Steak, Veggie Burgers, and Bullshit

July 21, 2010

It appears that Mother Jones’ environmental section will publish just about anything. Get a load of this new article, titled: “Steak or Veggie Burger: Which is Greener?”

Its subtitle is:

A lifelong vegetarian eats her first hamburger—to find out the truth.

Why should anyone care about the author’s personal diet? Shouldn’t the argument in this piece be the product of evidence and analysis?

Despite local food god Michael Pollan’s edict to eat “mostly plants,” my friends seem to be consuming more meat, not less. Parties are no longer just parties—they’re pig roasts, or chili cook-offs, or crab feeds. At the farmers market, stroller moms swarm the meat stand to flirt with the hunky, bearded butcher.

Once again, why should we care about the author’s friends, random mothers, or hunky, bearded butchers? Wasting time on details like these is an early tip-off that this article will be a lightweight piece with little evidence to back up its claims.

The primary claim advanced by this article is that researchers found that a processed pea burger takes about the same energy to create as a pork chop. But there’s no discussion of the details of this study, which was done in Europe and is hidden behind a pay wall. Nor is there any indication that the author even bothered to read beyond the article’s abstract. So what we have is an extraordinary claim, advanced without supporting evidence or any explanation of why that claim might be relevant to mass-market veggie burgers sold in the United States.

And then we are handed this load of crap from Charlotte Vallaeys of the Cornucopia Institute:

I can’t think of a single meat-alternative product where I could explain how every ingredient is made. With a grass-fed burger, well, there’s one ingredient. And with grass-fed burgers I actually might be doing something good for the environment.

So, just analyze the top three ingredients from the best-selling vegan veggie burger, and compare their combined environmental impact to grass-fed burgers. That’s what somebody seriously interested in finding the truth would do, rather than a bunch of hand-waving over the uncertain origin of ingredient number seventeen.

And Vallaeys’ assertion that grass-fed burgers might in fact be beneficial to the environment is yet another extraordinary claim that isn’t backed up at all within this article.

And finally:

The caloric yield of supermarket spinach and mesclun, for instance, is worse than that of beef, since growing it in winter climates requires heated greenhouses, while shipping and storing it in warm weather requires refrigeration.

The author doesn’t bother to mention that you’d have to eat more than ten pounds of spinach to get the same calories you’d get from a pound of beef, and that’s even before taking into account the beef fat lost during cooking. (Nutrient links here and here.)

Of course, people don’t eat spinach and mesclun for calories; they eat it because these foods are packed with vitamins and minerals. Making an argument on the basis of calories rather than other nutrients is incredibly misleading, and few Mother Jones readers would have the background required to see through this faulty argument.

I could go on and on about the flaws in this article, but it’s not worth my time or yours. It’s abundantly clear that Mother Jones needs to hire a new editor for its Environment section; publishing shit like this is inexcusable. Link.

Previous post:

Next post: