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Green Meat (or, Eco-Friendly Non-Vegetarianism.)

December 16, 2008

Last night, I dreamt that I was talking to a budding PETA advocate.  She was very passionate about her arguments, endeavoring to convince me that it was wrong to eat meat – not only wrong, but unhealthy.  She threw all the standard PETA claims at me, most of which I refuted in standard meat-eater style.

Later, I was talking with my sister, and we decided to stage a mock argument.  She played the PETA advocate, and I played myself.  While she failed to convince me that there was sufficient evidence to convert to vegetarianism (and mind you, she is a very good arguer and almost always knows what she’s talking about), she did succeed in raising some points.

See, I disagree with PETA’s claim that meat is bad for humans.  Not because they don’t have backup evidence — they do, or at least they have a few scientific studies that support their claims.  But because there is still loads of evidence to prove – or at least suggest – otherwise.

However, one thing that they are correct on is that much of the meat we eat is raised in a non-humane manner.  And that means cramped, smelly and otherwise miserable.  No, they don’t cut the beaks off chickens and cram them into tiny cages – chickens under that level of stress wouldn’t grow no matter what you pumped into them.  But imagine my surprise when I learned that, indeed, animals ARE pumped full of antibiotics to promote unnatural growth!

(Ordinarily, antibiotics are used to treat infections, which is fine.  What is NOT fine is that farmers, noticing that antibiotics caused increased weight gain in their animals, started administering them all the time to promote faster growth.)

According to PETA (and many other organizations, for that matter) the best way to combat this is just to stop eating meat entirely (not a problem for them, since they claim we don’t need it).  And again I find myself disagreeing.  Yes, we do need to boycott the companies that abuse their animals, that pump them full of chemicals (which AREN’T good for humans, no matter who you ask), or that pour massive quantities of poop into rivers, promoting the growth of algae which choke out other life forms.  This is definitely bad.

But boycotting all meat is not the way to do it.  Why should responsible meat growers be punished for the crimes of the irresponsible?  No, what we need to be doing is refusing to eat meat grown by these people.  Instead, buy it from those who treat their animals well, feed them good food and allow them the space they need.  Show meat growers that there is a tangible reward – and as such, an incentive – to responsible care of their animals.

Unfortunately, there are very few ways to determine whether the meat you’re eating was grown responsibly or not.  Meat producers aren’t likely to come out and tell you that they’re pouring cow dung into local ponds; store employees aren’t likely to know.

Fortunately, the USDA does.

Whether organic food is or isn’t full of all the magical health benefits that some claim, one can be guaranteed that it isn’t laden with the sort of chemicals that are going to make our daughters sexually mature at age twelve or kill us of horrible diseases.  Furthermore, if a company is raising organic meat, they’ve already taken the first steps toward responsible raising of their product – and therefore are likely to take other steps to ensure the health and subsequent quality of their animals.  What about the toxic runoff?  That’s covered under the basic “USDA-certified organic” plan — growers must have a safe and sustainable way to dispose of the waste from their operations.

But, says PETA, there’s still the sheer amount of space needed to grow these beasties.  Take the farmland used to raise cows and start using it to raise humans, they argue, and you’ll get a much better return on your investment.

Maybe this would be true, if all cows were raised on farmland.  But many cows aren’t.  BLM land – land in its natural state that isn’t good for growing much more than weeds, scrubs and occasional grass – makes wonderful grazing for cattle.  Sure, eventually they’re going to exhaust it and have to move on, but this is land that could not be used to feed humans without drastically altering the environment in the area.  If PETA is half as eco-friendly as they claim to be, they will be happy to tell you that mucking with the environment is bad.  Tends to mess up climate, destroy the habitats of cute little bunny rabbits, etc.  I’m sure you can see the problem.

But, they argue, there’s still the greenhouse gas effect.  The amount of cattle it takes to feed everyone causes huge amounts of methane, which is bad for the environment.

I’m not gonna disagree here; this is a legitimate concern — especially if we try to feed everyone in the States on meat-intensive diets.  However, what I am proposing here is not a meat-intensive diet, but a diet that includes both meat and healthy quantities of vegetables.  I realize that it may seem otherwise, but only because I failed to bring up the issue of vegetables (on account of that being one of the few things that PETA and I can agree on).

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