Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wild horses vs. Cheeseburgers - Guess who wins?

This NPR piece is a straw that broke my back...

We are taking up too much space. So much so that we have to kill wild horses to make room for our cattle.

"Heyde says the BLM has a built-in conflict of interest; the agency is the tool of cattlemen who graze cows on the same public land used by wild horses."

First, let it be said that I am NOT a PETA nut- I am fiercely opposed to the draconian techniques they use to shame any and all use of animals. It is excess- critters have to die sometimes, it is natural, it is the food chain, it is the way the world works. I have been quite the carnivore in my day, up there with the best of them. However, I am starting to wonder about just how high the cost of cheap meat really is...

From the New York Times article "Rethinking the Meat Guzzler":

“When you look at environmental problems in the U.S.,” says Professor Eshel, “nearly all of them have their source in food production and in particular meat production. And factory farming is ‘optimal’ only as long as degrading waterways is free. If dumping this stuff becomes costly — even if it simply carries a non-zero price tag — the entire structure of food production will change dramatically.”


"a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days."

More stats from Global Issues:

  • The total cattle population for the world is approximately 1.3 billion occupying some 24% of the land of the planet 3
  • Some 70 to 80% of grain produced in the United States is fed to livestock 4
  • Half the water consumed in the U.S. is used to grow grain for cattle feed. 5
  • A gallon of gasoline is required to produce a pound of grain-fed beef.
That is a ton of resources consumed so I can have my $1 double cheeseburger. Some of the problems the cattle industry contributes to:

- Obesity in Americans

- Other health problems including liver disease, heart disease, and new diseases like mad cow disease that stem from bizarre feeding practices: A study published a few years ago in Preventative Medicine notes that in Arkansas alone, 3 million pounds of chicken manure were fed to cattle in 1994.

- Rampant carbon emissions - methane from cow butts, petroleum used in production/distribution, etc

- Massive water consumption/drought

- Water Pollution - loss of species/habitat

- World hunger - reallocation of 30% grain to non-livestock would feed the entire world a 2000 calorie diet (much of the third world lives on less than 800 calories a day)

- High fuel costs

- Massive consumption of land resources - hence aforementioned horsey concentration camps

- Deforestation in South America- double carbon trouble in less absorption of C02 and huge emissions from burning

- Loss of biodiversity

- More problems I don't understand or know about

All of this screams EXCESS!!! to me. It is the opposite of moderation. It is a slovenly poor job of stewardship. While the world's population starves and the environment is pillaged, Americans are getting fatter and fatter and having more heart attacks. Is it worth it?

The Cattlemen think so. Theirs is a $60 Billon industry that they aim to protect. They are expert lobbists and employ hundreds of lawyers to help them win environmental and land use disputes every year. The "Beef, its what's for dinner" campaign costs them $1 per every cow sold in the US, which the recently doubled in Feb. 2008- so you can expect to see even more beef advertising soon. Unfortunately, enviromental, hunger, and climate advocates simply don't have the marketing dollars to compete- so the message has to be distributed via cheaper means- blogging and telling your friends included.

Now, to one degree or another I knew about some of these issues, especially since many of them had been raised by Fast Food Nation and Supersize Me. Even with that awareness, I didn't really end of changing my habits. The convenience of fast food has been a seductive siren... its cheap, hot, and fills me up quite nicely. A bit too much actually, I've gained quite a lot of weight over the past 5 years largely due to fast food intake.

I don't know what it was about the thought of wild horses getting slaughtered on me had such an impact... They are such a powerful, pure creature, an embodiment of freedom. Perhaps it has to do with growing up around horses and horse culture- I respect horses. They seem to embody the best of American values and have such a rich role in our history, both pre and post colonialism. Seeing wild horses killed to protect cattle interests is like reliving the genocide of Native Americans today. It is criminal, and it is preventable.

If our nation were to act in moderation, there wouldn't be any need for very large changes by individuals in their consumption habits. That being said, I understand that many people refuse to make any changes (I see why they carry that attitude and understand their point of view) so others have to make greater changes to compensate. As such I am going to stop eating meat produced by corporations. I am not going vegan or anything... and you won't find me at your dinner party asking for vegetarian only options. I am just going to make better choices when I am craving fast food, or at the grocery store. If there is a local rancher that raises his cattle in a sustainable, reasonable way, I will buy, eat, and enjoy the deliciousness of it. Taco Bell grade D kibble meat is off my list now. Maybe one day it will be off yours too?

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