Posts Tagged ‘Michael Pollan

The Foodie’s Equivalent of Clean Coal

» November 13th, 2014

Next time you have a quorum of Food Movement reformers, try this: ask for a show of hands of those who want to see agriculture eliminate fossil fuel. I assure you that every hand will dart skyward.

The Food Movement’s defining mission, after all, is to farm without oil and gas. It embraces alternative fuel sources, most notably the sun, as essential to farming’s future. Notice how the movement never says it wants to pursue reduced fossil fuel consumption. To the contrary, our founding foodies want agriculture to make a total divestment before moving ahead. In the Food Movement’s idealized future there’s no room for Fossil Fuel Free Fridays.

This goal is appropriately righteous—eliminating fossil fuel from agriculture—and it’s one that I support. My reason for bringing it up here is not to critique the ambition per se but to use it as an essential backdrop to another position—a much more problematic one—that the Food Movement continues to endorse: meat consumption.

Despite overwhelming evidence that domesticated animals (cows most notably) are ecological disasters, the Food Movement refuses to banish them from the plate. In direct violation of its repeated call for sustainability, the movement avoids the radical but necessary stance (in contrast to its stance on fossil fuels) that there should be a total divestment from animal agriculture, beginning with cattle. In fact, it will often say something wishy-washy like “asking people to eat a plant-based diet seems unrealistic”—forgetting that farming without fossil fuel is a mountain to the vegan molehill.

Indeed, what makes this inconsistency so appalling is how much more realistic it is to achieve a plant-based diet than a full divestment from fossil fuel. One burden falls on the consumer—you and me—while the other falls on the producer—faceless and labyrinthian corporations that hold power levels we’ll never touch. Defenders of beef (and other forms of animal agriculture) will pontificate with rare grandiosity about the untapped promises of rotational grazing, waxing poetically about carbon sequestration, soil remineralization, and hoof action until your eyes roll back into your head. It’s a seductive story. But the alleged benefits are more rhetorical than practical. Making rotational grazing work consistently and as promised has proven to be as achievable as climbing Everest.

Look at it this way: rotational grazing is the moral equivalent of clean coal. The way that advocates of clean coal defend their product—namely, they say they are “sequestering carbon”—is really no different than the way advocates of rotational grazing defend beef—they say, alas, that they are “sequestering carbon.”  But of course, the advocates of rotational grazing would be loath to accept the clean coal narrative (how do you think Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan feel about clean coal?). So why do they swoon and drool over the narrative of a clean steak? Why, when it comes to fossil fuel, does the movement think big but, when it comes to the steak on their plate, they compromise?

 

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.)