouse gas” or similar.

  • AlpineDan

    Good essay; but it’s important to realize that responding to an oped in the New York Post is like responding to a yelling, ranting sloppy drunk guy in the subway.

    • Emilia Leese

      Thanks for the comment. I certainly realise that. However, I’ve seen many other so-called articles “summarising” the same study in much the same way. So, when you see those same articles next time, you can use what I wrote as a hey, you didn’t read the study and here’s a funny and serious riposte. I have yet to see any article accurately depict the study. Cheers!

      • AlpineDan

        Yes, your response can be easily modified to take down any of the several misleading articles I’ve noticed on the study. Thanks for writing it!

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