Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Loving meat: why I am a vegetarian (almost)

"Better a meal of vegetables where there is love
    than a fattened calf with hatred."         - Proverbs 15.17
A vegetarian friend used to quote this proverb in support of her practice. I would then gleefully point out that the proverb assumes the superiority of meat to vegetables in order to make its point, namely, that the superiority of love over hatred is even greater. Nonetheless, over the last year or so, and particularly in the last few months, this proverb lies at the heart of why I have become an (almost) vegetarian (technically, a semi-vegetarian or flexitarian).

Our planet produces an abundance of food, enough to feed over ten billion people, according to some estimates. Yet we are in the middle of a food crisis, with wheat prices more than doubling in the last twelve months and other grain prices not far behind, leading to riots and political unrest amongst many poorer nations. If we are growing so much (and last year broke all records for maximum production), where does the food go? Increasingly, much of it is turned into biofuels so that first-world drivers (and governments) can feel less guilty about our energy-intense lifestyles. The corn used to generate one large petrol tank of ethanol-based fuel would feed a person for a year. Nonetheless, biofuels, although growing rapidly, still take only about 5% of the world's grain production.

So why are we short of food? One major reason is because we eat so much meat. To produce one kilogram of beef, it takes around eight kilograms of grain.* Chickens have a better ratio, but whatever your fancy, it still takes more energy to produce meat than other kinds of food. This article summarises a number of the key statistics and links them to current food prices (H/T Nicole), as does this one and this one and this one. The bottom line is that the western meat-based diet (and its increasing emulation by China and India) is helping push those on the edge of poverty into malnutrition. There is indeed plenty to go around, but our opulent lifestyle consumes so much that others cannot afford even the basics.
*This is also an issue of water management. To produce a kilo of wheat takes between 1-2,000 litres of water; a kilo of beef takes between 10,000-13,000 litres.

So can we, out of love for our neighbour, reduce our consumption of meat? I think it both possible and desirable, and now try to avoid buying or consuming it wherever possible. This is not to say that eating meat per se is wrong (though certainly there is much mistreatment of animals in our current system - another genuine moral issue, though a discussion for another time). On the contrary, I give thanks for meat as a good gift of God, but I am trying to regard it as an occasional luxury rather than a staple. There used to be a slogan "Live simply so that others can simply live"; I think we can also say "Eat simply so that others can simply eat". Better a meal of vegetables for everyone than a fattened calf for some while others go hungry.

PS This article puts some of the concerns well.

PPS I note there is also a Wikipedia article summarising some of the concerns.


Megan said...

I take a similar position to you, though perhaps more veggo. I am currently eating meat - I have taken the position that I will eat meat when I am pregnant or brestfeeding as my protein needs are higher and as I see my children as having greater value than animals, I would rather be cautious in this area. I agree about the social justice angle, and also see an environmental issue. I also tend to the view that meat eating is a post fall practice, and by abstaining when I can, I remind myself of the need to strive for that pre fall world. I find it at times emotionally difficult to eat meat, and I'm not sure that that in itself isn't a valid reason - surely keeping a tnder rather than hard heart is a good thing? But, as can be seen from the fact that I am currently eating meat, I am not hardline about it.

Andrew said...

It's rather the opposite - the west has been overproducing food for years. Western countries are increasingly experiencing near-zero population growth, while high-yield farming techniques and crops have increased food production. The glut on the market causes a drop in price, and it becomes cheaper for those in developing countries to buy imported foodstuffs than locally produced goods. The result? The local food producers get forced out of business. And when a fluctuation in the market occurs, like it has now, they suddenly realize how dependant they've become on foreign food. This link discusses this effect in some detail.

Food is one of the basic necessities of life. If a country can't feed it's own people, it's living on borrowed time. Developing countries have all the physical requirements to feed themselves - they have land, and it's generally no less arable than what we have. It's the social/political problems - constant civil war, rulers divorced from the populace (and cheap imports) - that make local production insufficient. Our consuming less isn't going to change that. It will either mean more of the crop going to biofuel (if that takes off), or increasing the reliance of half of the world on the other half. The "solution" to world hunger doesn't involve dumping food on countries that can't produce it - it's helping fix their circumstances so they can produce their own, something much easier said than done.

Many developing countries have become economically "addicted" to cheap western exports. Like an addict, it's going to hurt as they try and kick the habit. But once it's done, they won't be at the mercy of the whims of the international food market - like the recovered junkie, they'll be living clean.

Ben Myers said...

Without getting embroiled in the ethics of all this (I get enough of that at home, with my vegan wife...), I just want to say how much I love the delightful and eminently useful word "flexitarian".

For what it's worth, I myself am more of a salamarian — mainly vegetarian, with the occasional exception of a good salami pizza.

Craig Bennett said...

G'day Byron.

I have a few problems with the two articles you linked to and your response to them.

Where the author says we had a record grain crop last year they failed to recognise that Australia who normally is a major player in grain exports suffered greatly from drought and many of the farmers downsized their herds tremendously and the lack of grain pushed the prices up enormously.

Taking the same issue of water and grain I also think you should now give up all dairy products - or at least limit your intake as cattle need a minimum of 50 litres of water a day and a ration of grain.

Then one has to weigh up what would be more water wise drinking soy milk or real milk?

If you are truly considering giving up meat because of the grain and water issues, then to be consistent you need to also give up or at least cut down on bread and cereal products also.

The first article mentions grass fed cattle which means in reality grass fed cattle need to eat more than double the amount of grass, which requires more water to put on the same amount of weight as it does to feed cattle a ration of grain with.

So in reality feeding cattle a ration of grain actually helps not hinders the environment.

Craig Bennett said...

Byron your figures are out.

CSIRO Land and Water scientists have used precision weighing systems to measure water use by various crops, and the yield from the crops. The following approximate figures were revealed:

* To produce one kilogram of oven dry wheat grain, it takes 715 – 750 litres of water
* For 1 kg maize, 540 – 630 litres
* For 1 kg soybeans, 1650 – 2200 litres
* For 1 kg paddy rice, 1550 litres
* For 1 kg beef, 50,000 – 100,000 litres
* For 1 kg clean wool, 170,000 litres

These figures were determined in very controlled conditions. They can vary with the environment and with the methods of water delivery and harvesting used.

Although many people react with amazement at these figures, we should be cautious about interpreting them. The numbers don't necessarily imply that some types of food are better than others. They do emphasise the large amount of water that is needed to grow food, and demonstrate that we should be investigating ways to conserve and improve water use efficiency.

The situation of malnutrition is more complex than us giving up food. I have some friends who are involved in a ministry in India where they install water tanks into villages and create hygienic toiletry facilities.
A large part of the malnutrition in India is to do with the caste system and not our greed.

Though back in the early 80's the UK and the rest of the world for watching has a lot to answer for in regards to its dumping many container ship loads of surplus corn out to sea when Ethiopia was in the grip of a famine.

P.S its important to note that the water used in figures takes into account the water used in the processing and sales of the product and not just in its production.

We also need to keep in mind that 1mm of rain produces 1 litre of water every square metre. There fore every mm of rain will produce 10,000 litres of water.

So while it sounds like a lot of water apart from rice growers most grain farmers in Australia do not irrigate and rely on rainfall grain is one of the better crops for those areas.

Consider that an average Ha in Australia has produced an average of 2.2 tonnes of grain, that equates to an average 60kg of grain a day, without taking into consideration the feed value of the straw. Many farmers will also be able to graze the grain crop of early in its growth to prevent it from going to head to early.

The point being that 1Ha of wheat will support many more animals then one Ha of normal grass which needs the same water requirements or even more then wheat does.

Emergent Pilgrim said...

I must admit Byron I have been having thoughts along the same line (about becoming a vegetarian or at least consuming far less meat than I have been. I have pretty much cut out red meat now and am enjoying chicken and fish. I must admit I could go with out red meat quite easily but I would struggle to go without chicken and fish all together. I like the idea that we eat less meat for the betterment of our neighbour and yet still have the flexibility to enjoy the occasional piece of red meat. Yet there are financial implications for my neighbour on the other side (the farmer).

I think it is easy to argue over the numbers and even over scripture. It is pretty easy to see that Australia's love of all things consumable is damaging our environment.

Speaking of our love of RED, I wonder how much the bottle of RED I enjoy is damaging the environment? ;-)

Mister Tim said...

I have a friend from my old church in Sydney who has been espousing a similar argument for as long as I've known him - close to 15 years, I think. Basically, he doesn't eat red meat at all as he believes (even back then) that the rate at which we eat red meat is ecologically and economically unsustainable. I still eat red meat, but it does make me consciously cut down.

On the other hand, I put this argument forward to some work colleagues a while ago. Their reaction was very interesting - they didn't at all feel the need to sacrifice their enjoyment of beef for the greater good, and their reaction to the argument my friend put forward was basically 'glad he can take one for the team so I can keep eating it'.

Attitudes like this make me realise that there's a particularly big role for Christians here in loving our neighbours - I thought that was a very useful point in your post.

Mister Tim said...

On the other hand, I like Andrew Denton's take on meat. See his comments here in answer to questions from Peter Singer.

Seumas Macdonald said...

Craig, I think your comment:

If you are truly considering giving up meat because of the grain and water issues, then to be consistent you need to also give up or at least cut down on bread and cereal products also.

is a non-sequitur.

Simply put, it sounds like a move to the all-or-nothing position: that if you are going to make a moral choice about consumption, you need to go the whole way. I take it that Byron's reasoning is that a step in the right direction is still a valid and good step, and not the less because of its size.

I think it's a difficulty we have with this kind of moral argument generally, and I encounter it alot. If it's good to be a vegetarian, for these kinds of reasons, then it's better to be a vegan. but just because something is 'better' doesn't make the alternatives 'wrong'. I think that's a bizarre kind of absolutism that would paralyse all our choices with the dilemma, 'if this isn't the best possible choice, then it's morally wrong'.

byron smith said...

Megan - Yes, it was actually the environmental issue that first got me thinking about it and I'd been meaning to post for a while when a friend sent me the link to the first article, which then shaped the post. Both issues are important, and as is so often the case, ecological and economic justice concerns are linked.

Andrew - yes, I meant to say that the economic story is by no means simple. Basically, I agree with your point, though I think that part of the problem is that in general we (particularly Australia) over-use our land, farming in marginal areas with more fragile ecosystems. As I said to Megan, this was the initial concern that got me thinking about this. So although my post implied a simple equation (we eat less = more for others) I am not advocating a simple exportation of our overproduction. The real longer term problem is that we export our lifestyle expectations. It is simply not the case that the whole world can live with first world assumptions about consumption. Therefore, we either dramatically reduce the population (how?), keep the two-thirds world in poverty, continue to destroy and degrade the living spaces of the planet, or reduce first-world over-consumption and learn to live thankfully and with contentment for God's gifts without grasping or greed.

Ben - Yep, that's the beauty of flexitarianism: eating meat is a gift and a joy. But an occasional luxury.

Craig - I take it that the Australian drop was taken into account by the World Bank statisticians. To clairfy, I am a big fan of grain and grain products. I was not intending to criticise all water use, simply to show that the production of meat takes many times more resources than the production of grain. If the CSIRO figures are better than the BBC ones (and I'd be inclined to go with the CSIRO), then the point is only underscored. As for giving up dairy, I have briefly considered this, but not looked into the figures. I'm guessing they are not as high as for meat production because you don't need to keep re-growing from scratch, though I could be wrong. In any case, as Seamus points out, I am not advocating ecological/social considerations as the only input into such decisions. All foods are wonderful gifts from God, though in his wisdom they are not all equally available.

The situation of malnutrition is more complex than us giving up food.
As I said above, I totally agree. There is only so much you can say in a few hundred words of a post. Nonetheless, the western lifestyle is a huge factor in many of the world's ecological problems.

EP - Yet there are financial implications for my neighbour on the other side (the farmer).
True, though I don't think I have an obligation to support every industry that exists, particularly if I think that long term it is not sustainable at present levels. I think it might be better for everyone long term if there were fewer cattle farmed in Australia (and worldwide, for that matter).

Tim - thanks for your story. Attitudes like this make me realise that there's a particularly big role for Christians here in loving our neighbours. Yes, this is one of the major tasks of the church: to demonstrate how a life of self-giving love is a joyful affirmation of what it means to be human, to fire the imagination with the possibility that the world might be larger than myself (larger, even, than humanity). As for Denton's comments, I basically agree, which is why I affirm the eating of meat as a gift of God, even if it is a post-lapsarian gift (Megan, remember, so are clothes - I hope you keep your abstinence there within certain bounds!).

Seamus - thanks for the clarification, and the link.

Megan said...

ah byron you must somehow know about my weakness for fashion. But 2 kids, a mortgage and both of us in the marriage in the helping professions keeps me well under control! I am inclined to think that perhaps prelapsarian clothes may have been just as or more beautiful but a lot more scanty ;)

Rachel said...

this has been very interesting to read Byron... i could rant about a story about us attempting to eat our pet chicken here last week (let's just say alex the 'bi' vegetarian enjoyed every mouth full while i was gagging at the sound of Jem (our chicken) being crunched on...) Living in a third world/ majority world country there is a fair bit of meat eating that goes on here but there is also a large amount of malnutrition... anyway to make it brief for various health/cultural resons we have forgone our vego status whilst living here and partake in fish eating and ocassioal pet chicken eating too....

Dave Lankshear said...

Hmmm, limit meat consumption because it consumes too much grain?

This raises a much larger question. A very crude ecological economy might see our lifestyle as a function of the earth's finite resources divided by the consumption per capita.

That is:

Resources / per capita consumption = lifestyle.

If our consumption of grain is so high that we are already considering rethinking how much meat we eat because of high grain consumption per capita of carnivores, then surely the follow on question is really how many "capita" can we add to this planet?

In Sydney we are facing an oil crisis, a water crisis, a housing affordability crisis, a pollution crisis, a public transport crisis, and education crisis, a health crisis, a roads and infrastructure crisis, a "surf rage" crisis due to over-crowded beaches, it's practically an "everything crisis".

So what do we do? Add another 50 thousand Sydney-ites per year. My dad remembers a public discussion when he first arrived in Australia over 40 years ago about how Warragamba Dam had secured Sydney's water infrastructure for the next 40 years, based on their population growth models, until the year 2000. Hello, we're at the year 2000. Do we have a water crisis, or a people crisis?

When does it get to the point where we discuss how many children to have? Or maybe that's too confronting and personal, and it's more of a national policy perspective.

Population policy does not have to be threatening "one child" Nazi policy like China's, but can be more about national population goals. Some families may have 4 or 5 kids if they choose, but that can easily balance out when the social policies are set "just so" to limit the majority choice. The "demographic transition" most first world nations go through is roughly what I am talking about... why are we messing with that by high immigration policy?

We are stealing the doctors and skilled workers from countries that cannot afford to lose them. A more compassionate policy might be to raise refugee intake, but limit overall immigration into Australia to attain a more sustainable population policy.

See SPA's policy.

byron smith said...

I've added a link to a 3rd article (which does discuss the Australian wheat harvest) to the post.

Craig Bennett said...

Hi Dave.

I don't think Sydney has to face a water problem. According to this page
Sydney has an area amounting 1,735 sq km.

Taking the historical annual rainfall of 382mm which equates to 1,735000 litres of water. Taking the population of Sydney to be 3,665000 it equates to 815,450 litres of rain per person which falls on Sydney.

Dave Lankshear said...

Except that you can't dam it, Sydney kind of gets in the way...

Craig Bennett said...

oops made a mistake. It should read 196,959 litres per person.

Dave you are right that we can't dam Sydney. Yet there are many things that can be done to collect much of that water.

Large size water tanks on every house. A house with a 200sq meter roof print will collect 76,400 litres of water if it rains 382mm. Take the current drop of the average and lower it even lower to 200mm annual rain. That still equates to 40,000 litres of water per year.

If we built purpose collection points with a pumping system to pump that water back to the dam or other purpose built dam/s around Sydney then much of that water can be collected and used.


On the dairy I was working on we fed the cows around 2 kg of wheat a day during winter which pushed the milk production up to around 17 litres milk per cow. In spring when we ran out of grain the cows dropped to about 9 -11 litres milk per cow when fed on pasture. We milked about 115 cows.

With grain there are various types of quality and types for various purposes and animals are fed the lower quality grain. Part of the explosion of prices also has to do with the price of fuel that increased its cartage. Mostly the middle man gains here as the farmer normally loses out.

The quality of the milk also is affected by pasture fed cows as the farmer struggles to supply enough protein to the animal as well as a percentage of dry matter. Wheat is basically 100% dry matter and so 2kg of wheat means about 2kg of energy to the cow. Where as 2 kg of grass actually might only provide 27% dry matter and so out of that feed it only gets about 500grams of dry matter or energy.

What the articles you have linked to have forgotten to mention is that normally animals are fed the grain that the millers refuse to accept as it doesn't meet the standards set by the food industry.

Farming in Australia is a complex business and the majority of Australian farmers use best practices. Few farms today rely on just one income stream and though there are some large feedlots the percentage of cattle that come from them is minimal - chickens/ turkeys are the exception and are normally a sole enterprise.

A successful grain farmer also needs to run sheep and cattle to maintain a effective enterprise. If the sales of meat/ wool dropped radically it would have the same effect on the amount of grain produced as the farmer needs the sale of stock to maintain a cash flow which enables them grow and harvest the wheat crop and grants them a hedge to survive through the tougher times.


My comment to Byron was not so much the morality of not eating meat, rather regarding the logic of it in regards to saving water and grain for those who don't have it.

I would be interested in reading any studies done that would show what would happen with our food if the world went vegetarian. I think there would be more starvation and malnutrition in the world then what there is currently.

BTW its interesting that this topic has come up as I'm in the process of setting up a backyard fishery and have about 1/2 the materials I need for the project. If any one has a 500 - 2000 litre tub - swimming pool / pond they don't want I will gladly take it. You can read more about it here.


I believe that every home should have a veggie garden of some description and run some chickens.

Our backyard is 20*17metres and we have consistently grown our own veggies along with some fruit to supplement our groceries. This year we are running some chickens which we have not been able to do before due to work restrictions with our sons.

Up till now we have only been able to supplement our groceries with what we grow. We do want to leave some play area for the kids. I believe that with the fishery in place we would be able to produce the majority of our household needs. Which if I'm right will leave us with enough money to pay for a solar electrical system for the house.

Byron. I'm interested in why you think it would be better for Australia if less meat was produced?

Dave Lankshear said...

Byron. I'm interested in why you think it would be better for Australia if less meat was produced?

I'll take a stab at that from a "feeding the world" perspective. Strong trade ties and interdependencies with other countries probably means they are less likely to attack their "bread basket" trading partner — as long as we trade fairly. It's one of those geopolitical and security matters. So in a world that looks like it is increasingly under food threat, shouldn't we maximise the food energy we can export to other countries? The top food producers are China, India, and America at 20%. Australia only produces just under 1% of world food, and so that's just about 60 million people.

So I'm guessing that less meat = more people fed?

Just one thing: if we can grow grass on marginal land that doesn't support crops, surely that's an OK place to raise cattle for a year until the last 6 to 8 weeks when we "beef them up" on grain? Then the livestock are not feed grain their whole lives, and there's at least some meat on the market.

My main concern is that ecosystems are dying. To quote Professor Heinberg from The 11th hour (yes, that Lionardo Dicaprio documentary), "There are too many of us using too many resources too fast".

Lastly, I love meat. I understand some people can't really do vegetarian because although the iron is in some veggies, they can't metabolise it. I knew a vegetarian who was ORDERED by her doctor to eat red meat at least twice a week because she simply couldn't absorb the goodies she needed to from the veggies, and I think she was doing everything right as far as getting the right veggies.

There are some new ideas in farming, especially this one. Check out the vertical farming tower. Construction post-peak oil will be interesting, and will depend largely on how quickly alternative mining and building infrastructures can be rejigged to electricity and whatever limited liquid fuels are around, but this new farming method really gives me some hope. It might need to be subsidised, but food security for each local government council is worth it isn't it?

Maybe I'm a bit too optimistic about what can be achieved on renewable energy. I know many peak oil experts that would just laugh at this vertical farming idea... but it sounds so good right now. Just pan down the home page and read the bullet-form list of benefits, including each acre of vertical farm being worth about 4 to 30 acres of traditional farm, depending on the product. (Because the lights are on all night and it is perfectly climate controlled).

It also recycles sewerage and all the local biowaste for 50 thousand residents, and then supplies them with a little energy but mainly with food security! Check it out... suspend disbelief until one has read that list.

byron smith said...

Dave - as I said, I am not advocating zero meat, simply that we return to how meat has been seen by the most people through most of history: an occasional luxury rather than a staple.

Craig - water is another whole issue. I agree that Sydney ought not to have water issues if properly managed (though retro-fitting somewhere around a million buildings in Sydney with water tanks is going to cost a bit, I'm guessing - and roofs only account for a fraction of the 1735 sq km you mentioned).

Dave & Craig - When I spoke of reducing Australia's meat (esp. cattle & sheep) production I didn't have geopolitical stability so much in mind as soil stability. Although (in my very limited knowledge) things have improved somewhat in recent years, much of Australia has been overstocked for many years and our soils are on average amongst the most fragile in the world. I am not ruling out all animal production, nor discouraging creative methods of finding synergies rather than monoculture, but simply recognizing that, on average, meat has a heavier footprint (in terms of carbon, water, energy and soil degradation) than crops. Not all meat is equally "heavy". Not all crops are equally "light". Not all farming methods are equivalent. Not all countries have equivalent legislation regarding land use and ownership. Nonetheless, the rapidly rising global taste for meat places more demands on the entire global agricultural system at a time when there are (as Dave points out) more mouths to feed than ever before. As he says, ecosystems are dying. This is a major issue for all humanity.

Megan - prelapsarian clothes?

Rachel - What are your reasons for being vego (when possible)?

Megan said...

haha everyone else being serious and I'm off on a tangent. I was being entirely speculative - now, meat for food is necessarily post fall because it presupposes a state of enmity, and also I think a situation in which circumstances are difficult (cursed ground and social inequity) and thus a food source of higher energy and nutrient concentration may be needed at times. But clothes now - they aren't just about nakedness but also about providing warmth, protection and decoration. Warmth and protection are debatable as pre fall needs, but my feeling is in due course clothing which was purely decorative in function may have arisen pre fall as creativity existed. I do not see decoration as a post fall thing (hence the gorgeous decorativeness of the New Jerusalem). I have really gone off topic here..........

Dave Lankshear said...

I wonder if the idea of meat really does suppose enmity? Do we sometimes suffer from a somewhat "Pollyanna" view of Eden? Carnivores starve without meat. Biologists tell me they lack the stomach size necessary to process enough nutrients from vegetation.

We are omnivores, and may have been so for a very, very long time — before we were recognisably "human".

One of Freedom said...

I'm still struggling with this one. We decided to buy organic free-range meat. And we also decided to try for one meatless day a week (not that successful yet). I have two big frustrations. First I love meat more than vegies. Although I had a kickass vegan gumbo the other day! But worse, cause it isn't just about my selfish wants - my oldest will hardly touch veggies without much painful coersion. I really can't just see her eat grains (she dislikes potatoes too!) and that is complicated as my wife and other daughter have celiac. So she would eat nothing but rice and a selection of fruits.

Dave Lankshear said...

Hi "One",
is celiac's more common these days? You raise some great questions, and here's the thing. The Chinese love eating meat as well. The NYT "Grains gone wild" article rates the grain price pressures as Chinese first, high oil prices second, and ethanol third.

If we stopped producing ethanol that would free up a lot more grain. But it seems we really are approaching all sorts of limits.

byron smith said...

Megan - point taken and I'm inclined to think you're onto something (though the temptation to spend too much on clothes has never been a major issue for me in my garment ignorance).

Frank (= OoF) - Thanks for sharing your experience. Certainly, some people will need to eat more meat than others (as Dave also pointed out), and I don't think this is a problem. Also, tastes can change (I can testify to that - as a kid, I was a very fussy eater) and there are more delicious vegetarian meals to be discovered (or you could try simply smaller serves of meat).

In general, I'm talking about patterns of use across societies, rather than setting up laws for individuals (hence my next post on individualism, actually). This is an area of ethical reflection in which I feel we have a shortage of imaginative resources through individualist assumptions. I know you're familiar with this concept, but it seems to be a common hurdle in facing ecological issues: that there are certain good activities (eating meat, air travel, coal-fired power) that are only a 'problem' when we (collectively) enjoy too much of a good thing. This is usually called the Tragedy of the Commons.

Craig Bennett said...

One thing I think we will regret in years to come is that we have turned terrific grazing / farmland into housing estates instead of using poorer land for such use.

Take the latest housing development through Hoxton Park. Thousands of hectares of good prime farmland that would support many head of cattle to the Ha compared to elsewhere, not to mention it cropping ability. The same is happening down the south coast.

One of the issues that I have only thought of that is misleading about the amount of water and grain needed to produce meat is that it is not a true calculation of the animals total worth. The hides are used for leather, the bones and offal for fertilizer - which is much better than petrol based fertilizers.

I agree there is a moral issue regarding the treatment of animals. But if we are talking about cheap food then some forms of intensive farming are a must have...such as battery chickens and lot fed cattle and pigs...and when it comes to eating fish...well I doubt if there could be a more barbaric way that happens behind the scenes to put fish on the table.

There is another issue that has not been raised regarding the starvation of others. Its the polity of what is happening in those countries which is causing or behind the starvation.
In India there is the caste system as well as there being huge numbers of cattle that could be fed to hungry yet are regarded as gods and not allowed to be eaten. Many children die weekly in front of a rat temple where hundreds of tonnes of grain if not thousands are fed to rats and mice on a yearly basis.

In many parts of Africa it is the tribal system where one dominates the other which means one starves while the other feasts - and not to mention corruption and local superstitious customs.

I'm a little worried Byron that your publicized reasoning for deciding to eat less red meat is more to sooth your conscience by flagellating yourself . How ever perhaps a better action could be would be to say the money I would normally spend on meat I will give to a mission, sponsor a child or to another worthy cause which will have a more practical result.

Craig Bennett said...

I have just re-read my last post and thought my last paragraph could sound a little overly combative. My apologies if so as it was not my intent.

byron smith said...

One thing I think we will regret in years to come is that we have turned terrific grazing / farmland into housing estates instead of using poorer land for such use.
I entirely agree. Nearly all the world's best farming land is not used for farming, since if it is good for farming, then it often ends up becoming the focus of a city that swallows the land that first led to the area being settled.

It's also true that animals are used for more than meat products. And there are massive systemic forms of oppression (BTW, if we are concerned about economic exploitation and systematic oppression we ought not to look only at the systems within countries, but also the relations between countries, but that's another story). As I have said and will continue to say, I am not advocating zero animals in agriculture, nor that this is a universal solution, I am simply saying that a reduction in our consumption would be a good thing. One area of consumption that could be reduced (amongst many others) is our constant feast of meat.

if we are talking about cheap food then some forms of intensive farming are a must have
Is the inhumane treatment of animals really necessary for human survival? I would contend that only a society which assumes the ubiquitous consumption of meat "needs" to treat animals this way.

I'm a little worried Byron that your publicized reasoning for deciding to eat less red meat is more to sooth your conscience by flagellating yourself
I don't think I mentioned conscience. The motivation I put forward was love. The reduction of my consumption is neither a guilt-ridden attempt at atonement, nor merely a way of saving money to perform other acts of love (as worthwhile as they may be). I take it that repenting of greed and overconsumption (both endemic in Western societies) is already itself a genuine form of love.

Craig - Thanks for continuing to push back on this topic. I am benefitting from your input and experience as a farmer (my own experience extends to the compulsory study of Agriculture up to HSC level during high school). I accept your apology and your good intentions.

Craig Bennett said...

Is the inhumane treatment of animals really necessary for human survival? I would contend that only a society which assumes the ubiquitous consumption of meat "needs" to treat animals this way.

I don't agree with any inhumane treatment of any animal.

Though sometimes treatment may seem inhumane though in reality is humane in that it is better for the animal - take mulesling of sheep for an example. One only has to see one sheep that is flyblown and gangrenous to understand its necessity. It would be the same as in times gone by when people have had to undergo surgery or amputation without anesthetic for a chance to survive...

I personally don't like the way chickens are normally farmed for meat and eggs. It is interesting though that the chickens that are bred for those cages actually suffer from agrophobia and many will die if they are let out into larger spaces. The same happened with an organic pig farmer in NSW - they had to buy a special breed of pig that could handle wide open spaces.

Then again I find it hard to live in the city and in a flat and know others who hate to live in the bush or in a suburban house with a bit of a backyard.

I do know of cases of cruelty which resulted in some sackings. There was a time about 20 years ago when the farm I worked on bought a few loads of chicken manure and there was about 12 live chickens dumped with the load and a few dead ones. This is totally not on in my books and the boss wasn't too happy about it either.

I worked once on a cattle lot feed in Cobbitty which has since been subdivided. The cattle were well treated and had plenty of space to move and graze as well. Cattle that are not looked after stress out resulting in poor prices and normally are looked after very well. The same goes with intensive pig farming...which I had the pleasure of working on one for a few weeks...and it was the worse job I have ever had.

My reference to the economics was that there is a huge difference between the prices of organic meat, chicken, pig, beef, lamb and non organic and the same with eggs. We have the choice to vote with our pocket in the way we would like to see our animals treated - buy the cheaper eggs and chicken - or pay premium prices for organic.

I take it that repenting of greed and overconsumption (both endemic in Western societies) is already itself a genuine form of love.

I think it could be, but may not be. Take the huge consumption of TV's, home theatre's. Most are made overseas in china or other places. Our so called greed is actually providing jobs for those who need work...and also creates jobs for those who sell the product to the consumer.

In Australia if a car factory shuts down as bad as it is, the workers can normally find other employment easily and if not we have a generous government that supports the unemployed. But overseas they don't have that luxury of employment options like we do.

I say this hesitantly because I acknowledge there is a level of bastardry to do with employee entitlements and treatment in those countries. Which raises more moral questions.

The questions we must ask ourselves is whether our actions are really actions that produce the fruit of love or are they actions that we think are loving yet cause more problems and harm?

Take animal freedom activists who set intensive farm animals free...only for them to have to be put down because of stress. Tail docking of some breeds of dogs banned which results in injury and infection to the dog. Their actions are normally driven by love, but the result is not a fruit of love.

This question needs to be asked of your self Byron. Where for instance do you buy your meat. From the local butcher or supermarket? If from the local butcher then most likely the meat has come locally from around the Sydney region. If through a supermarket chain then most likely further out. Normally though the supermarkets carry cheaper cuts of meat (except Woolworths fresh - which own or have shares in their own lotfeeds) Coles & Bi Lo for instance. You will find the cheaper cuts of meat have come from drought affected farmers who have had to sell of a lot of stock including their breeding stock and because of the lack of grain the meat is a bit inferior to premium cuts.

If a large number of people stop buying that meat, then the result will mean more hardship for the farmer who will receive lower prices which could result in the farmer being forced of the land...which then contributes to the world wide shortage of food. Remember I said before that a lot of grain growers are mixed farmers who rely on meat and wool to sustain them through times when grain growing is not an option.

Thanks for continuing to push back on this topic. I am benefitting from your input and experience as a farmer

The same goes for me, it is forcing me to think through issues which I have not thought through before and or have forgotten.

Dave Lankshear said...

Sometimes the hippies get together and actually make things work.

From a Worldchanging article:

In the late ‘80s I sat down with some dairy farmers in Western Wisconsin. There was a real break-down; In the 1980s farmers were going out of business even worse that today. And they wanted to organize a dairy cooperative. And I though, oh how sweet, this is really going to help some farmers in Western Wisconsin. And now, of course, this is Organic Valley , with more than 1,200 farms and $400 million in sales and still democratically run.

Check it out.

Jason Reid said...

Did you see the leader from the latest print edition from the Economist on the food crisis?

But there's no way I'm in a rush to become a vegetarian.


One of Freedom said...

Dave, regarding celiac. I think the reality is people are more aware of celiac. Still the majority of celiac sufferers have no awareness. The real definitive test involves an invasive intestinal scrape. I think doctors are hesitant to suggest that. There is a blood test, but it isn't that accurate. The thing with a disease like celiac is that you can put up with the symptoms while internally it destroys your liver.

Adrian said...

What is the meat versus "other" content in those sausages in your photo? :)

(In 2nd year Biochemistry, sausages were explicitly excluded from the "high" protein diet when we did "high" versus "low" protein experiments)

byron smith said...

I realise I am over a year late in replying here, but I am not sure why I didn't see these replies earlier. My apologies.

Craig - For the record, I rarely buy meat. I generally eat it when it is served to me by others. When we do buy meat, it is sometimes from supermarkets (though I hate how they have all those open fridges - that is another kind of stupid overconsumption) and sometimes from butchers. When I do, I try to buy organic and non-factory farm. (You mentioned earlier the other useful animal products such as manure - one of the really silly things about factory farming is that the valuable manure is often just pumped out into a river).

Regarding the purchasing of luxury goods from China, as I said earlier, I don't think we have any obligation to keep unsustainable businesses going. There is no real human good that is achieved by having three rather than two TVs, or by throwing out the "old" 21 inch screen for the new 23 inch screen. Or rather, these goods are so marginal when compared with the ecological cost of production, transportation and waste that the bloated size of this market is a testimony to human wastefulness. I am not saying that TV is a bad thing, or that economic production is evil. Nor am I saying that it is bad thing that Chinese workers gain some benefit from these purchases. I am saying that a society based on the excessive consumption of luxury goods has lost touch with reality. Only a society with a massive supply of cheap energy could pour so much effort into items of such marginal use.

Adrian - that is hilarious!

byron smith said...

New report on impacts from livestock.

byron smith said...

Why does a salad cost more than a Big Mac?

byron smith said...

UN report says that "A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change".

byron smith said...

Was speculation the main cause behind the food riots?

byron smith said...

Another article of stats and figures. One or two points are oversimplified (e.g. relation of oil and food price spikes in 2007/8), but then, it is popular media.

byron smith said...

Guardian: Vegetarianism in Arab culture.

byron smith said...

The other white meat: how to eat meat and cut your emissions.

byron smith said...

The Meat Eater's Guide to the impact of different meats. A helpful comparison that points out that not all meats are created equal.

byron smith said...

SMH: New study links high red meat consumption with higher mortality rate.

byron smith said...

Here is the original study mentioned in the previous post.

byron smith said...

Climate Central: To reduce warming, eat less meat. A new study focuses on the nitrous oxide contribution of meat production.

byron smith said...

The Conversation: The hidden costs of vegetarian diets apply just as much or more to most meat-eating ones.

byron smith said...

The Conversation: Soy vs dairy. Footprints compared.

byron smith said...

Grist: How to eat meat ethically - Eat aliens. Alien invasive species, that is.

byron smith said...

Guardian: Eating meat harms us all.

"Vegans aren't gobbling up all the soybeans – cattle are. A staggering 97% of the world's soya crop is fed to livestock. It would take 40m tonnes of food to eliminate the most extreme cases of world hunger, yet nearly 20 times that amount of grain – a whopping 760m tonnes – is fed to farmed animals every year in order to produce meat. The world's cattle alone consume enough food to sustain nine billion people, which is what the world's human population is projected to be by 2050." [...]

"Enough food for a vegan can be produced on just one-sixth of an acre of land, while it takes 3¼ acres of land to produce sufficient food for a meat eater. Vegfam, which funds sustainable plant food projects, estimates that a 10-acre farm can support 60 people by growing soybeans, 24 people by growing wheat or 10 people by growing maize – but only two by raising cattle."

byron smith said...

Guardian: Implications of the horse meat scandal.

"But the horsemeat scandal is probably the first big story that joins the two elements together. Ever-rising food costs are what pushed retailers and manufacturers to source questionable meat, so as to keep prices low. Costs are going up partly because of increasing worldwide meat consumption, particularly in China and India, which pushes up the price not just of meat, but the foodstuffs used for livestock. The worldwide meat economy, then, is looking increasingly unaffordable – both financially and environmentally. And the upshot is obvious enough: if the world is going to eat ever-increasing quantities of meat, a lot of it will originate in places where rules are not respected, where animals are routinely brutalised and where what exactly is in those frozen blocks of mush is anyone's guess."

byron smith said...

Guardian: Go demitarian. Half as much meat.