Living on the Earth, January 3, 1997: Let's Eat Less Meat
Twenty-five years ago, Francis Moore Lappe's groundbreaking book, Diet for a
Small Planet, made the connection between how we eat and critical environmental,
social and political issues around the world.
In her book, the amount of grain that an animal must eat to produce a pound of
meat was juxtaposed with the food value of that grain if eaten directly by
humans. Ms. Lappe introduced many of us to the idea of complementary proteins:
how grains and beans eaten together provide complete protein which neither food
has by itself. Using the recipes in the book, we learned how to make delicious
foods influenced by cultures around the world. We also learned a lot about basic
nutrition from Diet for a Small Planet which affects how we eat to this day.
Decades ago, Ms. Lappe made a very persuasive case for eating less meat and
fewer animal products on many fronts. These included the social and
environmental effects of large-scale animal agriculture here and in Third-World
countries, and the increased concentrations of pesticides in animal products.
Her case has been strengthened since then, as we've learned more about the
negative effects of large-scale animal agriculture on the Earth and of excess
animal fat on humans.
Animal agriculture has gotten larger and more concentrated. Just a handful of
companies raise, slaughter and market much of the meat sold in this country.
The problems with wastes from these large facilities, and with power and
corruption in the meat industry just keep getting worse. A recent 60-Minutes
report on North Carolina's hog industry only began to touch on the problems
caused by the abuses of animal agribusiness.
Now, industrial "farmers" feed genetically-engineered grains to
genetically-modified animals who are so stressed by their environment that they
require regular medication just to stay alive.
And, in twenty-plus years, we've learned more about the role of animal fats in
promoting heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. Saturated fats are
especially damaging when combined with sedentary lifestyles and the lack of
whole, plant foods in our diets.
The way of eating Ms. Lappe proposed mirrors the way most of the world's people
eat. It is even closer to what nutritionists and doctors now recommend. For
good health, we should consume lots of whole grains, legumes, vegetables and
fruits- all of which are full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. If much of this
food is produced locally using organic methods, we come as close as we can get
to an ecological, sustainable and nutritious food system.
A few years back, a new and eloquent voice, John Robbins, reinforced the
argument for eating less meat. In his best-selling book Diet for a New America,
he compassionately renews and strengthens our knowledge of the effects of how we
eat on ourselves and the rest of the world. Once again, eating less meat and
fewer animal products is shown to be personally and globally beneficial.
Mr. Robbins' organization, EarthSave, is "dedicated to educating people about
the powerful effects that our food choices have on our health, the environment,
world hunger and all life on Earth. [The organization and its members] encourage
and support people in moving toward a plant-based diet."
EarthSave chapters on Long Island and in Connecticut hold monthly
plant-based potluck dinners in Melville and North Branford, respectively. They
also present speakers, visit vegetarian restaurants and publish newsletters.
The Long Island chapter has a Healthy School Lunch Program. Its January 25th
dinner in Melville features the director of the Holistic Nursing Network
speaking on "Creating Positive Changes." The Connecticut chapter's regular
dinner is held on the second Wednesday of each month in
North Branford. To contact EarthSave Long Island, call (516) 421-3791. For
Connecticut EarthSave, call (203) 985-1135.
There is little that is more useful to personal and planetary health than
learning more about the effects of our individual food choices. Sharing a
vegetarian meal, and information about food, with others is one of the best ways
to create positive changes in the New Year.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1996, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box `135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Dear Marjorie, Nat, and all other animal agriculture defenders on Sanet-mg.
"It is also important for the general public to realize the
connection between animal agriculture (I mean that in the very best sense) and
the meat on their table (or the leather in their shoes, or the sheepskin seat
covers in their luxury automobile)."
I don't think I would farm without animals, but I wouldn't raise animals without
crops. There are certainly many ways that animals *can* be integreated in
ecological agriculture. However the reality today is that the meat people buy in
fast food restaurants and supermarkets mostly comes from confinement facilities
aimed at producing the most meat for the lowest price by taking advantage of all
possible subisdies for grains, energy, extension consultation, large scale and
environmental cleanup. The government foists as much of this meat as possible
onto the plates of school children and others in order to support a meat
industry dominated by enormous animals facilities which are destructive of more
appropriate-scale farms and farmers. The fast-growing pet-feeding industry has
arisen to deal with the by-products of killing so many animals.
My air time for these radio essays is limited. My audience in Southern
Connecticut and Long Island is more likely to be able to make a change by
eating less meat than by raising a few animals (chickens, rabbits, pigs, etc.)
themselves (I'm working on that too, but not in this piece).
There is a severe discordance between the image (animal agriculture in the best
sense or Old McDonald's Farm neatly trimmed with white fences, for example) and
the rapidly evolving reality of Tyson, Cargill, ConAgra, IBP,DiCoster Royal
Dutch Shell (yes, besides the damage it does in Nigeria and elsewhere, Shell is
raising turkeys in Canada), etc.
It is especially upsetting to see government ag people who should know this
reality (and work in a system which helps advance it) defending the disappearing
reality of sensible animal agriculture - weeding geese, composting pigs and
chickens, pasture-improving cows and sheep, land-clearing goats, and working
horses, for example.
Some of us (country vegetarians) find that by eating only meat that we or a
farmer we know raises, we eat less but some meat and at the same time work
toward a sensible animal agriculture.
This fall I've been raising animals (pigs, goat, sheep, turkeys, chickens and
rabbits.) with teen-age students from a special education school.The turkeys,
several chickens and the pigs were slaughtered for food which fed the students
and their families at Thanksgioving and Christmas. There are critical issues in
our use of animals which most of the population is ignorant of because they buy
plastic-packaged nuggets and filets and never confront the reality of an
animal's death to provide food for them. The students have various, mostly
healthy reactions. Some eat these animals with relish and respect and others
choose not to eat them at all.