Hello all! Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences. Fun right?! Check out previous installations here. I'd love it if you'd read along and join in! And now, without further ado...
The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 16:
Are Vegans Better for the Environment?
Hi Jim and Peter! Oh, this is a fun one. Are we gonna blow up the egos of vegans even more while discussing chapter sixteen of The Ethics of What We Eat: Are Vegans Better for the Environment? I jest, I jest. Kinda.
The salient point of this chapter seems to be that meat production is wasteful. As you explain, both overall calories and specifically protein are both drastically reduced when grains are channeled through cattle to produce meat. At best, raising animals for food requires two pounds of feed for every one pound of edible meat produced (in the case of chickens). At worst, it takes 13 pounds of grain to grow one pound of beef, and in the mid-range pork takes 6 pounds of grain per pound of edible meat. (We won't even mention here how bad grain feed is for animals raised for food, as that's not an environmental issue.)
I often hear a specious "solution" to this problem of waste: just feed the crops grown for animals to humans instead! Well, it doesn't really work that way. The corn and soy grown for animal feed are not the same varieties of corn and soy eaten by humans. You state far more correctly that "[i]t would be more efficient to use the cropland to grow food for humans to eat." That specificity is important.
Here's an educational video on corn, just for funsies.
You are right to point out that there are some animal food products produced in environmentally sustainable ways. Its availability is so scant, though, and sustainability so difficult to determine, that to be truly dedicated to only eating such animal products is practically a decision to eat a plant-based diet anyway. For instance, "[f]or the purchaser of beef or lamb ... it usually isn't possible to find out how well the rancher on whose land the animal grazed cared for the land." A Portlandia skit takes this issue on pretty beautifully.
Overall, I agree with your conclusion that following a plant-based diet and/or living a vegan lifestyle is better for the environment. Better than what? "[V]egans are right to say that their diet is far more environmentally friendly than the Standard American Diet." Hooray!
Jeez, how am I gonna carry around my now-even-more-inflated vegan ego?! JK, I already knew this.
P.S. - I both drive a hybrid and am a vegan. Do I get a prize?