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Vasile Stanescu encourages his readers to question several "common sense" beliefs associated with the locavore movement. Authors such as Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver promote the idea that eating locally-produced animal products is more environmentally responsible than a vegan diet, as they consider "food miles" -- the distance an item travels from point of production to the dinner plate -- to be a credible measure of environmental impact. Yet, research shows that the actual production of food generates several times more greenhouse gas impact than transporting it.

For example, one study by researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University showed that an average of 83% of the greenhouse gas impact associated with food came from production itself. The same study showed that production of animal-products, in general, generates much more greenhouse gas pollution than production of plant-based foods.

So "food-miles" turn out to be only a part of a larger pollution equation, and a comparatively minor one at that. Therefore, those who have adopted a "locavore" style meat-centered diet with the intent of lowering their greenhouse gas footprint could make a several-fold improvement by adopting a vegan diet, even if that diet contained some items that were transported significant distances.

Given that food plays such a large role in the overall greenhouse pollution generated by each one of us, how can we ignore this potentially game-changing information?

And for those who embrace locavorism out of concern for the well being of animals, Mr. Stanescu makes two critical points. First, converting industrialized production of animal products to smaller scale, less intensive methods would require far more land than could ever be available for this purpose. Second, to the extent this is attempted, what little habitat still remains for free living animals will be proportionally obliterated.

Figures such as Joel Salatin (a farmer featured in the documentary Food, Inc.) are being widely promoted as exemplars of a smaller scale, "humane" style of farming, yet those who take a closer look are likely to be disillusioned, and perhaps even shocked. Mr. Salatin contends that animals have no "souls", and therefore are unworthy as individuals of the same sort of moral consideration we give to those whose consciousness, emotional lives and family bonds we recognize as having any intrinsic significance. He even goes so far as to encourage young children visiting his farm to "slice some throats." By including in his farm tour the opportunity to kill, is Mr. Salatin teaching these children about "humane" values, or rather, is he desensitizing them to violence toward other beings?

Proponents of locavorism have some admirable goals, such as taking greater personal responsibility for our environmental impact and decreasing corporate control of our food supply. Yet, locavorism as it is currently being promoted suffers from several fatal flaws that ought to be addressed. It turns out that feeding ourselves by using and killing animals, regardless of the style of farming used, and even if it is done in our own backyards, is an environmentally destructive course of action that becomes even more tragic in light of our having a perfectly viable alternative in the plant-based, vegan diet.

Can our species continue to justify feeding itself by bringing billions of sentient beings into existence, controlling every aspect of their lives and then killing them -- when our doing so is a matter of choice and habit, not of necessity? The moral weight of this choice grows even heavier when we recognize that animal agriculture, regardless of the style of production is bringing catastrophic devastation to our ecosystem, which many scientists believe is rapidly heading toward collapse.

There are projections that more than half of all species now living will be extinct by the end of this century -- half! It is hard to imagine a more compelling wake up call. Hard as we might look, "Green" eggs and ham are not to be found anywhere on this earth.

To learn more about the impact of animal agriculture on our world, see UN urges global move to meat and dairy-free diet.

To learn more about species extinction, see Gone.


"Green" Eggs and Ham?
The Myth of Sustainable Meat and the Danger of the Local

Proponents of locavorism have some admirable goals, such as living with increased environmental responsibility and decreasing corporate domination of our food supply. Yet, locavorism as it is currently being promoted suffers from several fatal flaws that need to be addressed.

Source: First published in The Journal of Critical Animal Studies, VII. 3 (2009): 18-55.   "   
Click here for direct link to source

The essence of the locavore argument is that because it is harmful to the environment to transport food over long distances (referred to as "food miles") people should instead, for primarily environmental reasons, choose to consume only food that is grown or slaughtered "locally." This idea of "locavorism" has been described and defended by a range of authors, such as Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Michael Pollan in his New York Times bestselling book The Omnivore's Dilemma, and promoted by farmers like Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface farms and a featured personality in both The Omnivore's Dilemma and the recent documentary Food Inc...

...My intention is not to discount the possibility of a more natural, environmentally sustainable food system -- a goal I deeply support -- but instead to reveal the potential dangers that focusing purely on the "local," at the expense of the global, can contain for both the human and non-human animal alike...

...virtually every other locavore claim for environmental supremacy also lacks any form of documentation to back up repeated claims that being vegan is more harmful to the environment than eating locally slaughtered animals. Instead, locavores almost universally rely upon the "common sense" logic that since transportation harms the environment, the further a commodity must be transported, the more harmful it must be to the ecosystem. However, recent studies have brought this common sense wisdom into question...

...Indeed, the only study to date to focus on whether a local or vegetarian diet is more helpful in reducing green house gases, conducted by Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews at Carnegie-Mellon, reached the following conclusion:

"Despite significant recent public concern and media attention to the environmental impacts of food, few studies in the United States have systematically compared the life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with food production against long-distance distribution, aka "food-miles." We find that although food is transported long distances in general (1640 km delivery and 6760 km life-cycle supply chain on average) the GHG emissions associated with food are dominated by the production phase, contributing 83% of the average U.S. household's CO2e/yr footprint for food consumption. Transportation as a whole represents only 11% of life-cycle GHG emissions, and final delivery from producer to retail contributes only 4%. Different food groups exhibit a large range in GHG-intensity; on average, red meat is around 150% more GHG intensive than chicken or fish. Thus, we suggest that dietary shift can be a more effective means of lowering an average household's food-related climate footprint than "buying local." Shifting less than one day per week's worth of calories from red meat and dairy fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food. "

In other words, shifting from beef to vegetables for even a single day a week would in fact be more helpful in reducing greenhouse gases than shifting the entirety of one's diet to exclusively locally produced sources. This conclusion makes sense when we consider the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change findings that meat production contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation industry, including all automobiles, combined. In fact, recent research suggests that organic free range animals may, in specific cases, be more harmful to the environment than animal raised "conventionally"...

...While locavores imagine all factory farms eventually turning into more sustainable small-scale family farms, that ideal is simply not physically possible given the world's current rate of meat consumption. According the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's recent report Livestock's Long Shadow, over fifty-five billion land animals are raised and slaughtered every year worldwide for human consumption. This rate of slaughter already consumes thirty percent of the earth's entire land surface (approximately 3,433 billion hectares) and accounts for a staggering eighty percent of the total land utilized by humans...

...in addition to problems of sustainability, meat consumption also entails a massive loss of biodiversity which, ironically, would actually be increased by a shift to a locally based diet, as even more land would have to be set aside for free-range grazing...

...A single cotton t-shirt, then, comes from cotton grown in the United States, is sent to the developing world to be manufactured into clothing, then back to the United States to be purchased, and finally shipped to the developing country where the clothing is either donated or purchased. And what is true for cotton is equally true for almost every other product regularly consumed in the United States. Almost everything we buy today is both produced and consumed in a global marketplace and is therefore part of these exact same systems of production and distribution. In terms of shipping distance it is just as significant to discuss "clothing miles," "computer miles," or even "cell phone miles," many of which are actually transported far longer distances than food and are far more toxic in their results...

...Here we return to Michael Pollan's earlier claim, made in the context of putting locavore against veganism, that what solely motivates veganism is a desire for absolute moral purity, even to the point of destroying nature, in order to save the vegans' "souls." He continues this theme throughout his text with references to vegetarians as overly self-righteous, indeed to the point of claiming that they are "Puritans": "A deep current of Puritanism runs through the writing of the animal philosophers, an abiding discomfort not just with our animality, but with the animals' animality too. They would like nothing better than to airlift us out from nature's 'intrinsic evil' -- and then take the animals with us. You begin to wonder if their quarrel isn't really with nature itself." However, the irony of this argument is that while Pollan routinely depicts vegans as self-righteous puritans, the only examples that both he and Kingsolver provide are people who, for religious reasons, feel no complication about killing animals because they see the latter as utterly lacking souls. As Pollan writes, "When I was at the farm I asked Joel how he could bring himself to kill a chicken. 'That's an easy one. People have a soul, animals don't; it's a bedrock belief of mine. Animals are not created in God's image. So when they die, they just die.'" In fact, since nonhuman animals have no souls and are therefore wholly unrelated to people, Joel Salatin encourages even young children to slit the throats of animals:

"Interestingly, we typically have families come -- they want to come and see the chicken butchering, for example. Well, Mom and Dad (they're in their late-20s early-30s), they stay out behind in the car, and the 8-, 9-, 10-, 11-year-old children come around to see this. We have not found any child under 10 that's the least bit put off by it. They get right into it. We'll even give them a knife and let them slice some throats."

Salatin's callous disregard for the bodily integrity or being of other animals is in fact all too representative of the proponents of locavorism as a whole. The intellectuals at the forefront of that movement, particularly Pollan and Kingsolver, seek to re-inscribe the very speciesism that locavorism at first seems to draw into question. Indeed it is hard to imagine how a locavore movement ever could translate into an actual improvement of animals' lives, since many of its most famous proponents hold that animals lack souls and accept "Man's" domination and consumption of them as the very definition of our humanity...

....One of the oddest parts of the locavore literature, therefore, is that even as its proponents graphically and indeed poetically describe the abuses of the factory farms, at the same time they remove any reason why anyone should be concerned at all. Since animals lack souls, we cannot understand what, or even if, they think or feel. Moreover, our domination of them represents the very essence of what defines us as humans...

...The question, therefore, is not whether we should end the movement for conscious consumption of all food products. Large-scale industrial agriculture really is deeply harmful to the environment, workers, and animals. Rather, the question is whether we can arrive at a new understanding and new articulation of the manner in which the locavore movements goals are expressed and understood. What matters more than the overly simplistic notion of "food miles" is the total carbon foot print of our foodstuffs, as well as the total environmental impact of any food purchase. Coming at the problem from such a broader perspective can only mean significantly decreasing the amount of meat human beings consume, in addition to cutting back on the whole array of services, including clothing and electronics, now marketed in the global market place.

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