Resolved: We Shall Eat Green

Farm Bill, Local Eats
foodprint

There’s some very big news on the environmental front, and it’s big news for the animals, too! Green food resolutions are starting to pop up, and this is a very good thing for everyone, as it’s an important sign that the public at large is beginning to confront the truly inconvenient truth: What and whom you consume has a direct effect on our planet.

By consuming a plant-based diet, you are significantly reducing your global foodprint. You’ve probably already heard by now that in 2006, the United Nations came out with a study (“Livestock’s Long Shadow”) documenting that livestock production is a major contributor to global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. The report estimates that livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions; that’s more than the entire transport sector combined.

Thanks to the diligence of hay-makers like you, people are slowly starting to talk about this. And recently, two city council resolutions have found their way into the mix.

Earlier this week, Chicago’s City Council Committee on Energy, Environmental Protection and Public Utilities approved a resolution urging that sustainable plant-based food be made readily available to all the city’s residents. This signaled a milestone in Farm Sanctuary’s campaign to introduce Green Food Resolutions in cities across the country. Thanks to Alderman Margaret Laurino, the sponsor of the resolution, the Windy City is a shining example of green progress. People are listening. Eating animals is simply unsustainable and wreaks havoc on our planet. This resolution is a platform for change, and it shows without a doubt that there is a strong demand for vegan food, which is the best answer for the animals, our health and, of course, the environment.

As if that were not enough, the Big Apple is also making big strides. On June 30, New York City Councilmember Bill de Blasio introduced Resolution 2049, another groundbreaking step toward a greener, kinder planet. FoodprintNYC, as it is called, is the creation of the NYC Foodprint Alliance, a coalition of several nonprofits – including Farm Sanctuary. It is a citywide initiative that aims to create greater access to local, fresh, healthy plant-based food, especially in low-income communities and city-run institutions.

For two years, I have been personally enmeshed in FoodprintNYC. What started with a conversation between Farm Sanctuary and the New York League of Humane Voters grew to become a coalition of movers and shakers, and now, thanks to Councilmember de Blasio, we can see this resolution get passed. If you reside in New York City, we need your help to make that happen.

Here’s a video that Councilmember Bill de Blasio put together, along with the help of me and my dog, Rose:

Watching this idea grow to become a citywide and then national campaign is enough to make this hay-maker a believer. Not only can change happen, but change needs to happen so that we can preserve and care for our planet and all its inhabitants. That is why we’d like to work with you so that a Green Food resolution can be introduced in your city, too. And if you need support in doing that, let me know.

I have the sudden strong desire to end this entry with my favorite quote, said by Margaret Mead. If you know me personally, then you know I recite it on a regular basis. It’s my MO, and it should be yours, too:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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  1. Friday, July 24th, 2009
    This is such a hopefully encouraging piece. Thank you for doing this great work!
  2. Friday, July 24th, 2009
    Sorry, but Ms. Singer's piece is a bit too simplistic in my book. First, animals and plants have evolved together over millions of years and a sustainable agricultural system requires animals be part of the ecosystem of a farm (you need their nitrogen and other inputs to fertility and soil health). Second, eating animals is sustainable if the animals are raised in a manner (i.e. grass fed)that contributes to the resilience of a farming system, which is a proven phenomenon. Third, meat eaten in moderate quantities in not bad for human health. Fourth, moral arguments against eating animals is a very subjective stance and does not recognize that Homo sapiens are in fact animals too and that animals have eaten animals through the long evolutionary path of life on earth. I do agree that the way that we end an animals life before consumption as practiced by the industrial meat factories today is cruel. However, there are many alternatives emerging all over the nation at the local and regional level.
  3. Friday, July 24th, 2009
    Thanks for this great piece about the Foodprint resolution. It's so important that the various constituencies that care about food, justice, sustainability, animals and the climate work together. Jasmin's article lays out all the arguments for why, and points the way to needed changes in policy - and individual and institutional practice. We need to read more articles like this and then take action.
  4. Friday, July 24th, 2009
    If only I lived in NYC, I could help you out. Anything I can do from NJ?
  5. Rose Barker
    Friday, July 24th, 2009
    My family is vegan but I'm just a quiet, lead by example, kind of vegan. Not really and activist but I wish I had more of a voice, like Jasmin here. Keep cranking out articles like this- they're very informative.
  6. Jane Smithson
    Friday, July 24th, 2009
    Michael,

    Actually, I believe it is you who is incorrect. Check out this article: http://www.mountainx.com/opinion/2009/070109greenwashed. I am not sure that Locavores like you actually have any idea what you're talking about. I'm not a vegan but I am on my way.... and I do believe that locavores are in the dark about issues of sustainability. Your arguments are pretty..."simplistic" and inaccurate.

    Jane
  7. afrench
    Saturday, July 25th, 2009
    Hi Jane - Your rebuttal of Michael Dimock's comments are misplaced.

    I do agree that many of the strictly energetic arguments for the locavore movement are correctly under fire...however, this was not what Michael was saying.

    At no point in his comments did Michael identify himself as a locavore, and there are many aspects to sustainability that go far beyond simplistic carbon and energy accounting. There are cases where a higher energy input can be more sustainable if it is in the context of a healthy, unified ecosystem - of which animals can and have been an important component for millions of years.

    I agree completely with Michael's points - particularly for the separation of moral / ethical arguments against eating meat from environmental ones. There are valid reasons and points to be made in both conversations, but they are unfortunately frequently combined and confused.
  8. Jane Smithson
    Saturday, July 25th, 2009
    Hi afrench,
    Thanks for your message. I believe that animal production in the way you are presenting it is unrealistic on a global level. So is veganism. But in the mean time, perhaps if more people went vegan (or mostly vegan) our ecosystem would truly thrive. Since a vegan world is unlikely, I'm glad to see things like this foodprint popping up so that people can be schooled on the importance of consuming plant-based foods (as opposed to animal foods) to our environment. The way it is now is COMPLETELY unsustainable, and for most people who only have access to animal products by way of factory farms, it makes a lot more sense to eat plant foods. Michael says that Homosapiens have been eating animals for years; if he (or anyone else) wants to hunt down an animal with his own bare hands and then eat the animal, then I get it...*that's* how it used to be done, before we started mass producing animals in a way that makes no sense and is nothing but unsustainable and abusive. Since we are obviously going to disagree, I would hope we could both be behind a resolution that calls on people to eat lower on the food chain as a means to lower their foodprint. I don't think that's simplistic at all (Michael's word); I think it's a great way to find a bridge between our differences.

    -Jane
  9. Monday, July 27th, 2009
    Thanks to afrench and Jane for exploring the issue further. I do believe that eating lower on the food chain for the greatest proportion of our food is much better. I do believe the current population of the world is not sustainable in the long term if we are going truly integrate human and behavior and the natural world in order to survive. Long-term projections indicate that human pop will peak at the end of this century. I hope that alone will lead to lower impacts from our food system. But we can do more. As I wrote earlier, the current dominant meat production paradigm is inhumane and unsustainable, but there are alternative, sustainable systems emerging, I encourage Jane to look into Polyface Farm in VA. That farm owned and operated by Joel Salatin has set off a whole new approach taking root across the land. Salatin has learned how to mimic natural biological cycles/systems to raise many species together thereby minimizing external energy inputs. Sun and symbiosis create the energy upon which the meat is produced: chicken, pork and beef. Moral judgments are a human construct and we need them to minimize violence and intolerance, but we must remain open to the fact that they are subjective and can change with new information. One way to find good information that will allow new interpretations of what is morally acceptable is to look at the natural world to see what lessons it teaches about what is truly sustainable. Like you Jane, I too believe that morality and sustainability are linked. I am positive that the crises of the next century will make that totally clear.
  10. Andrew
    Monday, July 27th, 2009
    from the father of sustainable agriculture (sir albert howard):

    "Mother Earth never attempts to farm without livestock; she always raises mixed crops; the mixed vegetable and animal wastes are converted into humus; there is no waste; the processes of growth and the processes of decay balance one another; both plants and animals are left to protect themselves against disease."
  11. John M. Schaeffer
    Tuesday, July 28th, 2009
    Andrew, are you for real? Do you even have a clue as to what is involved with animal production, or are you posting quotes like that as a means to make yourself feel better about partaking in the most cruel and commodified industry imaginable? Vast tracts of land are needed to grow crops to feed the billions of animals we raise for food each year. According to scientists at the Smithsonian Institute, the equivalent of seven football fields of land is bulldozed every minute, much of it to create more room for farmed animals. Of all the agricultural land in the U.S., nearly 80 percent is used in some way to raise animals—that's roughly half of the total land mass of the U.S.10 More than 260 million acres of U.S. forest have been cleared to create cropland to grow grain to feed farmed animals. You keep talking about "sustainable meat" but there seem to be two very distinct flaws there: One is that what you call "sustainable" is also unrealistic and elitist. There's not enough land to produce animals in that way. In order to produce animals sustainably, we'd have to drastically cut down the animals we produce anyway. Plus, it's way too expensive for factory farms to make that conversion. It makes a lot more sense as far as I'm concerned to just cut out the animal section entirely, or, as someone else said, drastically reduce it. Another thing to keep in mind is the cruelty element. Even if it is what you call "sustainable," it does not escape the cruelty that is inherrent (you cannot make milk without creating veal calves; you cannot make eggs without gassing the boy chicks alive and eventually killing the hens once they are "spent"). I consider myself an environmentalist, but I have to say, I just don't understand environmentalists who turn off animal cruelty issues as if it were a light switch. There needs to be balance between the two. Andrew, your quote gave me a much-needed morning chuckle, so thank you for that.
  12. Julie Cummins
    Wednesday, July 29th, 2009
    I agree with Michael and afrench. A plant-based diet is a great idea for many reasons, and a choice I applaud, but food choices are a lot more complex than that. For example, just looking at the climate factor (which is only one element to consider in responsible eating), chicken has a smaller carbon footprint than tofu, according to Bon Appetit Management Co's analysis. I agree that we should all ideally eat mostly plants, but on the other hand, products like Tofurkey, Silk and Not Dogs are highly processed, globally sourced, often genetically modified, and far removed from the land. My point is that it's not black and white, and a diet that includes some consumption of humanely and ecologically raised animals or their products is not necessarily unsustainable. Here's that carbon calculator link: http://www.eatlowcarbon.org/Carbon-Calculator.html
  13. John M. Schaeffer
    Wednesday, July 29th, 2009
    I actually found the article that Jane posted was really interesting, especially in terms of what you are saying. http://www.mountainx.com/opinion/2009/070109greenwashed. I particularly liked this part:

    "But let’s get back to local farms, specifically those that raise animals. Compared with factory farms, family farms do employ some environmentally beneficial practices. Yet in some ways they’re actually less eco-friendly.

    Animals allowed to move around expend more calories and thus consume more resources than those crammed into tiny crates and cages. Chickens not pumped full of antibiotics and genetically manipulated to reach optimal slaughter weight at 6-1/2 weeks take longer to raise — and consume more food in the process. Cows raised on pasture produce more methane (a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide) than those crammed into feedlots.

    Supporting a meat-based diet requires five times as much land as a plant-based diet, and smaller farms use even more land per animal. Additional demand for these products means deforestation, which leads to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The amount of land needed to produce all the meat Americans now consume by so-called “sustainable” methods would be astronomical — and it simply isn’t available. So if the answer lies in a shift from factory to family farms, much less meat will be produced.

    But what about those who can’t afford or don’t have access to “elite meat”? Must they become vegetarians so that those better-off can continue their habits guilt-free? And how can something that uses so much land and other resources ever really merit the “sustainable” label?

    There are definitely good reasons to support local farms. It’s great to do business with our neighbors, keep more money and jobs in our community, minimize “food miles,” eat fresher and tastier food, preserve local farmland and avoid supporting corporate agribusiness. And local farms are generally far less cruel than their industrial counterparts when it comes to raising animals."

    Anyway, the interesting thing I'm noticing is that although we disagree about certain things, we all seem to agree that people should eat less animal products and more plant-based foods, or even all plant-based foods.

    But one point that my wife (who is standing over my shoulder right now) pointed out to me is that an element that many people are forgetting is the cruelty-factory. Julie, I will look into that link you added, but I want to mention that though you cited processed plant-based foods like tofurkey, there are also local, organic, non-processed plant-based foods that require a lot less toll on this planet than anything else... I just feel like people come up with a lot of excuses for why they can continue to eating meat but, as my wife keeps saying, meat is cruel. You can't make chicken without killing male chicks, for example... and chickens are treated like the bottom of the barrell, because they are. It's beyond JUST the environment, here. It's also about what is humane. Ask the right questions -- of both your farmers and yourself -- that's what I'm saying.
  14. Ann Finnegan
    Wednesday, July 29th, 2009
    Ezra Klein has a terrific column on this very issue today. He comes down (a bit reluctantly) on the side of eating plants. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/28/AR2009072800390.html
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