Cheri Shankar wrote a short piece for HuffPo that asks, “Can you be a meat-eating environmentalist?”
The article concludes by suggesting that no, meat-eating is so damaging to the environment that any self-proclaimed environmentalist would stop doing it.
For example, she says:
“Animal product consumption destroys rainforests, the rivers, streams and oceans, the air we breathe; it perpetuates world hunger and institutionalizes the suffering and outright misery for billions of animals. And animal feed is grown by intensive farming operations that use massive quantities of pesticides and herbicides. In addition, half of our potable water in the U.S. is used in raising animals for food.”
She cites the authoritative and extensive 2½-year examination conducted by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, which recommends that we “replace the inflexible and broken system [to deal with farm waste] that exists today, to protect Americans from the adverse environmental and human health hazards”. The system needs replacement. It’s broken. I don’t see how someone could, in good conscience, financially support a broken system that has “adverse environmental and human health hazards” when they don’t have to.
But apparently vegan Erik Marcus has decided to defend some meat-eating environmentalists by declaring that the problem is “enormously complex” and shouldn’t be reduced to simple and catchy slogans. For example, he says:
“Suppose you follow a vegan diet plus one cheeseburger a year: this clearly makes you a meat eater, but it would be absurd to claim that that one burger has any significant impact on the environment.”
Yeah, Ok, but I’m pretty sure I’ve met that guy. And he calls himself a vegetarian. As much as it irritates me, he identifies as a vegetarian.
In fact, I’ve met a ton of people who eat meat rarely, yet call themselves vegetarian. They’re not technically vegetarian or vegan. But they think they are. They act like they are. They buy products marketed to vegetarians. They attend events held for vegetarians. They pat themselves on the back when vegetarianism is praised. And they’d agree with the statement that “you can’t be a meat-eating environmentalist.”
So, for all practical purposes, Erik is missing the point.
Next, he attacks Shankar on the grounds that “there’s an enormous difference in both resource demands and pollution when you compare red meat to poultry.” He’s right. It’s more environmentally damaging to consume dairy or beef than chicken or eggs. It’s even more true for rabbits. In fact, a number of “environmentalists” are calling for an increase in rabbit-meat consumption along with a decrease in larger animal meat consumption.
But is this really a fair argument?
We all know that when it comes to suffering, calorie-for-calorie the reverse is true: eggs are worse than beef. If you care about animal welfare, it’s better to consume organic, grass-fed beef than chicken. So where does that leave the ethical consumer? Do they have to choose between the environment or animal welfare? Of course not! It’s a false dilemma. The ethical consumer has a far better option: veganism.
But, listen, if you want to eat animals – like rabbits – and call yourself an environmentalist, I’ll let you have your eco label. I won’t say, “You can’t be a meat-eating environmentalist.” But I’ll give you another label: bunny-butcher.*
*Vegan Soapbox doesn’t allow obscenities, thus bunny-butcher is a placeholder for any and every nasty insult you can think of.