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Trading beef for beans is not a solution, veganism is

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How can you manage your ecoanxiety? According to The Atlantic, pretend swapping out beef for beans is going to help our planet.

In the ongoing popularization of reducetarianism, author James Hamblin dives not-too-deep into the impact of our eating habits on the environment. The theory at play is that veganism is extreme, and we only need to substitute all the steak and burgers in the U.S. for beans and everything will be fine. I mean, fine-ish for Americans–all animals (including cows) will still pay the price.

The article centres around research done by a team of scientists from Oregon State University, Bard College, and Loma Linda University. They predict this one dietary change could hypothetically lower the U.S. green-house gas emissions enough to stay on Obama’s 2020 targets. They even say this “single-food substitution could be the most powerful change a person makes in terms of their lifetime environmental impact–more so than downsizing one’s car, or being vigilant about turning off light bulbs, and certainly more than quitting showering”. By most powerful, Hamblin must have meant most powerful for someone not really interested in change, because removing all animal products from our lives is much, MUCH more powerful.

The pitch continues by promising this nationwide swap could free up 42 percent of U.S. crop land that is being used to grow feed for cows, which doesn’t feel like a significant figure when it follows a reminder that the United Nations says 33 percent of all arable land on Earth is used for feed. That’s not just for cows, that’s not just for beef, and that’s not just in one country led by a climate-change denier.

Cow-methane has long been spotlighted as the worst of the animal agriculture industry, but any conversation on saving the planet must also include water use, species extinction, water pollution, ocean dead zones, and habitat and amazon destruction. And in case your ecoanxiety isn’t already flaring back up at this point, I’d like to point out that the waste from dairy cows is actually higher than that of cows reared for beef, even though we know dairy cows become beef (among other things). And don’t get me started on the other issues I have with milk. But the lives of animals and the future of our planet shouldn’t be a game of what’s worse, because eliminating some of our bad habits while pretending the others aren’t that bad has gotten us where we are today.

Back in March of 2016, The National Academy of Sciences published their estimate for the climate change impacts that would occur if the world switched to eating a plant-based diet and predicted that eating less meat and more vegetables would “cut planet-warming emissions substantially, and save billions of dollars annually in healthcare costs and climate damage.” Since then, it seems like everyone is desperately looking for a different, allegedly ‘easier’ answer to our problems, whether health, environmental, or ethical. We already have a solution–veganism.

Veganism is the only solution that takes the true victims into consideration, the animals. Sure, we’re slowly ensuring the end of our own species, but that’s got a much longer expiry date than the billions of animals facing the knife today. And that’s not just for the things we eat, but the things we wear, the products we use, and the entertainment we support.

Please do substitute beef for beans, but also have tofu instead of turkey, carrots instead of chicken, and I think you see where I’m going. Finding alliterated swaps for everything is a lot more time-consuming than just reminding people that the only option for combatting what we do to animals, the earth and to ourselves is going vegan.

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  • stewart lands

    There is no form of agriculture that does not destroy every individual, of every major species, on the lands converted to that purpose. Consider the millions of acres of forest, grassland and wetland converted to barren mono-culture serving no species besides man; consider the billions of pounds of chemicals dumped into our air, water and soil; and consider the trillions of gallons of fresh water diverted from sensitive aquatic systems–all for the purpose of agriculture. Much of this can be avoided, but the fact is that even the destruction that results from plant-based agriculture will overcome this planet if the human population continues its meteoric rise. To transition to a plant-based diet merely slows this certain destruction if we cannot manage our own numbers.

    As a side note, the ONLY way to eat without the massive killing that results from agriculture is to acquire one’s meal from undisturbed lands–as with hunting, fishing or gathering. An animal hunted is immediately replaced by another that would perish for lack of resources if not for the removal of the first. Nature always breeds more animals than habitat can support and the rest die of starvation or disease. It does no harm to animal populations or to the habitat upon which they depend to consume the excess within that population so long as it is done only at a sustainable rate. Certainly, a diet that includes wild fish and game does result in animal death, but much less so than results from clearing the land to grow crops which destroys the very habitat that these and many other creatures need to survive. Of course, the human population is too large to be supported entirely by wild fish and game, but, to the extent they may provide at least some part of our dietary need, then they remain the least destructive items on our dinner plate.

    • KC Starr

      Your viewpoint is extremely confused. You say that the human population is a problem yet you advocate everybody hunting animals? How exactly can 7 billion people be sustained by hunting? How would those animals killed via hunting to sustain 7 billion people ‘immediately replaced’?? “The human population is too large to be supported entirely by wild fish and game” – er, yes, exactly – that is why our seas are nearly empty and why we have animal agriculture in the first place. You’re advocating reducetarianism – suggesting that cutting down on animal products is better for the environment than eating a 100% plant based diet – this is completely wrong. I suggest you do your research because you clearly haven’t. Vastly fewer resources are required to sustain our population living on a 100% plant diet than currently what is required to sustain our population eating animal products. Currently we grow MORE crops to feed farm animals than we would need to feed ourselves (this is at the same time as a large proportion of humans are starving because the crops grown in their countries are shipped to the West to feed farm animals).

      Plus you also seem to have missed the point that veganism is not about environmental sustainability – it’s about the right of every creature not to be treated as property as a thing, as a meaningless object with no intrinsic worth. The environmental impact of animal agriculture is a very negative side effect of eating animals but it is not reason we should all be vegan. We should all be vegan because it’s a matter of fundamental justice.

      • stewart lands

        No, I do not advocate “everybody hunting animals.” In fact, I specifically wrote, “the human population is too large to be supported entirely by wild fish and game, but, to the extent they may provide at least some part of our dietary need, then they remain the least destructive items on our dinner plate.” I have clearly stated that it is only the “excess” within any population (that which is immediately replaced by the next generation) that we may consume in a sustainable manner. And, incidentally, “sustainable” means at a rate that may continue indefinitely with no harm to the resource, and NOT “whatever it takes to sustain the human population” as many vegans appear to believe.

        You go on to make a sound case for a plant-based diet, arguing that it is less destructive than eating animal products. However, I am not suggesting that we should consume animal “products.” I am suggesting, instead, that we include as PART of our diet, wild fish and game, which grow on undisturbed lands and therefore avoid PART of the destruction that unavoidably occurs with agriculture–even plant agriculture.

        To illustrate, I recently went backpacking and consumed several trout taken from an alpine lake. To consume these fish has no impact on trout populations or the habitat upon which the trout and every other species in that ecosystem depends. Of course, I could, instead, have eaten freeze-dried rice and beans, but these would require that wildlife habitat be razed and all creatures that lived upon those lands be destroyed in order to grow them. Additional damage would result as water in diverted from local (or even distant) streams for purpose of irrigation and processing, and from the pollution generated in farming, transporting and marketing these products. In short, rice paddies and bean fields are barren wastelands from the perspective of wildlife and the fact that their establishment results in the destruction of every creature that once lived upon them cannot be ignored. To consume the trout results in the death of several fish, leaving all other creatures alive. To consume rice and beans results in the deaths of every single individual, of every major species on the lands converted to that purpose.

        That no animal can exist without the habitat is somehow lost upon many vegans who imagine they live a “cruelty free” lifestyle. They imagine that broccoli and beets are grown harmlessly on just “dirt,” forgetting that the fields they cultivate were once thriving ecosystems supporting hundreds or even thousands of vertebrates per acre. Perhaps they imagine that the creatures displaced simply “move in” with the mice, voles, ground squirrels, badgers, tree squirrels, badgers, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, birds of all species, lizards, amphibians of every sort, etc, next door. But, of course, this does not happen. Even if they do escape the crush of the plow, they cannot simply move into habitat that is already fully occupied without the displacement and death of those animals that already occupy and depend upon this space.

        Where is the justice in killing so many animals to grow our vegetable favorites when we could kill much fewer by eating just some part of the food that nature makes available on unspoiled lands? It would take an eighth of an acre to grow the soy protein equal to that available in one elk–and result in the loss of hundreds of vertebrate creatures simply in the conversion of these lands to agricultural purpose (not to mention increased soil erosion and stream siltation, pollution, reduced carbon sequestration, reduced water retention, animals lost during cultivation and harvest, etc.) And this calculation assumes our most productive soy cultivars and modern farming techniques. It would require even more land and greater loss of life if we were to consider organic methods.

        This is not to say that I condemn veganism. I do not. It certainly results in less death and environmental degradation than does animal agriculture. My argument is only with the suggestion that plant agriculture is our least destructive option. As explained, it need not be. You cite empty seas as evidence of the flaws in my argument, but it is important to distinguish between what I am suggesting (consumption of the excess within any system) and what has actually transpired (the consumption of far more than the excess within these systems). To continue fishing the seas at the rate that we do will be catastrophic, but that is not what I am suggesting we do. Our consumption of many species must be greatly reduced, but to discontinue entirely will be counterproductive to the goals of improved animal welfare and reduced environmental impact that vegans purport to maintain. My argument, then, is with those who espouse a vegan lifestyle without understanding the true ramifications. The validity of the “eat no meat” mantra lacks the necessary nuance to minimize animal exploitation and environmental harm.

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