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Tuesday Times 12/14/10

An extract from a discussion with American Chef Dan Barber on why he isn't a vegetarian is really food for thought.

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For this week’s news round up, an extract from American Chef Dan Barber is something well worth discussing.

The speech was part of a conversation with a local radio host and was published here.

When asked why he isn’t a vegetarian, this is the answer he gave:

My wife is not a strict vegetarian, but she loves vegetables and would just be happy eating vegetables every meal we eat together, and I’m also fine with that. But why am I not standing up here and saying “eat less meat”? The answer is that I come from the lower Hudson Valley [New England] and my ecological conditions are dictating that we eat a lot of meat, because we’re grassland. What we grow best besides those carrots is an amazing diversity of healthful grass for animals. Now if you are in the game of feeding, say, a lamb, as I mentioned before, instead of on grain from Hoosier ecology but on the great grasslands (a diversity of grasslands from the New England landscape — the grasslands, by the way, that built New England, that built the dairy industry.

It’s no surprise this is the iconic landscape that I referenced with my grandmother — that wasn’t just about building beauty; that was about building what they were taking advantage of, which was cows grazing on great grass to produce great milk. That same ecology holds true today — those iconic open-pasture lands that I talk about produce the best-tasting meat in the world.

And so for me to be a vegetarian, and be a strict advocate of it, wouldn’t be listening to the ecology that the land is telling us it wants to grow. So I think one of the futures (dialing back to the young 11-year-old chef in the making) … one of the requirements of the chef for the future is not to propose a cuisine on the landscape, it’s going to have to be listening to the landscape to determine what kind of chef and what kind of eater we want to be. And if you are in southern Los Angeles and San Diego and you want to be a vegetarian, God bless you. You should be. You should be. But if you want to be in New England and you want to improve the ecological conditions of where you are, you’re eating meat. There’s no question about it. There is no healthy ecological system that I’ve ever seen that doesn’t include animals — there just doesn’t. Because the manure from the animals is a free, free ecological resource that amends the soil that gives you better-tasting and healthful vegetables. That’s been around since the beginning of time. So to say that vegetarians live on this higher plane of ethics (and I’m not here to argue that slaughtering animals doesn’t carry with it some weight), but you have blood on your hands when you eat vegetarian as well, especially if you’re in the northeast. Because your food is coming from somewhere, and your calories are coming from somewhere in the winter, and if they’re traveling hundreds of miles, and in many cases thousands of miles, you are burning fossil fuels to get them there, and generally they’re produced in monocultures, and that has a huge cost on natural living systems. They might not be animals that you and I can identify with, but they’re insects and bugs and whole types of flora and fauna that are dying to produce those vegetables. That’s not an ethical way to eat, I don’t think, in the future.

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Laura Cooke is the editor and creator of the Veggie Bunch website and community.

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2 Responses to this article

Andrew December 14, 2010 Reply

His argument makes sense if one is arguing from an environmental perspective. There will be cases where eating meat has the lowest environmental cost. His argument does not address (and he admits this) other issues however, including;
* Possible health effects of eating meat.
* The conditions under which animals are raised and slaughtered.
* The ethics of slaughtering a sentient being for food.
* Destroying life for food.
We must all decide on our values and the priorities of those values and act consistently.

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Jodi Allemeier December 21, 2010 Reply

These arguments are common but they fail on one key element – they compare a hypothetical local, low-scale etc animal production method with a contmeporary centralised mass plant production method.

If we compare apples with apples, so to speak, and compare the impacts of large-scale meat & dairy production with large scale plant production, the meat & dairy is worse for the environment in terms of land used, water, energy, biodiversity etc per calorie / g protein produced.

if we compare a hypothetical local free-range etc animal production with a local organic plant production, again, plant production trumps the meat-production.

Ultimatley, when looking at these issues, we do need to a) be realistic about what we are comparing – because there is a hypothetical less-harm method in theory, does not make it less harmful to eat mass-produced meat in practice. Its also a very elitist way of looking at things as the levels of production would never meet the levels of demand if factory-farming type methodologies were abandoned, unless of course people drastically reduced demand (ie. ate more vegetarian/vegan).

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