Vegetarian diets are not going to save the planet.
Chris Newman
54181

Interesting article. I agree that the long view requires a local, seasonal approach to eating (and I too have no desire to join a commune.*). I have three points for you to consider however. First, although some of the massive fields of corn, wheat, and soy that you mention feed humans, most are going largely to the production of animal feed for our massive meat producing CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). As more people move towards a vegetarian diet, less produce will be raised as feed and those massive brown zones will shrink, or at least remain constant as human populations grow. Additionally, overall, raising cattle requires more land than cultivating produce. In many areas, creating range for cattle is a factor in the large scale deforestation of important ecosystems.

Second, CAFOs generate an enormous amount of methane and manure. The methane is a climate change driver that we all (I hope) know about (at least those of us that trade in reality), but the manure is also problematic. It leads to contaminated water — you can read about the algae blooms in Ohio and elsewhere that manure runoff has helped to cause (along with other improper farming practices and poor sewage management).

Third, although reasonable people can disagree about whether eating meat and fish is humane when it’s harvested from the wild or raised in a manner that allows the animals to roam in large (I mean really large) green spaces, raise their young, and avoid the horrors of transport to feedlots and other atrocities, reasonable, compassionate humans cannot, and generally do not, argue that it is ever okay to torture animals.

CAFOs raise animals in large warehouses in an atmosphere of fear and waste, without opportunity for any positive life experience. They rip young animals from their parents or force them to nurse through bars. Dairies have been caught tossing downed cows, while still alive, into piles of waste and some egg farms toss unwanted chicks, while still living, into grinding machines. Otherwise compassionate people may put their heads in the sand or look the other way — after all there is no good argument that this is moral — but, in my experience, compassionate people do not say that the CAFO system is good when pressed. They cannot because it is not.**

Advocating vegetarianism (even a partially vegetarian diet can help pressure the meat industry to change) helps reduce harm to our environment, it encourages people to explore alternative foods (a skill they will need if they are to move towards the sort of diet you have advocated), and vegetarianism encourages standing up for what is right and compassion, both things we will need more of if we are to meet successfully the wide range of challenges that we now face, including developing a sustainable and humane food supply.

*Today many vegetarians choose to live outside of communes. Feel free to try it out without fear that vegetarianism will cause an irresistible urge to buy a tambourine or wear a tie dye.

**Yes, I know, people can point to CAFOs that try to do better — and I applaud these efforts. Years ago, when I still ate meat, I sought to buy meat from those producers who tried to improve. But this became unsustainable since a producer that took a step forward one week would take two steps back the next. I don’t have the time to keep track of whose doing what in the industry. I do have the ability to redirect my money elsewhere. The problem is that raising massive amounts of living creatures in artificial conditions, to sustain an unsustainable, and unhealthy addiction to meat promotes a loss of empathy and compassion at all levels — consumers look away, while workers in the industry learn to objectify living creatures in order to avoid becoming emotional messes themselves (an entirely different, but related, issue is the treatment of the workers in this industry, which is not good). Overall, the lack of compassion in the current U.S. animal agriculture system repeatedly leads to abuse; it does so because its structure necessarily promotes it.