Bros Should Eat Beans
I love the kind of childish comfort food marketed towards emotionally stunted men: bacon on everything, mac and cheese, sausages, BBQ chicken, ribs. I make monuments out of my lunches. Dinner is a kind of sacred rite.
But here’s the thing: lately I haven’t been able to enjoy eating with a completely clean conscience. I’ve been starting to frown a little as I brown beef for taco night. I might even pause before I place an order for that delicious meatball sub. Guilt is too strong a word it — it’s not like this feeling has ever made me change my diet. Troubled might be closer to the mark. I’ve been troubled by roast beef and fried chicken and BBQ pulled pork and yes, even bacon. I’ve been troubled because I’ve been forced to admit that my choice to fill my life with manly meaty meals has been (ever so slightly) destroying the earth.
The facts are simple: eating high up on the food chain uses more resources, and that means more carbon emissions. Cows are especially bad because their farts are made from virulent greenhouse gases. Beef produces 55 times more greenhouse gas emissions than the vegetable protein equivalent if you take into account knock on effects from changes in land use. Dairy products are surprisingly bad, accounting for about 20% of the average family’s food-based carbon emissions according to the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems. All meat produces carbon emissions. Which means that the legions of men like me have been hurrying the apocalypse through our love of bistro cheeseburgers and milkshakes and bacon.
Global warming is the most obvious threat to our species. In the past week — I’m writing this on September 7th 2017 — the East Coast of North America has been hit by TWO historically gigantic hurricanes. Forest fires are ringing the West Coast. But there’s more than just carbon to worry about. Humans are pushing up close to nine “planetary boundaries” that, if crossed, would mean an end to humanity. These include drastic reduction to biodiversity and genetic diversity (ranches replacing rainforests), rising ocean acidity levels (caused by dissolved CO2), and disruption to the phosphorous and nitrogen cycles (from all those fertilizers). If humanity is going tomake it to the optimistic sci-fi future TV promised by 90s TV, my generation is going to need to drastically change the way it produces and consumes things. Including meat.
I wish I could say that I’m surprised by this. But I’ve known the bad news that meat was bad for the earth since my high school vegetarian girlfriend lectured me on the benefits of vegetarianism nearly 20 years ago. I just choose to ignore it. I guess this was the moral inertia of privilege. Eating meat was some of the coziest, comfiest, most vulnerable parts of my life. If it felt so good, I was convinced it was really okay in the long run. Everything else in my life has always broadly worked out in my favor. Why not this too?
But there’s another problem. The material prosperity I’ve enjoyed for my whole life — made largely on the back of fossil fuels — has been spread unevenly, mostly to people who look like me. Most people on earth can’t just eat a burger every time they get the urge. It seems like the best way to rectify this injustice is for everyone to be able to eat and live like an American. For everyone to drive cars to work from their suburban mansions, to use iPhones, buy Lunchables for their kids, post YouTube videos, and — of course — eat meat three meals a day. But if everyone on earth consumed like an American, the earth would soon look like an burnt-up ball of plastic.
It is hypocritical to propose that everyone should consume less, when people like me have been able to guiltlessly consume more for so long that we have made whole TV channels about it. This is not just a moral problem. It is a political problem. Solving climate change requires the whole world to make the bonkers decision to leave useful natural resources in the earth unused. Why should the 80% of the world who have never been offered the chance to gorge themselves on brisket delivered to them from Postmates when they finally have the chance? Just because people who look like me have finally gained a conscience in the face of the apocalypse?
Given this, I think that the people like me (relatively wealthy, educated, white, male, healthy, flexible people ) who have benefitted so much from the status quo should be called on to make the first and the largest sacrifices. So I’m going to call out to all the other dudes out there to wean themselves off their dude food for the good of the planet. For my part I’ve decided that I’m going to severely cut back on my meat. To replace burgers with beans, ribs with daal. To go from eating meat twice a day to once a week. And people like me will make this change with the smallest amount of discomfort. I live in Oakland California, the Bermuda Triangle of farmer’s markets. I have to actively avoid farm fresh produce every day on my way to work. I’m also pretty flexible: I have enough time to learn how to make eggplant not taste like socks.
People like me who have invisibly benefitted from our privilege need to use that privilege to promote global justice. We need to make those slightly uncomfortable necessary everyday changes that might help save the planet, and make them first, and make them publicly. A first step, my fellow comfortable bros: next time you want a burger, get the beans.