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.


43 Responses to Butter’s Bitter Lesson

  1. Rebecca Allen says:

    Thank you , James. This helps explain some things to me.

  2. Mountain says:

    “a plant-based diet does more to deter industrial agriculture as we know it than any other single measure.”

    Wait, what? I’m with you that veganism does more to decrease the killing of sentient beings than any other single measure, though “single measure” is an important caveat. But what does it do to deter industrial agriculture? I’ve seen you make this assertion, but I’ve yet to see it explained. If you just mean farm animals are taken out of the equation– well, okay, but that’s a bit of a tautology. If you mean something more than that, I’d be interested in a full explanation.

  3. James says:

    Sure. I note industrial agriculture “as we know it” to reiterate that my concerns are not with industrial organization per se, but only when it’s based on the production of animals, as it now is.

  4. Fireweed says:

    Did you catch this 2014 critique in the International Journey of Bio-diversity, James?

    Holistic Management: Misinformation on the Science of Grazed Ecosystems


  5. Laura says:

    Thanks for another great article, which reminded me of a store brochure I got at Mother’s Market last week, extolling the virtues of good ol’ grass-fed butter as opposed to evil, scary margarine. They’re evidently partying on Bittman’s nasty bandwagon. Their carotid arteries are likely restricted by all that hard fat, leading to such thoughtlessness.
    Give me avocados, peanut butter, hummus, olive oil + nutritional yeast + garlic salt, and so on. No one needs to slather unhealthy grease…be it from animals or manmade as in margarine…on our bread, potatoes, etc. Such habits are just stupid. Even vegan sour “cream” on a potato is okay once in awhile. But my 2 favorite rich spreads are hummus and peanut butter. Hummus and sliced tomato on toasted pita bread makes a great, quick vegan pizza.
    Enslave & kill cows, and kill their babies to take their milk… for the taste of butter? Insane, really; unfortunately it’s considered normal by the habitually oblivious.

  6. Ellen K says:

    6 years ago I was such an enviro-foodie who championed VT organic artisan cultured butter, and blew off a questioning friend as an alarmist whacko vegan.

    What about solutions? How might we engage, inspire and embolden individuals/organizations/”the movement” to embrace and prescribe veganism?
    Or is there just too much financial interest calling the tune of the fiddlers?

    Nice timing on this post and Conservation mag link, btw: just got a “isn’t this wonderful” alert from a well-meaning friend about a Manomet “sustainable dairy” program (fine print reveals they’re largely concerned with short-term local and state economic benefit, narrowly defined).

  7. Mountain says:

    Buttery lesson #1:

    When discussing a life-cycle assessment that looks at five different ways butter and margarine affect the environment, a vegan advocate will quote the one area in which butter is four times as bad as margarine. A spokesman for the dairy industry would, no doubt, quote the one area in which margarine is 75% worse than butter. But, overall, it looks like butter is about twice as bad (2x) for the environment.

    This makes me sad because, as anyone who has read my comments over the years would know, I like butter, while margarine is nearly as vile as plastic. But facts are facts, and it appears that grain-fed industrial butter is legitimately twice as bad for the environment as margarine.

    • Jennifer Mora says:

      Mountain, What do you like specifically about butter? Is it the taste and do you take into consideration the complete process that occurs to obtain it?How does that affect the taste for you? You have said that you have a happy egg-laying farm but how can you have a happy dairy? This is the problem that I have with foodie-ism disregarding ethics altogether in favor of taste. And it’s not like those in the food industry are unethical and are not bothered by these issues. I have seen them grapple with it, albeit clumsily.

      • Mountain says:

        Hi Jennifer, I like the flavor and the tradition, the relatively minimal processing involved, and even the aesthetics of cows in pasture rather than a field of rapeseed or a palm plantation. None of which justifies ignoring the harm caused by eating butter, but I think it explains having a rooting interest.

        I don’t like the term “happy eggs” or “happy dairy,” since the term “happy meat” is used to sneer at conscientious meat eaters (justifiably, sometimes, but still).

        I operate our farm with the goal of causing no harm to animals. With chickens, it’s obvious we are already accomplishing this. We have not added ducks yet, but it seems clear that they, too, can be raised without harm. The next step is goats, and I believe they can be raised without harm as well. As mammals, however, the details are very different, so I can’t claim it’s possible until we’ve actually accomplished.

        The key to harm-free dairy, I believe, is that the goats be self-sufficient (as in, they feed themselves) and provide value to the farm as living beings, not just as products. With goats, I believe they can be valuable to the farm by clearing brush, even if their milk never produces any income. I believe goats can be milked for a short period after a calf has weaned. A small amount of cheese or butter could be made from this milk, but I don’t see how a commercial dairy could be based on this. Harm-free dairy could only work as a small part of a very diversified farm.

        As a consumer, my standards are a little lower. Instead of seeking zero-harm, I seek products that cause harm equal to, or less than, that caused by a vegan diet. The average American eats 31 farm animals each year, and kills many more due to the field animals killed to feed the farmed animals. Vegans do much better, with roughly 2-3 field animals killed in crop production to provide their eating choices. Grassfed beef beats that, with 1.7 deaths per million calories (the a average person eats roughly a million calories per year). I don’t have details available on grassfed butter, but it should be a similar level of harm.

        • Jennifer Mora says:

          Getting off-topic a bit, but what prevents you from diversifying your produce options versus getting into ducks and goats? Can you expect to make enough ROI from produce versus using animals? Do you think that your way of farming will catch hold and be economically viable for other locales? Do you agree that any animal use (whether it is one-sided or mutual, as you claim your farm is) opens the door to promoting all sorts of animal use? in other words, do you see how your use of the chickens on your farm might encourage others to use animals also, just not as kindly as you do? What are you planning on doing with the male goats? Have you seen A Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home and the farmers in that doc’s experience with raising goats humanely?

          When I asked whether you think about the complete process when you consume animals and their secretions, you don’t mention a specific animal’s death. Why not? Categorizing and regarding certain animals by what they eat and specifiying their body part or product and omitting their individuality, their “personhood” and even their species is something you said upthread. And as we talk about these products, we omit their individual differences to the meat/dairy consumer. For example, at the meat department say at Whole Foods, one doesn’t see, “Bessie the Cow’s body is available today. She will taste better to you than her poor cousin Fannie. Fannie grazed on corn and rapeseed. We don’t sell cows like Fannie here because we know you can taste and visualize the difference.” All of the body parts are anonymous and killing them and eating them, whether one gives them a name, just seems odd.

          • Mountain says:

            We grow plums, peaches, oranges, lemons, almonds, chard, kale, watermelons, tomatoes, onions, pumpkins, zucchini, a variety of summer squash, mint, rosemary, and mustard greens. Not diverse enough for you? I agree! In the coming years, we intend to add:

            Cherries, apricots, nectarines, apples, pears, figs, pomegranates, persimmons, grapes, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cucumbers, cantaloupe, crenshaw melons, canary melons, honeydew melons, eggplants, peppers, garlic, sweet potatoes, yams, and probably even a few other things I’ve neglected to mention.

            That isn’t instead of ducks and goats. Planting more crops will allow to us keep more animals, and keeping more animals will us to grow more crops.

          • Mountain says:

            “Can you expect to make enough ROI from produce versus using animals?”

            I don’t actually calculate ROI, I just try to keep it as close to infinity as possible.

          • Mountain says:

            “Do you think that your way of farming will catch hold and be economically viable for other locales?”

            Yes. I think smart farmers will copy this approach to farming. I think dumb farmers will eventually sell their land to me, or to another farmer who has adopted this method of farming.

            I’m not really a pioneer of this method– Fukuoka in Japan and Holzer in Austria were doing it before I was even born. I wouldn’t mind being the Johnny Appleseed of this approach, though.

          • Mountain says:

            “Do you agree that any animal use (whether it is one-sided or mutual, as you claim your farm is) opens the door to promoting all sorts of animal use”

            No. I don’t buy the “gateway drug” argument when the promoters of the drug war make it, and I don’t buy it when vegans make it. It’s magical thinking that isn’t based on any observable reality. Recreational marijuana use doesn’t lead to a lifetime of slavery to heroin, or crack, or meth, or whatever the current drug scare. Having a glass a wine with dinner doesn’t lead to being a hopeless alcoholic waking up in the gutter. And having a healthy and respectful relationship with animals doesn’t lead to factory farming.

            Does a company hiring African-Americans open the door to plantation slavery? That, essentially, is what you’re arguing.

        • Jennifer Mora says:

          And when you taste butter, do you visualize the death of many dairy calves and the mother’s pain from being separated from her child? This is the foodie quagmire. No foodie is seriously honest about ethical consequences of their preferences and habits.

          • Mountain says:

            And when you taste sugar, do you visualize plantation slavery, since it was the crop on which slavery in the Americas and the Carribean was founded? Do you visualize the pain of mothers separated from their children? Do you consider that every case of plantation slavery throughout the west (and presumably the world) has been based on vegan crops?

            Well, do ya?

            And when you taste your (unbuttered) bread, do you visualize the field animals killed to produce that bread? More animals are killed to produce a calorie of bread than are killed to produce a calorie of grassfed butter. This is the vegan quagmire. No vegan is seriously honest about ethical consequences of their preferences and habits.

          • Jennifer Mora says:

            You didn’t answer any of my questions Mountain. Instead, you got defensive and assumed that I eat bread and sugar in whatever thoughtless forms im whatever copious amounts. In planning on acquiring ducks and goats, you are expanding animal exploitation, particularly with goats. The fact that you romanticize about the LIVING state of a dairy or beef cow that you consume makes your reasoning no different than the foodies that James criticizes above. It is merely for taste. On a scale of harmfulness where vegans cause the least amount of harm versus the omni who causes the most amount, you say we are equal because of our existence on the scale and the fact that we harm at all. Existing on Earth means that we will cause harm to other life forms and unless one becomes nihilistic, this is the way it has to be. If you believe that you need meat to be healthy and I believe that I need whole grains to be healthy that is something to work from with most people (to give up). But dairy is a whole other thing. No one needs butter. It is extreme exploitation of another species even in the most humane way that is never addressed with omni’s, particularly foodies.
            It’s apparent that it bothers you enough to get defensive but Mark Bittman, Tom Philpott, etc. don’t care. They have their livelihoods to protect and their consistency of opinions matter. I don’t think they would have nearly as many readers if they became vegan. For someone like yourself, from reading your comments here, there would be no loss, just an adjustment to self-identity (butter eater to non-butter eater). IMO.

          • Mountain says:

            No, Jennifer, I didn’t get defensive. I asked you the same questions about your eating choices that you asked me, using the same inflammatory language you used. Compare my question with your question. It’s structured the exact same way, and uses much of the same language. It’s a parody intended to get you to think through what you were actually asking.

            You asked me to consider the consequences of my choices, and I asked you to consider the consequences of your choices. Have you?

          • Jennifer Mora says:

            Mountain, They are inflammatory to you because you consider an omni’s choices and a vegan’s as equal and they are not. A person consuming butter disregards the most magical aspect of life and exploits it second or third-handed. If vegans make more humane choices such as free-trade, organic, etc., they can pretty much eliminate a lot of suffering. But there is no such thing as humane dairy. You cannot eliminate the most cruel and tragic aspects of butter no matter how humane the life is for the mother. And there is no such thing as “grass-fed butter”. Where is the animal? What is her species? Where are her children? Where is the father? By referring to the end-product name of exploitation, you disregard that a life or lives even existed. Their lives are reduced to a momentary pleasure.

          • Mountain says:

            Well, gosh, Jennifer, you seemed to think the language was pretty inflammatory when I used it, even though I was just using the same language you had used. If you didn’t think it was inflammatory, why didn’t you answer my questions? Why did you accuse me of being defensive when I was merely using your language?

            “you consider an omni’s choices and a vegan’s as equal and they are not”

            But they are equal, and should be judged by the harm they cause (as well as any benefit they create). You seem to think the harm caused by a vegan’s eating choices magically doesn’t count– because, hey, vegan!– but it does. So when the choices of an omnivore causes as little or less harm than the choices of a vegan, then those choices are just as ethically sound as vegan choices.

            As I noted earlier, vegan choices kill far fewer animals than the choices of a typical American omnivore. But not every omnivore is a typical omnivore, and not every omnivorous choice causes nearly as much harm as a typical omnivore. In fact, as I’ve noted and documented, there are omnivorous choices that cause less harm than many vegan choices. If you can’t acknowledge that, then you’re the one who isn’t being “seriously honest about ethical consequences.”

          • Mountain says:

            “do you see how your use of the chickens on your farm might encourage others to use animals also, just not as kindly as you do?”

            Again, no. That’s magical thinking. No one needs encouragement to treat animals badly; the world we live in already does plenty of that. What the world needs is more examples of people treating animals well.

          • Mountain says:

            “What are you planning on doing with the male goats?”

            What are you planning on doing with the male goats?

    • Jennifer Mora says:

      Here is what happened in our conversation. You said, “No, Jennifer, I didn’t get defensive. I asked you the same questions about your eating choices that you asked me, using the same inflammatory language you used.” You stated that you thought I said something inflammatory first and I said you reacted defensively. I based that on the words you used after I asked you about how butter tastes knowing the suffering involved (which you still have not responded to, except to romanticize the bucolic imagery of a cow in the field). I asked you to consider the relative harms on a scale and you, as omni, placed yourself near least harm, causing less harm than most vegans, even though you enjoy butter, which in every case is a product of rape and killing a sentient being, a mother and her children who are only valued for what SHE can produce. She is only valued by foodies for what she can produce. Her consciousness, love of her children and love of her life are only important to consumers if they can say they consume “grass-fed butter” (your words where you omit her and their presence altogether).

      This issue is more than you and your love of butter/meat and your own bucolic farm. It is about the continental love of butter,* of all dairy, of all animal products and talking about the relative harms while omitting personhood for these exploited animals. You can try all you might to say that you can be an ethical omnivore but I don’t think that you can. You have yet to convince me anyway.

      *referring to Bittman, Philpott and others

      Honestly, by saying that you were getting defensive where these other characters would not, I am acknowledging that you *have* a conscience and you aimed to defend yourself. It would be horrible trying to communicate with someone without one or who didn’t care except about the most shallow issues (such as taste, aesthetics and tradition) or things that can only be addressed as a group or society, not as individuals. Here you can respond as an individual and as I said before, one day you can be a butter eater and the next day not.

      • Mountain says:

        “I asked you about how butter tastes knowing the suffering involved”

        The suffering involved in the production of a food doesn’t affect how it tastes to me. It affects whether I choose to eat it. So the answer to your question is: it doesn’t affect how butter tastes to me. The sight and feel of pale, waxy industrial butter vs. creamy, yellow grassfed butter has a much bigger effect on my aesthetic experience of butter. It helps that I know that less suffering is involved in grassfed butter, but it does not make a big difference in the experience itself.

        So, now that I’ve given a straight-forward answer to your question, answer my question– two questions, really. When you eat bread, or anything containing sugar, do you think at all about the suffering involved? If so, how does thinking about that suffering affect your eating experience?

        • Jennifer Mora says:

          You responded honestly without pointing your finger back at vegans *here*: “The suffering involved doesn’t affect how it tastes to me” and “creamy yellow grassfed butter has a much bigger effect on my aesthetic experience of butter.” This is a product obtained through rape and intentional killing of children and the mother eventually. And it doesn’t bother you? The appearance of the butter and knowing that the cow was grassfed increase your enjoyment a little bit but that’s it. And you still refuse to acknowledge the presence of an individual entity tied to the product. Oh well.

          At least you finally answered. The answers that any vegan would hope to get from Bittman, Philpott and others is nil. Getting an honest answer from an omni (and somewhat a foodie) while still an omni is something. Thanks for that Mountain.

          • Mountain says:

            And you still didn’t answer the question!

            Well, then let me tell you about your bread and your sugar, and any other vegan product produced by industrial agriculture. They are products obtained through the intentional killing of mothers and children, using heavy machinery to collapse underground burrows and bury animals alive, using combines to kill animals directly with their blades and indirectly by obliterating their above-ground homes, leaving them defenseless before predators.

            What’s the difference between that suffering and the suffering of pastured dairy cows? The only meaningful difference is that you have a mental image of the dairy cows, and not of the field animals. But the fact that you don’t visualize their suffering– the fact that you don’t have a narrative to tell yourself– doesn’t make it any less real to them.

            All suffering is bad. I can’t walk around pretending that the butter I eat doesn’t cause harm, because it does. But when that butter harms fewer animals than do vegan foods you eat regularly, it makes me sick to hear a story about how the suffering of cows is different and special. Mice, gophers, voles, and other field animals have the same social bonds cows do, and the same ability to suffer. The fact that you don’t have a bucolic, romanticized story to tell about their suffering doesn’t make it any less real. The unseen is just as real as the seen.

          • Jennifer Mora says:

            Mountain, Your insistence on a grain/sugar consuming vegan causes more harm than a a conscientious omnivore (i don’t know what that is exactly) is not true and they do not cause equal harm even in the best cases. See this from AnimalVisuals.org. http://www.animalvisuals.org/projects/data/1mc
            The first assumption is that “equal amounts of land will produce equal amounts of food from crops or from animals ln pasture.” Factors not considered are how many predators are killed in defense of livestock and how many animals are prevented from existing by the destruction of their habitat. Since it requires more land to grow grass-fed cows, it makes sense to conclude that this requires more destruction and more suffering of wild animals.

            The other issue is that of killing animals directly. It is not necessary in the production of fruits, vegetables and grains. While you think that this argument is a slam-dunk, it’s not. According to this analysis of the study used by Davis, only 3% of field mice were killed by the combine harvester. That’s 1 mouse. An additional 52% were killed by predators after harvest (after clearing the fields). But it is unknown how many would have been killed by predators anyway. There is not a comparable study for that. What is known is that 100% of dairy cows are killed in the production of butter and other dairy products. Dairy cows undergo the certain loss of life, infanticide (of the males), rape, mutilation and torture (taking away one’s child is not a walk in the park). They lose friendships and the population is engineered to be scewed towards the young versus the wild animals have the chance of escaping a field and setting up a family elsewhere, if they haven’t already done so. Consuming butter, calling cows and their families by the product of their direct exploitation (what farmer sticks his arm into a a mouse’s rectum to impregnate her?) is an omission of their personhood. One quickly goes from A to Zed without regard for the individuals involved for the shallowness of taste and aesthetics, something that is not even considered a nutritional requisite. If it is something that someone can live without, then it is safe to assume that one should do away with it and not promote it as a quintessential experience and romanticize it (my words) thereby omitting the incredible harm done to female cows and their young.

          • Mountain says:

            “According to this analysis of the study used by Davis, only 3% of field mice were killed by the combine harvester. That’s 1 mouse. An additional 52% were killed by predators after harvest (after clearing the fields). But it is unknown how many would have been killed by predators anyway. There is not a comparable study for that.”

            Which shows how much you and the researchers care about the field mice! 55% were killed during, or in the immediate aftermath of harvest. A population cannot suffer losses of 55% on a regular basis and still exist, so we know full well that most are those deaths are directly attributable to the harvest. One or two of those deaths might be due to normal predation (as you note, the researchers couldn’t be bothered to study that, though it would have been incredibly easy to do so), but the overwhelming majority were directly to the harvest.

            I’ve seen vegans trot out that study before, thinking it helps their argument, but it actually destroys their argument, and in the process, it shows how little they actually care about the field animals. Go ahead and show a little concern for the personhood of field mice before you castigate me for allegedly denying the personhood of cows. And if it’s wrong for me to use the word “butter” without mentioning dead cows, it’s wrong for you to use the word “flour” without mentioning dead field animals. Go ahead and make that linguistic change, and I’ll be happy to join you.

          • Jennifer Mora says:

            You glossed right over the fact that of the 52% they were not sure how many would die by predators anyway. You didn’t address the loss of habitat for wild animals when grazing pastures are implemented and how predators are killed to defend livestock. The numbers are still 55% to field mice (a generous and unfounded number) versus 100% for farmed animals.

            Personhood is key here and one that you still have not looked at either. What farmer growing sugar or grains bodily violates and terminates the life and all future lives of the male species of mice? If you are going to continually compare these products, look at the violations done by butter. The onus is on you to justify the ethics in your butter consumption because you said you like “grass-fed butter”, completely eliminating animal personhood, the continually raped mother, infanticide of male calves and her eventual premature death, all three of these not endured by wild animals. Which one do you think causes less harm?

          • Mountain says:

            “You glossed right over the fact that of the 52% they were not sure how many would die by predators anyway.”

            No, I didn’t. I addressed it directly, but apparently you have no answer. So let me repeat myself:

            “55% were killed during, or in the immediate aftermath of harvest. A population cannot suffer losses of 55% on a regular basis and still exist, so we know full well that most are those deaths are directly attributable to the harvest.”

            Of an initial group of 33 field mice, 18 were killed during the harvest. In an act of denial worthy of an unthinking carnivore, you claimed that we don’t know if those might have been normal predation. But we do know! It is not biologically or mathematically possible for that to be normal predation.

  8. Mountain says:

    Buttery lesson #2:

    As it turns out, butter isn’t the only thing that worse for the environment than margarine. Potatoes, for example, are almost three times as bad (2.9x) for the environment by volume. That is, one pound of potatoes causes roughly three times the harm that margarine causes.

    Of course, one pound of margarine (or butter, for that matter) has nearly 9 times as many calories as potatoes. So, on a per-calorie basis, potatoes do more than 25 times as much environmental harm as margarine. Which means butter, though twice as harmful to the environment as margarine, cause less than 10% of the harm potatoes cause.

  9. Mountain says:

    Buttery lesson #3:

    Happily, man (or woman) does not live by potatoes alone. Not even the Irish.

    Consider peanut butter. By volume, it only causes 2.5x the environmental harm that margarine does, and has nearly as many calories per pound. So, on a per-calorie basis, it only causes 3 times as much harm as margarine. Still worse than butter (at 2x the harm), but far from the wanton cruelty of potatoes (25x the harm) or beef (more than 50x the harm).

  10. Jennifer Mora says:

    Thank you James for writing about this. This is such a frustrating aspect of foodie-ism. Animal ethics truly is way down on the list, somewhere underneath the environment. And butter is a product. It is not “natural”. There is a process to obtain it. If butter grew on a tree, one could then call it natural. It is also an extreme violation of many cows’ reproductive processes. If our perception of natural involves obtaining it from the land ourselves and eating it out of hand, isn’t this the least environmentally damaging? We wouldn’t set up a system of exploitation of these other animals to claim as our own and support them so that we could get what belongs to them inherently.

  11. Jennifer Mora says:

    And isn’t Bittman supposed to be against dairy for health reasons? Or is it just milk? http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/07/got-milk-you-dont-need-it/

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