Archive for the ‘Industrial Food’ Category

The Tide Turns Against Pastured Cows

» July 20th, 2014

Reality can be a bitch. Especially when you’re committed to propaganda. There’s no more common form of agrarian propagandizing than the insistence that pastured cows can save the earth. If that assessment sounds hyperbolic, check in with Allan Savory, who says that pastured cows can save the earth.

While the media, which knows precious little about the dark side of grassfed cattle, is generally happy to reiterate the self-serving and unverified claims of the “grass farmers,” every now and then a conflict of interest emerges to force the adoring media to cough up some truth about the ecological realities on the happy farm.

In this case, the inconvenient conflict came when pastured Vermont dairy cows pooping in pristine Lake Champlain pitted native grass farmers against clean water lovers. Suddenly, with enraged enviros at each other’s throats, the truth emerged from all the shouting: all those cows supposedly primed to save the earth were turning the lake into a cesspool. Find the story here.

The fact that Grist put this story out makes the news even more interesting. Grist’s vision of a happy planet seems to be one with farm animals frolicking across endlessly verdant pastures. It has been one of the loudest cheerleaders for the pastured-based revolution. One would more likely expect blood from a stone than an anti-grassfed story from Grist‘s mill. But there it is.

But what encourages me the most about this kind of story making the rounds—and maybe I’m engaging in my own form of fantasy here—is that the inescapably messy logistics of raising animals on pasture, and the pregnant consequences therein, will inevitably present themselves so blatantly that the media, and the general public, will no longer be able to ignore a reality that we have spent so long convincing ourselves to be otherwise.

At some point reality has no choice but to bite back, right?

 

Chipotle Goes Telepathic

» July 17th, 2014

 

Chipotle’s recent marketing stunt is so bold—so weirdly bold—I almost want to respect the depth of their gall. Although the company has been under fire for claiming that it serves “food with integrity” when in fact it serves loads of factory farmed meat, it has reacted to the negative publicity by promoting Niman Ranch’s pig guy and Chipotle supplier, Paul Willis, as a man whose understanding of porcine welfare comes from “communicating with them telepathically.”

No joke here.

Or is it a joke? I honestly don’t know. Wayne Hsiung, of Direct Action Everywhere—the organization that has led a brilliant series of protests against Chipotle—wrote the following earlier in the week: “You know a company has gone off the rails when it starts talking about telepathy with its victims. But I suppose when your entire business model is founded on a fraud, there’s not much else you can do.” Or could it be that the company is owning its fraudulence, internalizing its own lies, throwing residual caution to the wind, and saying “what the f***”? Let’s have some fun!” Lord knows their CEOs, who earned $25 million a piece last year, are laughing to the bank.

Joke or no joke, there’s something deeply insulting in the telepathy comment. It’s in the worst possible taste to claim empathy for animals that you purposely kill in order to make burritos. Does Paul Willis commune with the pigs when they are being shunted into the slaughter chute? I doubt it. Hell, even home slaughterers have the decency to do their handiwork under the guise of ersatz gravitas.

I’ve spoken to Willis in the past and he does not strike me as the kind of person to say such a thing. Did Chipotle put these words in his mouth? Who knows? Anyway, if there’s any good news in this stunt it’s that its absurdity suggests desperation. Chipotle is high on its own fumes. But the party will come to an end.

Grassfed Beef Destroys Florida Pine Forest

» June 25th, 2014

The more I read the rhetoric of grassfed beef peddlers the more I’m convinced that these guys are worse than global warming denialists. They go on and on about the theoretical ecological benefits of fattening cows on grass but fail to offer concrete examples of this endeavor’s systematic success.

They fail to discuss in any depth the impact of methane output, water consumption, overgrazing, land usage, and the ecological costs of slaughter and processing. They avoid the question of demand—how do you feed hundreds of millions of consumers this way? They never talk about what must be done to keep the grass growing (fertilizer) or the land/cattle ration in balance (calves shunted to the veal industry). They fail to discuss what kind of grasses they use (often fescue, which is non-native and harmful for cows) or how much alfalfa they import from drought-stricken California to get their beasts to slaughter weight when the grass dries up.

They simply show us pretty pictures of happy cows on green pastures, say a few words about welfare and sustainability, bash the factory farms, and charge a premium. Too often, ever hopeful that we can have our beef and eat it too, we pay it.

Look at what’s happening in north Florida right now, though, and you’ll begin to see that the dangers linked to the grassfed beef revival are real. The Gainesville Sun reports that billionaire Frank Stronach is planning to spend $60 million to clear-cut pine forests, convert them to pasture, stock them with cattle, and pump in 13 million gallons of water a day to bring the system to life. This move is supported by the American Grassfed Association, which, because it is a trade organization no different than the American Beef Council, is perfectly happy to mouth the conventional wisdom that grassfed beef restores ecosystems and improves soil health. Well, last I checked, native pine forests do that pretty well, too.

What you are seeing in Stronach’s bid to turn the Florida forest into a pasture of profit is merely a taste of what’s to come if the foodie frenzy for grassfed beef continues to rise. Sure, there will always be some friendly hippy farmer at the local market telling you that he does it right. And he might. But as demand spikes for this supposedly virtuous alternative to industrial beef, your local good guy is going to be swamped by the models established by fat cats who have no problem dropping 60 million to have a hobby farm, steal our water, and send animals to slaughter for food that clogs our arteries.

Like climate change deniers, grassfed beef advocates have started to believe their own bullshit. If north Floridians don’t deliver Stronach a dose of scientific reality, there’ll be a lot more of that to spread around soon enough.

 

 

Grow, Pick, Cook, Eat

» June 21st, 2014

Paul Greenberg’s piece on the global seafood trade in the Times underscores vividly the reality captured in the article’s headline: why are we importing our own fish? Although Greenberg never gets around to really answering his own question (the piece simply insists should localize and participate in local seafood–novel!), the answer is easy: we import our own seafood because it’s cheaper to do so. Boom.

Critics of our out-of-control food system don’t get this. They jump at any opportunity to grab a juicy headline* with some bizarre geographical distortion of global trade—such as why we export seafood and then buy it back—in an effort to urge consumers fight the powers that be by pitching their local food tents. What these utopians** fail to realize is that the bizarre manifestations that they so earnestly (and rightly) lambast are the result of the simplest economic logic—a logic that everyone other than the one percenters tends to follow. Again, it’s cheaper. And that’s bad news for locavores, who will have to pay more for local shrimp. Or oysters. Or salmon.

The good news here is that the food system’s global boomerang effect is easily fixed: stop producing food that requires processing. Processing. When you hear that term you think about all that corporate junk food that Mark Bittman and all the food purists lament as the downfall of modern culture. But it’s more than that. Or less. Processed food is basically food that has to be altered before it’s sold. And food that has to be altered before it’s sold is food that enters the churning matrix of the global food trade, a Smithian crucible wherein it’s radically less expensive to have subalterns shuck, smoke, and can your oysters than to pay a federally mandated minimum wage for U.S workers to do the deed. As far as I’m concerned, that’s much worse than a locally-sourced syrupy soda.

Once again, food reformers favor the predilections of their own precious palates—must have shrimp, must have oysters, must have lox on my bagel— over the simple solution that stares them in the face: eat plants. How often do we need to say it? Eat Plants. Plants grown for people to eat generally have the great benefit of not needing to be sent to one part of the world to be manipulated by pennies-per-hour employees before being sent back to “America” to be massively consumed and then lamented in the pages of the Times. When you grow plants for people to eat you box them up and put them on a plane, train, or automobile. People grow and pick it; people cook and eat it. Nobody needs to peel it or smoke it or filet or slaughter it or de-vein it into edibility. The Times’ agriculture writers would only publish good news.

When we demand food that only needs to be grown, and not processed, we’ll not only put an end to the kind of articles that Greenberg (and I) write but, in favoring plants over animals, we’ll radically improve the environment, our health, and the welfare of critters. It’s that god damn*** simple.

 

*To be fair, this writer grabbed his own juicy headline last March doing the same sort of stunt.

**Yes, I know, calling for a global plant based diet is, well, a bit utopian, but work with me on this one. . .

***The Pitchfork usually eschews profanity, but I’m in a mood.

A Nine Billion Straw Revolution

» May 21st, 2014

A vibrant discussion has developed around my recent piece on GMOs, both here at The Pitchfork and in Slate. When people discover that I’m both an advocate for animals and sympathetic for some forms of agricultural biotechnology, they’re often miffed. Vegan advocates are supposed to be crunchy hippies waving the organic flag and foraging for purslane, right?

Well, not exactly. While I get that Monsanto is the Devil Incarnate and that Big Agriculture benefits immensely from the production of GM corn, soy, beets, cotton, and canola, I am also deeply wary of opposing any technology that could be of tangible benefit to the future of an exclusively plant-based form of agriculture. For starters, if we expect 9 billion people to eat a healthy, diverse, plant-based diet, we will need industrial agriculture. The world’s poorest need it the most.

Biotechnology can make the right kind of industrial agriculture more ecologically and economically equitable and efficient. If we want both the poor and the rich to eat a wide array of crops grown all over the world, we must be prepared to develop global food systems that produce a great deal of foodstuffs with as few resources as possible. GM technology might not be a silver bullet, but it’s a tool in the toolbox dedicated to helping plants deal with drought, floods, and the many fluctuations that characterize agriculture in the age of anthropocentric climate change.

As with most matters in life, what’s critical here is management and regulation. With the world’s leading health organizations having declared transgenic technology to be no more or less dangerous than traditional plant hybridization, structures should be put in place to encourage the intelligent and humane application of biotechnology. Will some one profit at someone else’s expense? Yes. Does this disparity have to be egregious? No. More to the point: would anyone have a problem with GMOs if they were used to produce a broader diversity of nutrient rich beans for African farmers to consume and export for human consumption?

I’d love to think we could all live a one straw revolution. But I’m afraid the revolution will have to be more ambitious in scope. I’m seeking a 9 billion straw revolution.

An Animal-Based Environmental Ethic

» May 13th, 2014

In the May 12 issue of The Nation Naomi Klein, with manifesto-like intensity, situates our environmental crisis in the rise of industrial capitalism. The first step in atoning for our ecological sins, she explains, requires “recognizing that we are part of an industrial project.”

According to this premise, one shared by much of the environmental movement, the conventional culprits of ecological disaster—big technologies, hyperactive mobility, and the “bullet train” of contemporary consumption—have alienated humans from nature, erected “structural barriers to the next economy,” and ensured the darkness of our doom.

Klein is right—but only to a point. Industrial capitalism obviously accounts for systematic ecological destruction. But, in privileging the influence of industrial capitalism, Klein overlooks a neglected but critically important historical reality: human societies were decimating the environment well before the emergence of industrial capitalism. And they were doing so with staggering efficiency.

With primitive technologies, minimal geographical mobility, and haphazard rates of consumption, pre-industrial cultures in North America created ecological crises from which we have never fully recovered. Pre-industrial ecological devastation could be seen in the elimination of the New England shad fisheries, the deforestation of colonial American East Coast, and the near total depletion of Virginia’s topsoil–all before 1820. And that’s just a short list.

The upshot of this largely unappreciated context is a somewhat terrifying reality. Re-situating today’s environmental crisis in the pre-industrial era, after all, strongly suggests that Klein’s earnest prescriptions to avoid complete environmental doom—slow down, consume less, and observe/appreciate our surroundings—are, if the past is any indication, effectively useless. We cannot go to the past to save the future.

What’s needed, and what views such as Klein’s ignore, is a radically new kind of environmental ethics. The XL Pipeline or the snail darter is what seems to best capture our attention. But it’s the larger mindset within which we situate these issues that matters.

There are all kinds of environmental ethics out there–the land ethic/biocentrism, a sustainability ethic based on human access to resources/an aesthetic based ethic/bioregionalism/social ecology. But one ethic strikes me as superior to all others, especially in light of the fact that humans elevated preindustrial ecological befouling to a science.

That, of course, is the animal ethic. Ponder the deepest origins of our grandest ecological failures and you will likely find the systematic exploitation of animals (and not just nonhuman). That Virginia topsoil devastation required oxen and slaves to pull plows. Those trees were felled to build ships to trade salted fish and slaves. Yes, there are many exceptions, but you get what I’m saying in general.

So, yes, we might consider slowing down, consuming less, and better appreciating our backyards. But if we got truly serious about the conflict we now face and stopped the intentional exploitation of animals—and, in many cases, even unintentional forms of exploitation—then we could walk through an environment of—at the very least—hope.

GMO Labeling: Do We Have A Right To Know?

» May 2nd, 2014

 

A version of this piece ran in Pacific Standard last November. Given the vocal response to my last post, I thought it made sense to run it here at The Pitchfork.

The push is on to require foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to have a label. Last year, California missed passing a labeling proposition by a hair. A similar initiative failed again this year by just a fraction of a hair in Washington. In June, Connecticut became the first state to pass a GMO labeling law(although it remains ineffective until four other eastern states, one of them bordering Connecticut, pass similar laws). Nine days after Connecticut’s bill passed, Maine followed suit. Other states are clamoring.

Despite considerable push-back from the predictable corporate interests, including Monsanto and Dow, there’s every reason to believe that some form of GMO labeling is on the horizon. This development, for all of the controversy it generates, is probably a good thing for both producers and consumers. But not for the reasons one might assume.

The most common justification offered for labeling GMO ingredients is that consumers “have a right to know” what’s in our food. So pervasive is this explanation that the most conspicuous lobbying initiative for GMO labeling is called “Right to Know GMO.” The claim has become a catchphrase in the movement’s promotional rhetoric. The GMO Awareness organization explains how “it’s your right to know if it’s GMO.” Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield—of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream fame—condemn the corporate effort to prevent our “right to know.” Food Democracy Now! touts our “fundamental right to know” whether or not GMOs are in our food.

But do we have a fundamental right to know what’s in our food? The ring of empowerment behind the right to know justification is undeniable. But, on closer inspection, this is rights talk run amok. Counterintuitive as it sounds, we don’t necessarily have an inherent right to know what’s in our food, or how our food was made. This is the case for many reasons.

Embracing a right is premised to some extent on the reasonable ability to achieve its fulfillment. Pragmatically speaking, the steps required to produce food today are too numerous, too complex, and too elusive to realistically satisfy the consumer’s right to know. This claim holds equally true for all methods and forms of agricultural production—local or global, organic or conventional, factory farm or Old MacDonald’s.

In a way, we sacrificed our right to know when we left the land. And even when we were on it, we still may not have had a right to know what was in our food for the practical reason that, again, knowing wasn’t remotely possible. In many cases, whatever right we may have to know is undermined by the fact that we often don’t even know what we might have a right to know.

Consider: Do we have a right to know how close a farm was to a pollution-spewing petrochemical plant? Do we have a right to know if the composted manure used to grow organic kale came from a factory farm? Do we have a right to know if growers used conventional fertilizer that contained industrial waste? Do we have a right to know how many pounds of legal herbicides were sprayed on our lettuce? Do we have a right to know how often food handlers washed their hands? Closer to the GMO mark, do we have a right to know what kind of hybrid corn was used to make our non-GMO tortillas?

All of these conditions directly influence the food we eat—some of them in ways that might impact health. And, yes, it’s conceivable that this level of detail might someday be included in a bar code that consumers could scan and read. But even so, as matters now stand, it would be impractical, not to mention prohibitively expensive, to justify our access to this information, much less reduce it to a label, on the basis of a rhetorical appeal to rights.

If we agree that all the mundane details of agriculture do not belong on a label—even if only on practical grounds—why are we so insistent that GMOs are the one thing that absolutely must be called out on labels? (Other than the fact that they’ve been somewhat arbitrarily politicized?)

The rights justification also bumps against legitimate trade secrets. Let’s say a pastry chef warms his butter to a specific temperature before making his world famous tarte au citron. Consumers obviously do not have a right to know that temperature. Likewise, Coca-Cola, for it part, is under no obligation to reveal its secret formula to rights-obsessed soft drink aficionados. Brewers work with alchemistic creativity to blend hop varieties and achieve sublime flavor in their concoctions. Good luck trying to get your hands of their formulas. Advocates of that culinary philosophy known as terroir would recoil at the idea of Texas dairy farmers replicating the complex ecological matrix of conditions required for Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or even Californians doing so for Champagne, on the basis of rights. In these cases, one might say that producer privilege supersedes that of consumers.

Critics of this anti-rights argument might counter that GMOs are bad for our health and, as a result, aren’t comparable to such arbitrary factors as butter temperature, Coke ingredients, hop ratios, or soil composition. There are two points to consider regarding this objection. First, and we’ve been over this before, there’s no concrete evidence that GMOs pose a unique risk to human health. The American Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science—among many other authorities—have all said as much.

Opponents of GMOs routinely note that not enough time has passed to deem GMOs safe for human consumption. This is a fair concern, one worth discussing, as are all cases involving the precautionary principle. But to get a sense of where it might lead we should begin by asking at what exact point in time corn hybrids, pioneered in the 1930s, were deemed safe for human consumption. GMOs have been a staple of our food supply for 20 years. They are in the majority of the processed food we eat. And they are fed to most of animals we eat. How much more time is required before we admit that they are, as far as food goes, relatively safe?

Second, the vagaries of human digestion and ecological conditions are such that virtually any aspect of food production—cooking temperature, ingredient blends, and trademarked formulas—can make certain consumers, or groups of consumers, sick, while, at the same time, leaving others unaffected or even healthier. Welcome to the confused reality of eating: Threading the needle between the land and the digestive tract is an unavoidably risky endeavor and, given the scientific evidence, unaffected by the presence or absence of GMOs in our food supply.

Considering all of these factors, a rights-based rationale for GMO labeling fails.

But this does not mean there shouldn’t be a GMO label. Although consumers might lack the right to know what’s in our food, or how our food was made, a stronger case can be made that we have a right not to be misled by a food label. This is where things get more interesting. The federal government began to implicitly recognize this possible right in 1906, with the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act. By 1938, with the passage of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, this concern was made explicit and, over time, passively embraced by consumers as a legitimate right.

And it is here that we inch closer to a viable justification for GMO labeling. About a decade ago, some food companies, capitalizing on the public vilification (and misunderstanding) of GMOs, began to add value to their products by voluntarily labeling their goods as “GMO free” (the USDA approved this label in 2013). While this initiative inspired some companies to voluntarily label foods with GMOs in them—namely Chipotle Mexican Grill, Whole Foods, and Ben and Jerry’s—the non-GMO label, in the name of clarity, ultimately fostered consumer confusion. It planted a question mark on the vast majority of the food supply—a majority that may or may not have had GMOs in them and, as a result, became (by virtue of the non-GMO label alone) indirectly misleading. It is this situation that a GMO label would help rectify, reducing the possibility of consumers being misled.

Yes, this is an odd hook upon which to hang the GMO label. (It’s a justification that, for one, questions the wisdom of allowing a product to declare on a label what’s not in it.) But, while a label shouldn’t be approved solely for its ability to shape consumer acceptance, proponents of GMO labeling who believe this technology will have concrete humanitarian and ecological benefits should take solace in what strikes me as sounder justification than a presumed right to know.

Every major food-related technology throughout history—refrigeration and canning come to mind for the past century—was roundly condemned before it was accepted as the norm. As GMOs become associated with products designed to have a clear human health benefit—oil without trans fatyeast for wine that won’t cause a hangoverbiofortified foods—they might have something to gain by no longer hiding in plain sight. If not now, then eventually.

The Vencomatic Paradox

» April 30th, 2014

There was a pretty good piece in Slate today about an innovative way to achieve antibiotic-free chicken. It involves a housing solution called the Vencomatic, a massive structure that allows growers to raise chickens in the same location where they’re hatched. Merging these phases of production obviates the need to transport chickens from hatchery to grow-out facility. This convergence, in turn, obviates the need to dose them with antibiotics, primarily because traveling chicks, who cannot be fed until they reach the “barn,” are debilitated by fragile immune systems that lead farmers to pump them with drugs.

What makes the Vencomatic especially appealing to poultry producers is the fact that it accommodates industrialized production. The Vencomatic’s promoters might tout nominal welfare improvements that the cavernous shed supposedly fosters (better ventilation, for example), but the bottom line is that the Big V crams birds  into “shelf-like stacked units” to maximize production. (Note: a flaw in the piece is that the writer bought the flimsy welfare claims hook, line, and sinker–yet another reason to push animal rights discussions into the mainstream media.)

Worse, the Vencomatic may even encourage producers who currently allow genuine free range to switch to indoor farming. The author writes, “Customers come mostly from other cold-climate areas where raising birds outdoors would be impractical: The company has installed patio barns holding hundreds of thousands of birds each in Russia, Korea, and Hungary, with three more coming in the Netherlands this year.”

There are, of course, a number of ways to critique this “solution,” but what I’d like to highlight is the fact that the Vencomatic provides yet another damning example that industrial animal agriculture will always be able to accomplish what advocates of small, humane farms insist can only happen on alternative systems.  For decades the mavens of agroecology have been insisting that the only way to avoid the horrific consequences of antibiotic abuse is to go small, go local, go “happy” chicken. But they’re wrong.  As the Vencomatic proves, Big Ag is always a step ahead of the small guys.

Economics rig the game. The financial incentives are such that entrepreneurial efforts to reform the system will tend toward solutions that have the largest market. The Vencomatic is no surprise. It makes much more economic sense to attack the antibiotic threat by innovating in a way that’s amenable to Big Ag rather than encouraging consumers to shift purchasing habits. And thus it makes much more sense for those who really want to see the abuses of animal agriculture come to end to stop eating the products it produces rather than allowing animal welfare to be a source of capital generation for those who wantonly kill creatures for a living.

 

Butter’s Bitter Lesson

» April 26th, 2014

Environmental advocates who promote eating “real” food (a deeply problematic concept for anyone who knows the history of food) as a necessary part of an ecologically responsible diet miss the point. In doing so, they render their larger message of eating in an environmentally responsible matter irrelevant. And not just a little irrelevant. Totally so. To understand why, it helps to take a closer look at the recent enviro-foodie reaction to butter.

Foodie environmentalists love butter. In part, they love it because it’s food that their grandmother would have eaten—this prerequisite being one of the more arbitrary elements of this somewhat precious culinary ideology. But they also love it because they are foodies and, tautology aside, are reluctant to allow anything as inconvenient as ecological reality or animal welfare to come between external justice and the internal pleasures of the palate. These are people who are all for “An Inconvenient Truth” but not so much for inconvenient truths.

It’s easy to overlook this reality. Foodie-enviros spin bucolic narratives that highlight the benefits of pasture-raised this and grass-fed that as “evidence” that one can now, if she can afford it, viably eat animal products and remain dedicated to environmental causes (this is, in many ways, why such issues as pipelines and dirty coal are so appealing—the connection between the personal and the political is less obvious). The reason they get away with these stories is that our collective base of knowledge on these matters remains lamentably thin. People such as Allan Savory, who bill themselves as planetary saviors, have thus excelled at a TED-ish foodie brand of duplicity, promoting ideas that, at the end of the day, might be just as damaging as those promoted by Monsanto and Cargill. (Eat beef, reverse global warming?! You can anything at a TED talk.)

But every now and then the gentlemanly facade is lifted and a whiff of truth wafts out. Which brings us back to butter and the foodie-enviros who support it. Last month butter got some temporary good news on the health front. The prospect that butter could be healthy sent foodie-enviros into a froth of excitement. Mark Bittman, foodie-enviro extraordinaire, led the celebration, declaring in both a headline and the text of his Times column that “butter is back.” He then explicitly advised with oracular confidence: “You can go back to eating butter, if you haven’t already.”

But then the other shoe dropped. Turns out the study had flaws. Serious flaws. Flaws serious enough for important people at fancy places such as Harvard to call for a retraction. And then everyone got sheepishly silent. When critics (myself included) harped on Bittman (who has written hundreds of recipes that call for butter) for his rush-to-judgment, suggesting that it contradicted his purported green mission, not to mention that it ignored animal welfare issues that he has long claimed to care about, something strange happened. I don’t use this word lightly, but what happened was Orwellian. 

Suddenly, all discussions of health were tossed to the curb. Indeed, as criticisms of the study swirled, the foodie-enviros now switched the media focus to industrial agriculture in general. Tom Philpott blogged that, in criticizing Bittman for his premature embrace of butter, I was somehow advocating butter substitutes—a non grandma food—and, in so doing, was acting as the handmaiden of industrial agriculture. Wha? (Bittman, for his part, thanked Tom with a tweet.)

This all left me baffled, in part because I’ve never advocated a butter substitute in my life. But more so because the biggest supporters of the study that these foodie-enviros were so enthralled to promote were the meat and dairy industries themselves. I urge you to see what Big Ag had to say here, and thus whom the foodie-enviros got in bed with in order to back butter.

I’m still wondering by what logic Philpott thinks that supporting butter is not supporting industrial agriculture. Last I checked butter was as industrialized as any product on the face of the earth. To call a vegan a defender of industrial agriculture strikes me as a case of the Philpott calling the kettle black, or at least a complete lack of understanding that a plant-based diet does more to deter industrial agriculture as we know it than any other single measure.

But it’s back on the environmental front where the hypocrisy of the foodie-enviro position really hits home. Conservation magazine (for whom I write) recently declared that “Butter is Toast.” Why? It’s simple: “The carbon footprint of butter is over four times that of margarine.” The article is here; it’s short, it has not been called for a retraction, and you should read it. (emphasis emphatically added)

But for now, let the bitter lesson be clear: it’s time to stop trusting environmentalists who are led by their palates. These folks are perfectly happy to fiddle while Rome burns. But they forget that there are still people out there who believe in the power of personal choice to create genuine change for ourselves, animals, and the planet. Let’s not allow ourselves to be forsaken.

 

Cowspiracy

» April 24th, 2014

It has long been a source of frustration for the Pitchfork that so-called environmental leaders refuse to embrace eating an exclusively plant-based diet as an integral part of a larger environmental mission. I first wrote about the topic here and have since become so disillusioned with the sordid cant of conventional environmentalism that (with my tongue in my cheek a little) I recently wrote a piece arguing that it’s time for progressives to throw in the towel and forge a language of defeat. Throughout it all, my belief remains firm: we cannot eat animals and claim to care deeply enough about the environment to save it.

The reason old-school environmentalism won’t accommodate an animal-free diet might seem baffling, given the overwhelming evidence that eating plants would dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of food production, prevent rainforest destruction, reduce global water and fertilizer consumption, and eliminate aquatic dead zones.

But the cowardly tendency involves several identifiable factors. Perhaps the first is that the movement (as it were) is fragmented into organizations dependent on fundraising to keep the green flag flying. Competing as they do for a limited and diminishing piece of the progressive pie, these groups are understandably wary of getting between a big donor’s pork chop and check book. Get the people angry over pipelines and coal mines, but not cows and pigs—so the reasoning goes. Second, those with the most power to deliver a hard message to the masses are, to an extent, overly dependent on audiences—and, I imagine, mired in a culture—that would kick them to the curb if they impugned their pasture-raised, hormone-free, humanely-raised eggs. They not only know who butters their bread but they know their bread is buttered with butter. Finally, environmentalism and commercial culture have become so deeply entwined that few are left with either the ability or the guts to imagine an environmentalism that you couldn’t buy your way into. Behavioral change? Blah.

That’s my take on the issue, in the most general terms. But a new, feature-length documentary in the works has the potential to do much more than complain about the situation and make vague assessments. It’s called Cowspiracy and it explores the question of why mainstream environmentalism refuses to directly confront industrial agriculture. Producers Kip Anderson (Animals United Movement) and Keegan Kuhn (First Spark Media) have teamed up to do what Blackfish is currently doing to SeaWorld: radically changing public perception about our use of animals in an industry we have traditionally failed to identify as a source of profound ecological destruction. For better or worse, the film appears to focus on industrial animal agriculture alone but, given the alarming nature of the problem, that’s a start—one that I support.

If you’re interested in learning more and helping Kip and Keegan finish the film, visit their Indiegogo page here. (Warning: you will be greeted with Michael Pollan, who is identified as an environmental writer, and thus you might have a reason to be skeptical, given his fervid defense of eating animals, but I would encourage you to watch the whole trailer to get what I hope is a fuller picture of the film’s goal, not to mention the inclusion of more trustworthy voices such as Will Potter’s and Richard Oppenlander’s.)