This is a reprint of my latest article for "Planet Kansas" --the Kansas Sierra Club magazine. I've been fortunate enough to be able to write the "Eating as Thought the Earth Matters" column for several issues.
The “Question Authority” Diet
One of my favorite bumper stickers is the one that simply states “Question Authority.” Participating in any justice movement requires that of us. It is by questioning, rather than accepting, authority that we measure the rules, traditions, customs, and laws against our own ethics and our own moral compass.
In a New York Times article entitled, “Retracting a Plug for Meatless Mondays,” Amy Harmon described the debacle at the USDA when someone recommended in an interoffice newsletter the following: “One simple way to reduce your environmental impact while dining at our cafeterias is to participate in the ‘Meatless Monday’ initiative.” They went on to explain the benefits: “The production of meat, especially beef (and dairy as well), has a large environmental impact. According to the U.N., animal agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gases and climate change. It also wastes resources. It takes 7,000 kg of grain to make 1,000 kg of beef.”
The Meatless Monday campaign is promoted by numerous organizations, including the John Hopkins School of Public Health. Its goal is to encourage people to go meatless on Mondays to benefit one’s own health, the environment, and the animals.
Cries of heresy rang out from those who profit hugely from the animal agriculture industry. It did not take long for the authorities to, not only remove the recommendation, but also to state quite authoritatively: “U.S.D.A. does not endorse Meatless Monday.”
Meanwhile, we go on questioning, and we find that an October, 2012, United Nations Global Environment Alert Service article (at unep.net) reported that: “…the true costs of industrial agriculture, and specifically ‘cheap meat’, have become more and more evident. Today, ‘the livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems’" (Steinfeld et al. 2006).” Among the stressors to the earth caused by animal agriculture, they list many of the problems we have highlighted in this column—desertification, deforestation, pollution, overuse of water, using grain to feed animals instead of hungry people, and greenhouse gas emissions.
As we question further, we hear from The Center for Biological Diversity. They report that scientists are asking legislators to reduce public land grazing in the west. They cite higher temperatures, accompanied by less snow and water, and more fires. The combination of global warming and the huge stress placed on these lands by domestic animals is causing a situation in which it is becoming more and more difficult for the ecosystems to recover and support the wild animals who depend on them. They noted that both BLM and Forest Service land is trampled upon by grazers causing erosion and harming water, wildlife, plant biodiversity, and pollination.
As the Question Authority journey continues, a Norwegian foundation known as GRID-Arendal has posted revealing information on their website at grida.no. They are a group that collaborates with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Regarding fish, GRID notes that out of 110-130 million tons of marine animals, 30 million tons are discarded as trash and 30 million tons are converted to fishmeal much of which is ironically fed to vegetarian animals such as cows. What will the “authorities” think of next?
We all know that today’s fishing technologies, aquaculture of captive fish, and land animal agriculture pollution are major causes of dead zones and other severe threats to the health of the earth’s waters.
GRID also points out that the land needed to pasture and grow crops to feed animals takes up approximately one-third of all arable land, land that could be used to feed people, including the nearly one billion of the world’s hungry human beings. Imagine, as the global population increases, if the demand for meat increases along with it, as meat producers hope it will, sustainable meat production will be more of an oxymoron than it is now. Already, approximately 70% of what was Amazon forest has been slashed and burned and is used for pasture and animal feed crops.
It is precisely because we question authority that the giant animal agriculture machine has proposed “ag-gag” bills in 11 states. These bills are designed to make it a crime to film, document, or otherwise expose activities at agricultural facilities. Whistleblowers around the country have been able to expose animal cruelty, unsafe food practices, and illegal and unfair treatment of workers, but big ag wants that to stop no matter that both human and animal rights are at stake.
In a May 27 press release entitled “North Carolinians to See TV Ads Showing Animal Cruelty the Chamber of Commerce is Trying to Keep Hidden,” the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) states “The narrator in The HSUS commercial calls on politicians and the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce to stop the legislation because it would criminalize undercover investigations, help protect and shield the abusers and violate the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and the press.”
The importance of whistleblowers and authority questioners cannot be underestimated. HSUS reports: “A 2008 whistleblower investigation into a slaughter plant in California revealed sick animals being slaughtered, leading to the recall of 140 million pounds of tainted meat, tens of millions of pounds of which was originally destined for school cafeterias across America. Images of workers kicking cows, ramming them with a forklift and using electric prods and high-pressure water hoses to force sick animals to slaughter led evening newscasts and shocked consumers. This one investigation led to cruelty convictions, Congressional hearings, new policy, a shut-down of the plant and the largest meat recall in U.S. history.”
It may not always be the most popular path to take, but without questioners and whistleblowers, this earth and all who live here will continue to suffer under the heels of the toxic industries that profit from exploiting and killing animals, people, and nature.
Refusing to support these industries by eating a vegan, plant-based diet and living nonviolently is one of the most radical, revolutionary acts anyone can take. Questioning authority leads to researching the origins of the products we buy. If the source of that product is steeped in violence, we can refuse to support it. Therein lies our power to bring peace and healing to the world.
Copyright 2013 Judy Carman
Copyright 2013 Judy Carman