A MODEST PROPOSAL
For eating our way out of a slow-cooked whopper of an apocalypse.
The idea of giving up meat (and dairy) is a melancholy thought to those of us born at the top of the food chain, raised to carry on the tradition of dominion over lesser beasts, and taught to feast upon the oyster of the world. But, we’re now seeing that this world of ours isn’t exactly inexhaustible or without limits. We’re seeing that, as our human population continues to grow, so does our demand for meat. And while it is completely within our self-ordained rights to enjoy the flesh of non-human animals, it is no longer within our best interest. We see now that, even though meat may fuel our bodies and sense of self-worth, meat production fuels climate change. 60% of greenhouse gas emissions are the direct result of meat production. Meat is also the single biggest source of methane, which broils our atmosphere 86 times faster than carbon dioxide. It’s a sad day indeed when you’re forced to weigh the taste of a burger against saving the world.
No matter how you slice it, if we keep eating meat, we’re cooked.
But don’t worry. You don’t have to go vegan to save the world. You were probably already asking yourself: If not meat, what would we even eat? Where would we get our protein? Sure, intellectually, we know that the world’s strongest animals–gorillas and rhinos and buffalo–get plenty of protein without ever eating one another. But, can we humans thrive on plants like the earth’s mightiest? We could seek out the vegans already among us for advice and inspiration, or even taste-test the plant-based burgers and sausages steadily infiltrating our grocery stores. But, really, who wants to go vegan?
Today, we share our planet with 7.7 billion other people, only a fraction of which identify as vegan (or even just vegetarian). Each year, to feed not even all 7.7 billion of us, more than 150 billion individual non-human animals are killed, roughly.
(It’s a stomach-churning figure, and I have more numbers to stir into the pot, but it will soon be seasoned to your taste!)
Of those more than 150 billion non-humans killed each year, 300 million are cattle. Full grown and alive, each cow weighs 1000+ pounds. Once skinned, beheaded, dismembered, gutted, and of course deboned, that cow is rendered into only about 440 pounds of meat, roughly 40% of his or her previous weight while alive and intact. That’s 1,760 quarter-pound burgers per cow, which might sound like a lot, but each of those single quarter-pound burgers took a whopping 6.7 pounds of feed and 52.8 gallons of water to produce, not counting any cheese. In other words, we yield far fewer calories from each cow than what we invest in raising him or her to begin with. Any which way you run the numbers, especially once you factor in land use, soil and water pollution, fossil fuels used for feed production and transport, and of course the glut of methane and carbon emissions, it’s painfully apparent that beef is a bad investment.
I realize this may sound like an argument for going vegan. Rest assured, what I’m proposing is far less radical.
When we think of resources, we tend to think of the usual suspects — typically food, water, land, energy. Yet, here we live in an era where one particular resource is now not only more abundant than ever before but exponentially rampant. I’m talking of course about our greatest resource: people. We now number 7.7 billion proud and counting. Yet, despite this stunning achievement in gross reproduction, 1 billion of us are starving or undernourished. That means really only 6.7 billion of us are being fed by the wholesale slaughter of 150 billion. One could argue there are now too many people, but there aren’t too many to feed, at least not yet. People eat a lot less than cattle or pigs, yet we funnel the vast majority of our food into fattening up those and other non-human animals. Each year, as those of us in the developed world gorge on the meat of one animal wrapped in the meat of another and then smothered in cheese and more meat, 36 million human animals starve to death.
It’s a tragic waste. But it doesn’t have to be.
Just imagine. Instead of squandering the lion’s share of our grain to bulk up lesser beasts, and instead of diverting unfathomable volumes of potable water to keep those thankless creatures somewhat hydrated and alive, we could feed and water our greatest resource, ensuring that no one dies hungry or too thin. Putting meat on their bones would mean putting dinner on the table for those of us who cannot bear the thought of giving up meat. The notion may seem heartless at first, but let us remind ourselves that these 1 billion human animals are already earmarked by the spectre of starvation, a far crueler fate which we allow even now and will continue to abide for as long as we breed and feed non-human animals for food. Currently, as they’re neither eating nor being eaten, these 1 billion incidental humans aren’t even part of the food chain. Though they serve no real purpose, they can’t even be labeled useless eaters–again, they’re not even eating. Nevertheless, we can give their lives meaning, just as we define the lives of the billions we will bring into existence this year alone, all for the singular purpose of killing behind closed doors. By rethinking and relinking our food chain to replace all farmed non-humans with our own 1 billion free-range wretches, we not only solve world hunger and ensure that no food ever goes to waste, but virtually eliminate methane emissions, thereby saving the world.
It’s a win-win-win-win! So much winning!
Now, you might be thinking that 36 million well-fed free-range a year will yield only so much meat, resulting in reduced portions, at least for those of us who will be able to afford it. But even now, when we talk free-range, we mean quality over quantity. Plus, there are actually tens of millions more of us that die each year from various other complications, some less glamorous than others. There is no reason we cannot give greater purpose to all in death, provided of course there is little-to-no risk of infection (which, when it comes to meat, is already mitigated by an exhaustive regimen of antibiotics and antiseptics, as well as cooking times and temperatures).
Imagine the joys of adapting time-honored recipes, particularly those calling for pork or ham, as we know from cannibal tribes around the world that we taste like pigs, hence the Pacific Islander cannibals of yesteryear cheekily referring to us as long pigs. Even now, the Korowai tribe of New Guinea has an old saying that translates to: “If God did not want us to eat you, he would not have made you out of meat.”
The next time you sit down to a plate of conventional bacon and find yourself wondering what tortures the animal endured during his or her brief life, say to yourself: “Who needs humane bacon when we can have human bacon?”
As we enter into this new era of self-reliance and sustainability, the real beauty of ending traditional animal agriculture becomes clear as the air itself. While warming the planet 86 times faster than CO2, methane also breaks down and dissipates much more rapidly — merely 12 years versus the centuries it takes for CO2 to take leave.
Coincidentally, we have only 12 years to fight the impending climate crisis that will result in increasingly erratic weather patterns, rising sea levels, displaced human populations, shortages of food and potable water, and mass extinction. Knowing all we know about this very real and imminent threat, and all we know about methane and meat production, I can think of no valid objection to this proposal to end animal farming here and now, providing we can be bothered to save all we know and love.
I profess I have no personal interest in promoting these necessary measures, my only children being one dog and one cat, both of which have been fixed, and neither of which I would ever deem edible. I have no other motive than the good of the world, relieving suffering, and serving my fellow man.