Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Case for Veganism (Is Not What You Think)

I have good news, and bad news.

They're the same news.

The world is a lot smaller than you thought it was.


You might find this really comforting because the world is terrifyingly huge. You shouldn't. You live in a Matrix-like illusion of choice. When you turn on the TV, but the truth is, you're getting what's fed to you and it's probably from the same source even if you have 800 stations including ESPN Ocho.

Remember how earlier I said, "they're the same news?" Well, I meant that literally.

Recently a story broke about "local" news being... not so local.  And people acted shocked, the same way they did when they discovered that Taco Bell tacos are not, in fact, 100% grade-A beef, but that the $1 taco they were buying drunk at 2 am was actually 40% soy.

"Next you'll tell me that a Doritos Loco Quesorito Taco isn't authentically Mexican!"

Here's the thing. You have less choices than you realized, yet you still do have a choice. In the grocery store, there's only 10 real brands.

Which is 4 more than there are media corporations so, hey, technically more choice!

When you choose X over Y, you are sending a message. A tiny one. A scroll in a bottle in an ocean. But still. A message.

And I like to believe that I'm making some tiny difference and that if enough people did the same thing, they might manage to make a change. People in numbers can direct corporate policy.

When everyone lost their shit about IKEA meatballs have horse in them, for example, IKEA shaped up. (By the way, there's fundamentally no difference between a horse and cow, meat-wise. They're both edible animals. Get over it, meat-eaters.)

So this brings me to what this post is about: the case for veganism.

Since people often find vegans preachy and annoying, I would like to make an argument that is not about the morality of eating or killing animals, but an argument for saving the planet. Remember how I said earlier that it's smaller than we think it is? Well... that means we should all have a vested interest in helping the planet. And that might mean cutting back our meat consumption.

In order for this post to be fun despite its themes of environmentalism, the rest of the pictures I post in between hard-hitting statistics will just be pictures of Iron Man gorging himself on bad food.

Ha ha Tony likes donuts.

So.  The factory farm system. Bad for animals, bad for workers, bad for the environment. Small family farms are fine, but most meat (we're talking 98, 99%) comes from a system that's profit-based and does not give a shit about the well-being of any living creature... including human consumers and employees.

Putting aside the fact that slaughterhouse workers are underpaid, working long hours at stressful jobs that cause repetitive strain injuries, and putting aside the fact that processed red meat causes cancer, meat begins hurting us before we ever put a bolt gun to the cow's head.

Ha ha Tony and his blueberries.

Cows emit tons and tons of methane. They are farting, burping methane machines.

And that's just the cows themselves, hanging out on feedlots.  That doesn't include the carbon footprint left by the housing facilities, the meat processing plants, the refrigeration or shipping of the meat.  Producing 1 calorie of beef protein requires 78 calories of fossil fuel, 1 calorie of pork takes 35 calories of fossil fuel and 1 calorie of chicken takes 22 calories of fossil fuel.  Meanwhile, soybeans need about two.

Environmentally speaking, chicken is way better than beef, but reducing intake of both is better still.

Chicken comes from factory farm warehouses with HUGE carbon footprints.

Pizza > chicken.

Factory farms are very efficient at "growing" animals.  The problem is, because this has made meat so cheap, along with subsidies, factory farms produce a lot more chickens that would be produced using more "natural" methods and demand is higher, because the chicken is cheaper. It also means all the waste from the chickens is concentrated in one place, so locally it has a pretty nasty environmental impact.

According to the EPA, any warehouse-style livestock facilities is capable of emitting 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, and their emission report requirements apply to both swine plants and poultry plants.

Environmentally, the issue isn't just the methane that the animals are producing, but the anaerobic waste lagoons produced by the farms themselves and the massive amounts of carbon produced by the warehouses where you have fans running continuously to circulate air to the chickens. The more animals you try to pack into a smaller and smaller space, the more artificial the environment becomes, and the more energy is required to maintain livable conditions.

It goes without saying that a backyard chicken coop doesn't need a waste lagoon or a huge, energy-consuming fan or any of the other things a warehouse does.  So while less efficient, "homesteading" your animal products tends to be more environmentally friendly.

Shameless plug for the chicken coop Andy made!

You might think eliminating red meat and only eating chicken and fish is enough, but honestly, it's better to cut back on meat as a whole and maintain a varied diet.

Wait a second did I just say fish?

Yeah, that's right.  Up to one in five fish at your local supermarket is labeled incorrectly.  And don't get me started on shrimp.

For info on how shrimp are bad for the environment, check out this report in Reuters 
or this (slightly more biased one) from The Mangrove Project.

In short, my argument for veganism is this.  People are over-consuming meat and they are literally killing themselves doing that.  (See my previous post on nutrition and dieting.)  But people, as a species, are also overconsuming meat and killing themselves, as a species.  We are killing the planet we live on, and we're doing it for shitty One Dollar Menu burgers.

 I sorta feel like all these posts of Tony Stark eating himself stupid are having diminishing returns.

The best case I have for veganism is not the humane and ethical treatment of animals, nor the health benefits, although these are both really great arguments.  The argument I present today is for the continuation of life on earth itself.

Okay, well.  You know what?  That's fair.  That's honest.  Some people lack the willpower to go vegan and that's okay.  We are, after all, creatures of habit.  So, if the thing stopping you is just plain ol' human foibles, then try to at least cut back, do a Meatless Monday thing or something.

Buy local if possible. Support small family farms; buy from farmer's markets; go to butcher shops, if you can find them, instead of chain grocery markets. If local isn't an option, then at least try to get meat labeled as "free range."

Free range usually means "not in a warehouse." Don't confuse this with "cage free." A chicken that is "cage free" might still be in a warehouse. Animals that have access to an outdoor area mean that there is less dependence on a warehouse with artificial lights, climate control, and air circulation, all of which contribute to the facility's carbon footprint.

Buying local also means that less carbon was produced in order to ship the meat to you. Factory farms generate a lot of carbon by shipping animals to slaughtering plants and then shipping the meat from the slaughtering plant to the grocery store. Locally produced and processed meat probably traveled a lot less... meaning not only is there less carbon emitted in its transport, but it's also likely fresher!

What else can you, a tiny insignificant blip on the planet, a grain of sand on the shore, do?  Try these:

  • Be energy efficient. This benefits you, as a person without much money, and also benefits the environment by reducing your carbon footprint. 
  • Keep lights off during the day; use air conditioning minimally; wash your clothes in cold water, not hot. Get energy efficient bulbs. Take short showers. Energy efficiency saves you money and is also good for the environment. 
  •  Reduce your meat intake if you can't eliminate it. Most animal products come from factory farms, which are bad for the environment. 
  • Likewise, reduce egg and dairy consumption if you can't entirely eliminate them, and buy local when possible.
  • Don't buy or use aerosols.
  • If you're using plastic products, try to get biodegradable ones. Reduce plastic product use as much as possible. Cut the rings on plastic things.
  • Reduce Styrofoam use. Biggest offender is probably take-out containers. If you can't compost it, don't use it.
  • Reduce car use. Take public transit if you can, bike, walk, carpool. This saves you money as well because you're using less gas. It depends on where you live.
  • Study what plants are native to your area. If you garden, only plant native, non-invasive plants. Don't use pesticides.
  • Buy local as much as possible. Try to buy clothes and food that was produced locally; shipping means a bigger carbon footprint. Locally produced items aren't necessarily more expensive. Do your research on what companies you support; treat every dollar you spend as a vote for business practices.
  • Reuse. Buy your clothes second-hand; go to the thrift store BEFORE buying new. This reduces consumption of resources.
  • If you drink coffee or tea, get a travel mug. Stop buying paper cups. Don't buy bottled water; get an aluminum water bottle. Bring your own bags to the grocery store. Any time you find yourself using a consumable resource, ask yourself if there's a reusable alternative. A lot of places give kickbacks for this; for example, at Dunkin' Donuts, you can get a travel mug refilled with coffee for less than buying a large coffee in the disposable cup.
  • Volunteer with Adopt-a-Highway or a similar program to remove trash from the environment.
  • Help pollinators like bees! Even if you live in an apartment or flat, you can plant a little flower and put it out on your porch. A quick Google search will tell you what plants you can grow to help out the bees. (I live in a duplex and have 3 potted plants on my porch that are bee-friendly.) (They've always attracted hummingbirds, which is pretty cool.)
  • Avoid products with palm oil, especially cosmetics.
  • Don't get drawn in by buzzwords. If something is "green," run a quick Google search to check just how "green" it really is.

As Tony says to Peter Park in Spiderman: Homecoming, " So you wanna look out for the little guy. You wanna do your part. Make the world a better place all that, right?"  This is your chance, folks.

And, the #1 thing you can do is to educate yourself.  Knowing what is good and bad for the environment, as well as what you should put into your body, and researching what to avoid and what products do the least damage to the environment, is HUGE. Most people aren't intentionally creating huge carbon footprints; they just don't know better. Any product you buy, use, consume... RESEARCH IT.

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