Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
The biggest arguement against a meat diet is quiet simply the current population is unsustainable if the quantities of meat currently consumed in the developed world continue.

Meat production requires roughly 10 times the amount of protein to be fed to an animal for each unit of weight of meat. In other words, you need to grow 10 kilos of plants for every 1 kilo of meat. Soya, wheat and myco-protein based analogues can replace meat in virtally every stew or sauced dish. Some of this (like myco-protein meat substitutes) require things like eggs to make but these can be "free range". Given that it will be necessary to produce some animal proteins, like eggs and milk, there can be animal husbandry techniques that reduce the suffering. This could even involve more advanced techniques like the artificial insemination of female cattle embryos with only a few males for breeding purposes. That would eliminate the source of veal cattle which are usually the unwanted males.

A purely vegan diet is quite difficult for most in the developed world to cope with. If you include a dairy, pulse and grain protein element into every meal, there is little likelihood of any protein problems.

The global warming argument is stonger than you suggest. The principle greenhouse gas from meat production is methane, quite simply all those cows and pigs fart and their dung degrades to methane as well.     The same mass of methane has 10 times the "greenhouse effect" as CO2.  

by Londonbear on Wed Jan 25th, 2006 at 10:09:58 PM EST
I seem to be same-minded as you on this issue, so I agree with everything you say.
by Alex in Toulouse on Wed Jan 25th, 2006 at 10:34:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Besides the big amount of grains used for livestock, what is often overlooked is the water consumption involved in raising livestock. According to Robbins, author of Diet for a new America:

Livestock use approximately 50% of all the water in the US.

Livestock produce twenty times the excrement as the human population of the US. This increases the nitrate/nitrite water pollution.

It requires 60-100 times more water to produce one pound of beef than a pound of wheat.

Livestock require excessive water usage because the land needed to grow grain for livestock takes up about 80% of the grain produced, and because water is needed for the animals.

When one considers the water needed for this extra grain and for the care of the livestock, a flesh-food diet creates a need for 4.500 gallons per day per meat-eater as compared to 300 gallons per day for a vegan.  A vegan saves approx. 1'500'000 gallons per year as compared to a flesh- and diary eater.

by Fran on Thu Jan 26th, 2006 at 01:55:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We're omnivores, but we sure as hell don't need to eat as much meat as we do except in extreme circumstances. And in extreme circumstances we need to eat all the stuff modern rich humans throw away - the fat and the offal.

Meet should be an occasional luxury, not something we have three times a day to hide the crappy quality of our other food.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jan 26th, 2006 at 02:31:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm with Colman -- meat is a dietary supplement, not a diet :-)

one thing that is difficult in dealing with this type of excessive consumer behaviour (heavy meat consumption, SUVs, vulgarisation of air travel, etc) is that in remonstrating with excess we run into deep resistance -- because excess is a signifier of wealth and power and therefore people like excessive behaviours.  excess is inherently desirable and fun.  so of course it's uphill work critiquing excess, even civilisation-threatening excess, because the critic is automatically stuck with being Anti-Fun.

excessive behaviours that are autopathic as well, are also excellent display mechanisms for youthful rebelliousness and masculine bravado, or (oh boy) both combined (thus the flippant celebration of hard liquor, cigarettes and red meat -- high risk, "daredevil," autopathic habits).  so we end up struggling with all kinds of desires and motivations, issues of ranking and self-image and competitiveness, that have nothing to do with actual food or the enjoyment of food.

for many people "cutting back on meat" is a signifier of poverty (or wartime rationing which they swore they would never have to endure again).  eating lots of meat every day gives a feeling of wealth, security, "good times," happiness, which all the facts and figures in the world don't make much of a dent in... even if the meat is lousy, tasteless, water-injected, doped with hormones, what have you, it still tickles ancient receptors in the Western wheat/beef cultural mindset.  and eating grotesque amounts of meat, now as in mediaeval times, is a signifier of both wealth and "hearty macho appetite", so we run into self-concepts of manliness and (inevitably) deep gender terror (vegetarians are sissies, real men eat meat and potatoes and hate vegetables, "who do you think you are, my mother," and so on).

all these gender and ranking associations make it very difficult to have rational discussions about the practicality and sustainability of different dietary choices.  in a way red meat consumption is (socially) a bit like rape or sexual harassment (prior, of course, to the incredibly enlightened times in which we now, ahem, are presumed to live);  critiquing it causes defensiveness, embarrassment, and uneasy jocularity, followed by anger and accusations of spoilsportism or puritanism if the criticism becomes too loud or serious.

I do occasionally eat salmon, but it's usually line caught and local.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Jan 26th, 2006 at 03:55:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
While I think the rape simile is way out of line, bordering on the Goodwinesque, I'll leave that particular can of worms for another time.

But what I do think we're seeing here is a bit of the friction that exists between the two wings of the modern left.

My own political sympathies hark back to the old pre-1968 industrialist social-democrat movement; you know, infrastructure, jobs and housing, and meat in every pot, and a big dollop of scepticism towards New-Agey emotionalism.

For this wing it's all about lifting the working classes into the affluent middle class, so they can turn right around and vote conservative ;) And if some virgin forest has to go to make that happen, tough cookies!

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.

by Alexander G Rubio (alexander.rubio@gmail.com) on Thu Jan 26th, 2006 at 04:14:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
it's all about lifting the working classes into the affluent middle class, so they can turn right around and vote conservative
That's exactly what the Spanish socialists did in Spain in the 1930's when they gave women the vote, and they knew full well it would cost them the next election, as it did.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jan 26th, 2006 at 11:01:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
While I think the rape simile is way out of line, bordering on the Godwinesque

strangely enough it was not a random rhetorical flourish, but anecdotal, based in personal experience... my life is long enough that I can remember when male professors routinely made rape jokes as part of lectures, when female employees were considered "troublemakers" if they reported sexual harassment or filed grievances, etc.  I can remember what it was like trying to engage in dialogue with men who sincerely believed there was absolutely no such thing as rape or that if there was, it was the woman's fault and/or funny.  [unless of course it was their own wife or daughter, in which case hanging was too good for the jerk, etc.]

so I remember the flavour and mood of those conversations, the "aww where's your sense of humour honey" and other "witty" comebacks and dismissals that covered up for, I think, a real sense of threat and disturbance at having deeply-rooted social norms challenged.  and there are certain similarities with conversations I had slightly later in life, in restaurants or at parties, with meat-eating friends. sometimes they would engage in similar joshing and shuffling and sometimes anger or defensiveness if (when asked why I wasn't eating the meat dish) I would recite some of the statistics on meat production -- in the same earnestly informative way I would recite the stats on rape or domestic abuse (or fossil fuel depletion for that matter).

some information is not welcome, and perhaps we all have the same socially-acceptable mechanisms for deflecting or warding off unwelcome information, information that by tickling our conscience suggests to us that we should act or be or buy or consume differently from our comfortable habits.  any "inconvenient fact" that tickles the conscience perhaps produces the social equivalent of a scratch or a sneeze, a quick irritated reflex to make the itch go away...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Jan 26th, 2006 at 06:54:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I just think that to imply that people who are not sold on the virtues of vegetarianism are somehow related to people who condone rape, is so beyond the pale as to make me seriously question the judgement of the person making such a statement.

It underlines what I said in another comment, that this is a subject matter that for some borders on the religious, making anyone who differs, somehow immoral.

I truly hope I'm misunderstanding you here.

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.

by Alexander G Rubio (alexander.rubio@gmail.com) on Thu Jan 26th, 2006 at 07:34:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
(sorry) I probably should have stuck with a more isomorphic example like discussions between eco-conscious cyclists and habitual motorists :-)  this  would have offered a more exact similitude, being prima facie a lifestyle/environment/resource question rather than a human rights or crimes-against-persons question.  there was an obvious overlap in my mind for idiosyncratic reasons, as I was thinking of a couple of specific older male friends of 25 years ago and more, whose reactions (on all three subjects, now that I come to think of it) were quite emotionally/tonally similar.  so the similarity in my mind was not the similarity of the issue or the topic, but the similarity of the defensive mechanisms we all (moi aussi) use to deflect unwanted information or perceived "moral judgment" from others.

what is interesting is that AGR personally, or his generation (I don't know his age so cannot say) or his educational or political demographic or whatever, has clearly internalised the idea that rape is very, very, terribly, seriously Bad -- and that therefore it is insane (or at least wildly over the top) to compare something so awful to the (relatively trivial) lifestyle question of eating meat or not.  but what I was trying to convey was the experience of discussion with older men, from a different time and generational mindset, who found it quite ridiculous to think of rape as a very, very seriously Bad Thing -- to them it was a trivial or unimportant thing, some would even doubt that it was possible or ever happened at all ("did you ever try to thread a moving needle, har har har") ... and they were very resistant to being told that it was a Bad Thing and should be taken seriously.   anyway, enough on that, it appears to be a red herring to a bull or some similarly dangerous mixed metaphor.  let's stick to bikes and cars, it's an easier parallel.

the bluster and joking and "lighten up" and har-de-har response seemed to me very consistent regardless of the issue, and that seemed kind of interesting to me.  I have had conversations with habitual car drivers who ask me why I ride a bike; and if I say it is "for my health" or "to save money" they are puzzled but accepting.  but if I say it is because I don't like the private automobile transport model, if I mention the numbers of people killed each year by motorist inattention or incompetence, then about half the time I'll get a har-de-har response about painting the score on the car fender or getting extra points for hitting a blind nun on a crosswalk, that kind of thing.  which I would call a defence mechanism against having the conscience tickled by unwanted information.  when we say we do X because it seems immoral to do Y, then how can people who do Y avoid the feeling that some moral criticism has been laid at their door?  and hence the defensiveness, as no one likes to be morally upbraided or preached at and (even implicitly) told to reform.

and yet how can agitators for social justice agitate, if not by saying that doing Y is harmful in some way and that X is a better alternative?

yes, the bike riding analogy really is far better.  one could argue similarly that vegetarianism is purely a personal decision for better health or weight loss, which is "harmless" and doesn't arouse much reaction -- other than perhaps a warning about the health risks of not eating meat :-)  but most vegans and vegetarians have motives that are both altruistic/political and personal. even a not-so-pure incidental meat consumer like me could argue that in fact, excessive meat consumption is a human rights issue and a very seriously Bad Thing, with capitals and boldface and sound effects;  because of deforestation, because of the diversion of staple grains and pulses into meat animal fodder when billions of humans go unfed every day;  because of drawdown of that most essential resource, fresh water;  because of manure lagoons and the associated pollution;  because of antibiotic misuse and the associated increased risk of pandemics and resistant bacteria... and so on and so on.  even if we were to skip the animal-rights argument that "Meat is Murder" because we kill animals to get it, a human-rights argument could be (and I think has been) put forth in this thread that argues for the immorality of excessive meat consumption because of the illness or want it inflicts on contemporary peasants and our collective posterity.

thus there is inevitably a moralistic overtone to the critique of meat consumption, and I think this is why it can, if presented seriously, arouse similar resistance and deflection mechanisms to those that have accompanied previous reform or human rights efforts.  it is different in that it is at present a secessionist movement -- a withdrawal from a perceived harmful norm, like teetotalism, rather than the imposition of a proscriptive norm, like Prohibition or bans on smoking in public places.  but as with all the social-reform efforts I mention -- and this applies from Abolitionism on up -- an argument is being made that a state of affairs that seems perfectly normal and natural and right to a majority of people, is in fact not good for the polity on pragmatic grounds, and may be immoral on Kantian grounds as well.  [now, please, just because I mentioned Abolitionism as another instance of social norm-challenging and uphill reform or justice work, don't be thinking I just said "eating meat is the same thing as owning slaves" :-)]

the cultural changes that sparked my interest (the same defensive/protective-of-status-quo response applying to different issues in different decades) are fascinating too in that they suggest the flexibility of culture as well as its tenacity.  it is possible that by the time I am near death, the immorality of meat eating may have become as necessary a social constraint for the West as it is in densely populated, overgrazed and deforested Asian bioregions no longer capable of sustaining the wheat/beef habit.  in a generation or so, depending on peak oil and climate outcomes, habitual meat-eating might be considered quaint -- or even disgusting -- reckless, or antisocial...? or it might become an even stronger, enviable marker of class and caste when fewer people can afford the habit;  in which case movies about the gilded elite might focus lovingly on plates of roast beef in the way that they now lens-caress the eye candy of expensive cars, designer clothing and fancy entertainment centres in spacious view apartments and trophy homes :-)  teenagers might hang out after the movie muttering, "Wow man, did you see the size of that charbroiled steak?  I'd do just about anything to eat one of those, dood."

when you've lived long enough to see conventional social norms alter visibly, it's always fascinating to watch debates over what could be major departures in future social norms -- like the high-meat diet that currently seems so normal, and the low-meat or veggie alternative that still seems rather eccentric or "preachy" to most.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Jan 26th, 2006 at 08:43:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"an even stronger, enviable marker of class and caste when fewer people can afford the habit"

Which, of course, it once was. Roast meats served in the medieval hall. Louis XIV dining in public view, making himself ill on meat dish after meat dish after meat dish.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jan 27th, 2006 at 02:05:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ironically, I was told  - by a female doctor - to eat red meat precisely because of a female-specific health problem.


As for the role meat consumption plays regarding gender, you are right that it is a symbol of masculinity.  I've seen it with my own eyes.  But I think it is a symbolic ritual not meant to express masculine bravado in order to oppress women, but a sad longing for the animal inside them that they have killed in order to become civilized human beings.  I think women experience a lot of things, menstruation, childbirth, that gives us that feeling of still being part of nature, of being wild somehow, of the ... gore.  I think it is harder for men to find a safe way to tap into that part of their psyche.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Thu Jan 26th, 2006 at 02:43:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm of the not-much-meat persuasion too. And when you mention the crappy quality of the rest of the food, don't let's forget that meat three times a day means crappy industrial meat too (except for the rich). So the "masking" effect is purely symbolic, along the lines DeAnander suggests -- eating lots of meat = wealth, or at least being out of poverty (in which it joins high sugar and refined foods consumption).
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jan 26th, 2006 at 08:36:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yup. Though crappy veg without meat is worse than crappy veg with.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jan 26th, 2006 at 08:40:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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