Why I Don’t Like Vegetarians
(Note: This is a personal rant of David Thier’s and does not reflect the views of the Yale Sustainable Food Project)
If one more person, fresh from skimming the first chapter of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, tells me that they’ve become a vegetarian for “environmental reasons,” then I will break their malnourished nose.
“Meat just isn’t sustainable” is a sentiment I hear a a lot these days, and it is inaccurate.
Certain kinds of meat are the most unsustainable foods available on the market. They’re fed off of bushels of fossil-fertilized corn, shipped halfway around the country and then back again before being shrink-wrapped with styrofoam. Still, refusing to eat meat because particular meat products offend you would be like me refusing to eat all vegetables because the shape of zucchinis makes me uncomfortable.
People are so quick to draw arbitrary lines about what is sustainable, what is “green,” and what is not. But that kind of thinking is dangerous – it represents an unwillingness to actually engage with the world on a case-by case basis, and instead assume the power to make sweeping blanket statements that ignore the complexities of real life.
Grazing cattle, for example, can be one of the best ways to use large plots of land to produce calories without the work associated with intensive agriculture, and with no other input than solar energy. If you follow those same cattle with pasture raised chickens, you have a system that can regenerate soil that would have been lost to natural forces. Pigs and chickens both can turn what are essentially waste products into valuable protein. A national buffalo commons may be the only way to maintain The Great Plains without draining the Ogalla aquifer.
Animals can be an essential way to cycle nutrients on a farm trying to minimize inputs, and it does the agricultural economy a disservice by preventing farmers from profiting from those pieces of a sustainable system.
Not that meat is always a good answer: even grass-fed cattle will still fill belch out methane that contributes to global warming. Blanket acceptance of meat is as dangerous, if not more than blanket rejection, but rules aren’t the answer here. What’s needed is thought, flexibility, and adaptability.
Making rules will just keep us on the path we’re already on. Reducing plants to Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium yielded the industrial corn economy, and reducing diets to calories, proteins, fats and sugars has done nothing to staunch obesity. Reducing food to such broad categories as meat and vegetables could be just as damning in creating a food system that does not cooperate with nature.
For those that have a moral problem with killing animals, you are missing out on some good meat, but I can’t judge, because I do not have a moral problem with killing animals. I do feel like I haven’t done my complete duty in making that decision, which is why I’m making plans to have a chance to kill a chicken, then eat it. My views might change after that.
However, for all those who feel that all meat is environmentally unsound, just give it a little bit of thought. Don’t think of the steak in front of you as just “a steak,” but think about where it came from, how it was raised, who it was raised by, and how it is seasoned. If the stripe of this particular steak doesn’t meet your standards, don’t eat it, don’t buy it. But don’t reject it just for being a steak.
Don’t even get me started on vegans.