You Can So be a Meat Eating Environmentalist

March 6, 2010

This blog pretty much exists to call the meat industry on its nonstop spewage of bullshit.

But every now and then I see something from our side that makes me cringe. And probably at the top of the list is the oft-repeated claim that you can’t be a meat eating environmentalist. That would be a beautiful piece of rhetoric to use, if only if it were true. But it ain’t.

This week, the Huffington Post published an article by Cheri Shankar titled, “Can You Be a Meat-Eating Environmentalist?” which answers the question with a decisive no. The first tip-off that this piece is going to suck is its length: six short paragraphs. Keep in mind what an enormously complex topic this is: you could easily write a book on meat and global warming, a second book on meat production and water pollution, and a third book on beef cattle grazing and rangeland degradation.

There are so many strong reasons to go vegan that it’s insane to advance claims that don’t withstand scrutiny. So let’s break down Shankar’s argument and see where it fails.

There are really two parts to this argument that are problematic. The first is it ignores the amount of meat a person could consume in favor of advancing a binary argument: a person’s either a meat eater or he’s not. Suppose you follow a vegan diet plus one cheeseburger a year: this clearly makes you a meat eater, but it would be absurd to claim that that one burger has any significant impact on the environment.

Perhaps you can make a case that climate change is such a dire and pressing issue that eating even one burger a year is irresponsible. But if you’re going to make that argument in a good-faith way, you’d better be similarly uncompromising in addressing other lifestyle issues. You better say that that person can’t own a car, buy imported tomatoes, and needs to keep her house heated below 55 degrees in the winter.

The second problem with Shankar’s argument is that it lumps all meat—beef, pork, and poultry—together. The truth is that there’s an enormous difference in both resource demands and pollution when you compare red meat to poultry. Now, no doubt, poultry is still much more resource intensive per calorie than is grain, but so are vegetables. And I’ve never seen anything credible to suggest that a thousand calories worth of poultry, produced using the most responsible and environmentally sensitive methods, gobbles up any greater resources than a thousand calories worth of vegetables.

See, whenever you make a claim, the burden of proof falls on your shoulders, and you’ve got to back up your claim with evidence. To make overly broad arguments like the one made in this Huffington Post piece is the essence of uninformed advocacy: it damages our movement’s credibility and plays right into the meat industry’s hands.

We need the meat industry to be the only people in this debate who are full of shit. Link.

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