The Vegan Solution

October 15, 2009

A Call to Environmentalists

vegan-evolution-environment

No matter how strong the current opposition, it will soon have to be accepted that the vegan solution is our hope for the future, as it contains the power to address, all at once, the many different yet interconnected issues – from the environmental devastation we are causing, to the global pandemic of violence. These crises are crippling our civilization and threaten not only our survival, but the survival of the many other species that populate the planet.

Read more…

May 6, 2009

Eating Our Planet to Death?

eating1

I recently discovered a fantastic article called Vegetarian Is The New Prius, written by Kathy Freston, author of Quantum Wellness. Some may remember Kathy Freston from her appearances on Oprah and Ellen, where she made a substantial impact on the lives of both of these women. After interviewing Kathy on her Soul Series, Oprah was so moved by what she read in Quantum Wellness that she embarked on a 21-day cleanse diet, cutting out all animal products, alcohol, caffeine, refined sugars and gluten.

What moved Oprah to make such a radical shift in diet (albeit temporarily) was Freston’s way of explaining what it means to eat “consciously.” In her blog, Oprah described how deeply affected she was by Kathy’s descriptions of the harm we do to animals used for food. But the article I just read is not about animal welfare or the conditions under which farmed animals suffer at the hands of humans. It focuses instead on the 2007 UN report about the environmental impact of animal farming, and her short article makes a powerful case for the ecological imperative of transitioning towards a plant-based diet:

In 2007, the United Nations published a report on livestock and the environment with a stunning conclusion: ‘The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.’ It turns out that raising animals for food is a primary cause of land degradation, air pollution, water shortage, water pollution, loss of biodiversity, and not least of all, global warming.

According to the UN report, almost a fifth of global warming emissions come from livestock, which equals more emissions than come from all of the world’s transportation combined.

To someone who hasn’t heard these statistics before, it could be hard to imagine how this is true, until you become aware of the vast scale of the animal industry.

The United States alone slaughters more than 10 billion land animals every year… . Land animals raised for food make up a staggering 20% of the entire land animal biomass of the earth. We are eating our planet to death.

Then there is the fact that feeding animals for meat, dairy, and eggs requires around ten times as much grain as we’d need to feed the population a plant-based diet. When you add the environmental cost of transportation and refrigeration, it turns out that a calorie of meat protein requires ten times as much in the way of fossil fuels as a calorie of plant protein. On top of that, the production of that same calorie of protein releases more than ten times as much carbon dioxide.

The researchers found that, when it’s all added up, the average American does more to reduce global warming emissions by going vegetarian than by switching to a Prius.

Kathy Freston goes on to discuss the vast quantities of land required for animal farming.

Animal agriculture takes up an incredible 70% of all agricultural land, and 30% of the total land surface of the planet. As a result, farmed animals are probably the biggest cause of slashing and burning the world’s forests. Today, 70% of former Amazon rainforest is used for pastureland, and feed crops cover much of the remainder.

As the forests of the planet are designed to absorb carbon dioxide from the air, burning them not only destroys the very systems that are designed to process all the gases we are producing, but it also releases all the stored carbon dioxide, “in quantities that exceed by far the fossil fuel emission of animal agriculture.”

And of course, most people are aware now that as well as carbon dioxide, there are other greenhouse gases that are produced in large quantities by huge herds of farmed animals. According to Freston’s article, methane and nitrous oxide have “23 and 296 times the warming power of carbon dioxide, respectively… while animal agriculture accounts for 9% of our carbon dioxide emissions, it emits 37% of our methane, and a whopping 65% of our nitrous oxide.”

She goes on to explain how farming food animals is also one of the biggest causes of some of our other global environmental problems:

Animal agriculture accounts for most of the water consumed in this country, emits two-thirds of the world’s acid-rain-causing ammonia, and is the world’s largest source of water pollution–killing entire river and marine ecosystems, destroying coral reefs, and of course, making people sick.

All of these statistics seem to add up to one profound conclusion: We simply cannot go on like this. The ethical question of vegetarianism in regard to the animals who are the innocent victims of our eating habits has been debated for centuries, leading to a growing population of ethical vegetarians and vegans. Now there are other issues to be considered, issues which are extremely time-sensitive when it comes to the future of our planet and the human population.

It seems that we have created a situation for ourselves where, if we want to turn this global catastrophe around, we simply must re-examine our old ways of thinking, and the biggest thing we need to address is the way we eat. Fortunately, in today’s society, the options are plentiful, information is readily accessible and the choice is easier than it has ever been.

Originally published on Care2

As We Soy, So Shall We Reap

soy

I’m beginning to notice a recurring theme in the discussion thread of my last two posts. It appears that some readers are under the impression that plant-based diets are less environmentally-friendly because of the perceived vegetarian/vegan reliance on soy products.

There seems to be a growing movement, promoted by environmentalists themselves, that is against vegan diets, for reasons of environmental sustainability. This trend is encouraged by the strange idea being promoted that vast quantities of soy are required to produce foods for the vegetarian population. In other words, the impression is being created that it is tofu, soy milk and fake meats that are destroying the planet, not animal foods. This scenario paints vegans as being perpetrators of the massive environmental devastation that is, indeed, occurring worldwide as a result of the growing demand for soy.

When examined just a little more closely, it becomes clear that this theory is quite ludicrous. There is no way that the current population of vegetarians and vegans could possibly create such demand for soy. In fact, the disturbing reality that is being revealed about the ecological destruction caused by commercial soy sounds more like something one would associate with… well… the animal industry. The emergence of vast monocultures that are destroying huge tracts of Amazon forest, catastrophic depletion of water and other resources, colossal pesticide usage, enormous reliance on genetic engineering… It sounds like yet another illustration of the callous disregard for the future of our planet for which the animal industry has become infamous.

Feeding cattle and other livestock is the number one use of soy worldwide, and it outweighs the other uses of soy by a long shot.

According to http://www.soyatech.com:

“About 85 percent of the world’s soybean crop is processed into meal and vegetable oil, and virtually all of that meal is used in animal feed.  Some two percent of the soybean meal is further processed into soy flours and proteins for food use… Approximately six percent of soybeans are used directly as human food, mostly in Asia.”

Of the small percentage of soy being used to feed people, don’t be fooled into believing that the majority of it is used to make meat or milk substitutes to feed vegans and vegetarians. As pointed out by Mary Vance, in The Dark Side of Soy,

“Soy is everywhere in our food supply, as the star in cereals and health-promoting foods and hidden in processed foods. Even if you read every label and avoid cardboard boxes, you are likely to find soy in your supplements and vitamins (look out for vitamin E derived from soy oil), in foods such as canned tuna, soups, sauces, breads, meats (injected under poultry skin), and chocolate, and in pet food and body-care products.”

According to Vance, the reason for the ubiquitous presence of soy is simple:

“These days the industry has discovered ways to use every part of the bean for profit. Soy oil has become the base for most vegetable oils; soy lecithin, the waste product left over after the soybean is processed, is used as an emulsifier; soy flour appears in baked and packaged goods; different forms of processed soy protein are added to everything from animal feed to muscle-building protein powders.”

Soy is grown in vast monocultures, causing massive environmental degradation, wasting huge quantities of water, and destroying wild lands.

From a 2009 article, More Soy, Less Forest – and No Water:

“According to the National Directorate of Forests, Argentina is experiencing the most intense deforestation in its history due to the replacement of forests with soy plantations, and Córdoba is the province where the most devastating environmental damage has occurred.

“Over the past decade, as the output of soy rose steadily, the province lost an average of three percent of its native forests annually. Of the 10 million hectares of forests found in Córdoba a century ago, only 12 percent are left.

“The worst destruction has been seen in the hills and mountains in the region, where only two percent of the native forest cover has survived.”

Naturally, as the forest cover is destroyed in these areas, the rain water, once absorbed by the forested mountains and released throughout the year, now simply pours down the sides of the mountains.

“In the mountainous region known as the Sierras Chicas, where several large towns and small cities are located, water shortages have led to water cuts in the last few months. The La Quebrada dam, which supplies the entire area, is at present only able to meet half of the current level of demand.”

“But Córdoba, Salta and Santiago del Estero are just three of the seven Argentine provinces where the destruction of native forests ‘is most intense’, says a report by the National Directorate of Forests, which warns that around 200,000 hectares of forests are being irrevocably lost every year.”

As if this wasn’t bad enough, soy is also one of the crops most commonly produced using genetic modification, which is of serious concern in regards to both health and environmental issues.

According to Grist.org:

“As of 2004, 85 percent of the U.S. soy crop was genetically modified, accounting for some 63.6 million acres of soybeans. Statistics for 2003 indicate that at least 55 percent of soy worldwide is now genetically modified.”

According to another source,

“In 1997, about 8% of all soybeans cultivated for the commercial market in the United States were genetically modified. In 2006, the figure was 89%”

Grist.org goes on to state:

“Some would like us to believe that … ‘herbicide-tolerant’ soy has led to less need for the herbicide. This is not the case. The use of Roundup and other pesticides and herbicides on genetically modified crops in the U.S. from 2001 through 2003 increased by tens of millions of pounds compared to non-GM conventional agriculture.”

This is bad enough on an environmental level, but what about the health effects of eating foods that are contaminated with genetically modified organisms? For those who are concerned about consuming genetically engineered foods, it would be worth giving some thought to the fact that when these GM soybeans are fed to animals, they end up being eaten by humans, through the animals’ flesh, eggs and milk. What’s even worse, is that once the beans are eaten by animals, there is no way to test for the presence of the GMOs.

According to www.gmo-compass.org:

“Despite methods that are becoming more and more sensitive, tests have not yet been able to establish a difference in the meat, milk, or eggs of animals depending on the type of feed they are fed. It is impossible to tell if an animal was fed GM soy just by looking at the resulting meat, dairy, or egg products.”

Genetic engineering is a common concern for those who are considering giving up animal products in favor of vegetarian options. With the prevalent misconception that vegetarian diets are necessarily high in soy products, many concerned consumers question whether a vegetarian diet leaves the individual more exposed to genetically engineered ingredients. But companies that make products aimed at consumers who are concerned about food issues (like vegans and vegetarians) tend to market their products accordingly. Vegetarian and vegan products are frequently labeled as being produced using non-GMO soybeans. For that reason, it is far easier to avoid GM soy in products such as soy milk, tofu, and meat analogs, than it is to avoid GM soy in the flesh, eggs or milk of an animal.

As a final point, for those who are under the impression that the answer is to avoid beef, and switch instead to poultry products, consider this from the North Carolina Soybean Producers Association:

“Over half of the soybeans processed for livestock feed are fed to poultry, about one-quarter is fed to swine, and the rest is used for beef cattle, dairy cattle and petfood.”

Once again, examined from yet another angle, vegan options win out as being more environmentally sustainable. One way or another, the information about the environmental impacts of animal ‘agriculture’ will have to become known. The world stands at a turning point, where we simply can not go on as if our old ways can continue to sustain us. As environmentalist John Grant states in The Green Marketing Manifesto, “our lifestyles need to change beyond recognition.” (Emphasis in original).

The vegan ideal is so clearly an evolution from where we are today. There is no way that its benefits can be reasonably refuted from any angle, because vegan represents a step forward, a step into a way of living that is more suited to the nature of people who care about the suffering of others, and who can empathize with another’s pain.

For those of us who want to secure a future for our species, and perhaps for the planet itself, it is time that we joined together and put our efforts behind the changes that will make the difference we need. Vegan stands at the forefront of this movement for change.

If we want to move forward into a new society, a culture of sustainability that leaves behind the destruction that humanity has wrought on the planet, we must be willing to change ourselves, our ways of thinking, and the ways in which we live, including our eating habits.

This quantum leap may seem unlikely from the perspective we hold today, but it is within this very change that our hope for the future lies. There is nothing hopeful about looking ahead to a future where we are not vastly different from whom we are today. The evolution of our species hangs in the balance. If we are to have a future, the people who inhabit it will not be addicted to the products of exploitation, suffering and environmental destruction. They will not source their food from feedlots, factory farms or slaughterhouses. The people of this future will be kind, compassionate, gentle and just. And yes, however controversial it may be to say so, there is no doubt in my mind that the people of the future will be vegan.

Originally published on Care2

Free-Range Is Not the Answer

grass

After my last post, The Vegan Solution, there were several comments by readers indicating that ‘grass-fed’ or ‘pasture-raised’ beef was considered a viable solution to the problems of intensive animal farming. For various reasons, it seemed to me that free-range farming couldn’t provide a realistic solution to the many issues associated with the animal-based diet, including the well-documented environmental devastation that is beginning to be brought into the view of the general public.

There is significant evidence that the environmental destruction which occurs as a result of the wide-spread grazing of cattle, is much worse than the free-range PR leads us to believe. Grazing cattle pollutes water, erodes topsoil, kills fish, displaces wildlife, and destroys vegetation, more so than any other land use.1

In recent years, grazing animals have all but disappeared from sight on the landscape. This has occurred as a result of modern ‘agricultural’ practices that include intensive confinement of animals in factory farms that have become the focus of much criticism from advocates of animal welfare. But a return to widespread free-range grazing, especially as the human population continues to increase, would mean a return to the widespread damage that this grazing wrought on the land not so long ago. Following is an excerpt from a speech given in 1985, almost twenty-five years ago. The speaker is Edward Abbey, conservationist and author, addressing cattlemen at the University of Montana.

“Most of the public lands in the West, and especially the Southwest, are what you might call ‘cow burnt.’ Almost anywhere and everywhere you go in the American West you find hordes of cows. . . . They are a pest and a plague. They pollute our springs and streams and rivers. They infest our canyons, valleys, meadows and forests. They graze off the native bluestems and grama and bunch grasses, leaving behind jungles of prickly pear. They trample down the native forbs and shrubs and cacti. They spread the exotic cheatgrass, the Russian thistle, and the crested wheat grass. Even when the cattle are not physically present, you see the dung and the flies and the mud and the dust and the general destruction. If you don’t see it, you’ll smell it. The whole American West stinks of cattle.”

John Robbins is the author of the international bestseller Diet for a New America, The Food Revolution, and Healthy at 100. He is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on the dietary link with the environment and health. He is also the Founder of EarthSave International.

According to Robbins:

“The price that western lands and wildlife are paying for grazing cattle is hard to exaggerate… widespread production of grass-fed beef would only multiply this already devastating toll.”

One of the problems is the sheer scale of the animal industry. The issue that leads me to question the benefits of free-range farming isn’t only the matter of more humane treatment, (which is grossly overstated, as explained below), but the matter of space. In order to farm enough animals to feed the collective appetite for flesh and other products of animal exploitation, we are already destroying our wild lands at a rate that is boggling to the mind. Since we have so many food animals intensely confined, it would be impossible to allocate sufficient land to pasture-raise them all. Without a significant reduction in the overall consumption of animal products, animal farming (free-range or not) is not an ecologically viable method of food production.

Robbins explains:

“It takes a long time and a lot of grassland to raise a grass-fed steer. Western rangelands are vast, but not nearly vast enough to sustain America’s 100 million head of cattle. There is no way that grass-fed beef can begin to feed the meat appetites of people in the United States, much less play a role in addressing world hunger.”

Most environmentally-aware people are now familiar with the correlation between intensive animal farming and greenhouse gases. But that problem wouldn’t be solved by pasture-raising cows either:

“Next to carbon dioxide, the most destabilizing gas to the planet’s climate is methane. Methane is actually 24 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and its concentration in the atmosphere is rising even faster. The primary reason that concentrations of atmospheric methane are now triple what they were when they began rising a century ago is beef production. Cattle raised on pasture actually produce more methane than feedlot animals, on a per-cow basis.”2

According to an article on ScienceNews.org, Nathan Pelletier of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia says:

“We do see significant differences in the greenhouse gas intensities [of grass vs grain]. It’s roughly on the order of 50 percent higher in grass-finished systems.”3

Another serious concern, of which many people aren’t aware, is that commercial free-range grazing involves the eradication of wildlife, including threatened and endangered species.

“The USDA’s Animal Damage Control (ADC) program was established in 1931 for a single purpose—to eradicate, suppress, and control wildlife considered to be detrimental to the western livestock industry… In 1997, following the advice of public relations and image consultants, the federal government gave a new name to the ADC—“Wildlife Services.” And they came up with a new motto—“Living with Wildlife.”4

According to a USDA website, Wildlife Services “provides Federal leadership and expertise to resolve wildlife conflicts and create a balance that allows people and wildlife to coexist peacefully.”

According to John Robbins:

“What ‘Wildlife Services’ actually does is kill any creature that might compete with or threaten livestock. Its methods include poisoning, trapping, snaring, denning, shooting, and aerial gunning. In ‘denning’ wildlife, government agents pour kerosene into the den and then set it on fire, burning the young alive in their nests.

“Among the animals Wildlife Services agents intentionally kill are badgers, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, gray fox, red fox, mountain lions, opossum, raccoons, striped skunks, beavers, nutrias, porcupines, prairie dogs, black birds, cattle egrets, and starlings. Animals unintentionally killed by Wildlife Services agents include domestic dogs and cats, and several threatened and endangered species.

“All told, Wildlife Services, the federal agency whose motto is ‘Living with Wildlife,’ intentionally kills more than 1.5 million wild animals annually. This is done, of course, at public expense, to protect the private financial interests of ranchers who wish to use public lands to graze their livestock.”

Dr. Mike Hudak is an environmental advocate who is a leading expert on the harm to wildlife and the environment caused by public-lands ranching. He is the founder and director of Public Lands Without Livestock, and the author of Western Turf Wars: The Politics of Public Lands Ranching (2007). Since July 2008 he has been chair of the Sierra Club’s National Grazing Committee.
In his article, Public Lands Ranching: The Scourge of Wildlife, Hudak elaborates:

“How extensive is the carnage that ranching inflicts on wildlife? One reasonable measure is the number of affected species that are either (1) federally listed as threatened or endangered, (2) candidates for federal listing, or (3) the subject of petitions for federal listing. By that criterion, ranching’s victims number 151 species in all: 26 species of mammals, 25 species of birds, 66 species of fish, 14 species of reptiles and amphibians, 15 species of mollusks, and 5 species of insects.”

As we can see, the growing popularity of ‘grass-fed’, ‘pasture-raised’ or ‘free-range’ beef, far from being the solution to the damage caused by animal farming, represents just another side of the devastation caused by the animal industry.

Those who profit from the promotion of free-range animal products exploit the ethical motivation of conscious consumers, caring people who rightfully abhor the horrific practices that occur on factory farms. The free-range PR creates the false impression that consuming free-range products is an effective way of boycotting animal cruelty and environmental destruction.

The desire to avoid participating in acts of cruelty is the other (perhaps more common) reason that many choose free-range over factory-farmed animal products. But are grass-fed cows really treated more humanely than their factory-farmed counterparts?

As John Robbins concludes:

“The lives of grass-fed livestock are more humane and natural than the lives of animals confined in factory farms and feedlots, but their deaths are often just as terrifying and cruel. If they are taken to a conventional slaughterhouse, they are just as likely as a feedlot animal to be skinned while alive and fully conscious, and just as apt to be butchered and have their feet cut off while they are still breathing — distressing realities that tragically occur every hour in meat-packing plants nationwide. Confronting the brutal realities of modern slaughterhouses can be a harsh reminder that those who contemplate only the pastoral image of cattle patiently foraging do not see the whole picture.”

In light of this information, and the questions that arise as a result, I am very curious to hear from advocates of environmental conservation or animal welfare who believe that ‘free-range’ or ‘pasture-fed’ is indeed an ethical or sustainable alternative to factory farming. Is it really ‘grass-fed’ that is going to make the difference that we need? At a time when the human population is approaching seven billion, is it realistic to expect to continue feeding ourselves on animal flesh, milk and eggs? Or do we need to make preparations for a future where there simply aren’t sufficient resources to support the inefficient methods of animal-based food production?

For those who seek a way to avoid exploitation and cruelty, the choice doesn’t have to be between factory-farmed and free-range. There is another option, a truly ethical alternative that does not require us to sacrifice our moral standards for the satisfaction of our appetites and our taste buds.

As can be seen by the growing number of people, from all walks of life world-wide, who abstain from animal foods, it’s really a lot easier than many people think. The essential first step toward the vegan alternative is a change in perception. Once that is achieved, with the wealth of information and the ever-increasing number of products that are now available, making vegan choices is easier, and more rewarding than it has ever been.

(For more information about how to make vegan choices, feel free to contact the author.)

1 Robbins, John What About Grass-fed Beef?
2 Robbins
3 Raloff, Janet The carbon footprints of raising livestock for food
4 Robbins

Originally published on Care2

The Toni Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.