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What Can YOU Do About The Food Crisis or Climate Change?

In response to those who have written saying, "I’m a vegan–the food crisis and climate change aren’t my fault! What else can I possibly do?" (or something like that), I pass that question back to you. Let’s come up with some ideas.

I tomorrow’s NYT Magazine, "The Green Issue," there are some good ideas and some that won’t apply to you because they’re animal based and the NYT hasn’t gotten around to taking the connection between animals for food and climate change seriously. They do have an entire section called "Eat," wherein the penultimate tip, "The High Price of Beef," states:

Trimming the amount of meat Americans eat would
not only help the planet — a mere 20 percent reduction is the equivalent
of switching from a Camry to a Prius — but would also be likely to reduce
and heart disease. Until recently, it was only animal rights groups like PETA
that were willing to ask Americans to forgo the pleasures of the flesh. That
changed in January, when Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (and a vegetarian), uttered four little words: “Please
eat less meat.” He continued: “This is something that the I.P.C.C.
was afraid to say earlier, but now we have said it.”

Other than that, unless I missed something, the "production" of food that comes from animals doesn’t appear to be a serious problem.

With regard to the food crisis, every article I’ve read has at least one sentence regarding the connection between eating animals and global hunger. But sometimes only one sentence.

So what can someone who’s already being part of the solution contribute? Here are some thoughts:

  • I find many vegans to be single-issue focused. I’d like to see more discussions that connect other issues relating to nonviolence and social justice (and the environment) because I think they make going vegan an even stronger idea as it’s part of the solution to so many issues. (Part, as in: aligning actions with beliefs.) I also think that when you present veganism as necessary if you’re serious about climate change, nonviolence, etc…, it’s tough for someone to accuse you of loving animals and not people (which is ridiculous, but we all know people who do that) because your issue isn’t with the treatment of animals–it’s with promoting justice.
  • Educating others about why veganism is an integral part of a plan that would ease the food crisis and climate change (not to mention create a healthier, thinner population in the ever-fattening West).
  • Stop buying products made with corn. You may have already done that. I’d also add rice to the list of products not to buy. Even wheat. And here’s why: demand for corn, rice and wheat (and of course meat) are in large part what’s causing the crisis (though it really is more of a distribution crisis). And often when people learn of a supply and demand crisis, they rush out to buy as much of the product as possible, thereby exacerbating the problem. To flip that situation (and this is also true when investing–you don’t buy when prices are high and the stock is in demand–that’s when you get out!), whatever product is experiencing market stress is one to avoid as to not add to the stress. Besides, there are people who need that rice and wheat a lot more than you do. Eat more quinoa. It’s better for you, anyway.

What do you think?

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Erica #

    I've always heard that the grain/corn/etc. shortage for people is not just due to how much gets fed to animals — but that it is also/more so due to food politics. I.e., regardless of how much food would be available if animals were not eating it, there would still be food shortages for people because it's in certain interests to keep it off the market (to raise prices, etc.).

    I've never looked into this myself, but I'd be interested to hear what you and your other readers know/think about this. If the issue is actually distribution, as you mention above, then would more availability (by not feeding so many animals) really solve anything?

    April 19, 2008
  2. Your suggestion about educating others about the many environmental benefits of veganism is important. I have found that on my University campus, for example, those groups of individuals concerned with global climate change are more willing to listen to our arguments about the immorality of a non-vegan life because they are already particularly inclined to have a discourse about issues of justice (e.g., anti-sexism). So, environmental activists can be a very good source of conversation about the justness of veganism. However, I have found that even within this group, whose members employ their reason and logic to resist oppression, etc. employ the simplest of logic to resist veganism, i.e., it's tradition, or might-make's-right.

    April 19, 2008
  3. Erica,

    I have done quite a bit of research and though supply and demand are probably most important (as in, if the demand for animal products were to decrease, grain would be freed up). So it's more like allocation than distribution, I guess, as allocation comes precedes it because of demand. However, you are correct about food politics, which come in two varieties: the legal kind and the other kind. By legal, I mean subsidies, and by the other kind, I mean things like obvious actions like preventing people from getting food or charging an enormous premium for political (greed, power, oppression) reasons, as well as things like price manipulations. Mos of what I've read, by the way, says there's enough food, today, to feed the world, and there are silos of grain that go unused just to manipulate price. (The documentary, The Future of Food, deals with that, in part.) And the same is true of animal products. For instance (and the link is:

    "The federal government will pay Canada's struggling pork producers $50 million to kill off 150,000 pigs by the fall — 10 per cent of the industry's breeding herd.

    The animals are to be destroyed at slaughter plants and on pig farms in what experts are calling an unprecedented cull.

    The Canadian Pork Council said the cull will help balance supply and demand for the industry, which has seen prices drop to pennies per pound.

    The program is being funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and delivered by the council.

    Producers who accept federal compensation must agree to cull all of the pigs in a breeding barn and not restock for three years.

    Martin Rice, spokesman for the council, said the industry has also been hit hard by rising feed costs, the high value of the loonie and new country-of-origin labelling rules for meat products that are to go into effect in the United States this year.

    The vast majority of the meat from the cull will be used for pet food or disposed of, although a small percentage will go to food banks, said the council.

    There are about 10,000 pork producers in Canada — mainly in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan."

    The situation is complex and there are a couple of areas where we can act to remedy it a bit, such as going vegan, not buying products in demand, and fighting for an end to subsidies and for a real cost of food rather than an artificial one manufactured to make it easy for us to buy certain foods.

    I hope some of that helps.

    April 19, 2008

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