#3: “What Should I Eat for Dinner?” Two Sides to the Story

What really brought the issue of animal agriculture’s effect on environmental degradation and resource usage into my vision was the 2014 documentary “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.”  The documentary throws so many facts at you (almost too many to make meaning of, if truth be told.) The meat and dairy industry produces more greenhouse gasses than the entire transportation sector. Each year, fracking uses 100 billion gallons of water and livestock uses 34 trillion. The average American omnivore needs 3 acres of land to sustain their diet, whereas a  vegetarian requires half an acre and a vegan requires only one sixth. And I could help but think, “Woah, maybe I should swear off all animal products.”

 

But, then I drive down my road and see the family farms around me, families I know well. I think of the Vermont I know, a Vermont with green cow speckled fields. Then the social and economic elements become evident I think, “Well, I need to support dairy farms.”

 

At the beginning of the week I got to visit the Rooney Farm in Morrisville, to tour their small, family run farming operation as a part of a class. Selina Rooney spoke about her family’s deeply rooted passion for the farm. She told us that it is not uncommon for her father to work hundred hour weeks and that he doesn’t really take vacations, yet he loves his occupation. She then told us showed their beautiful, rotationally grazed fields and homeopathic medicines (a natural alternative to antibiotics). My inclination to support these animal agriculture and the pastoral ideal was further cemented into my mind.  Yet, I couldn’t help but think about land usage, carbon emissions and food and water consumption and I left feeling even more conflicted.

 

It’s clear that there are at least two distinct sides to this issue one side saying “produce and consume animal products” and the other side saying “don’t.” It is also clear that neither side has bad intent, they are united by the desire to do what is best for everyone. I want to try to work out what IS best for everyone and to ultimately answer the question of: “What’s should I eat for dinner?”

Resources:

Andersen, Kip, and Keegan Kuhn. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. , 2014.

Selina Rooney (Rooney Farm)

 

Featured image by Larry Lamsa

Aidan Lodge

4 Responses to “#3: “What Should I Eat for Dinner?” Two Sides to the Story

  • Hi Aidan,

    Interesting dilemma that you are pondering. You are exactly right in the contrast between the local dairy farm society that is the backbone of Vermont and globalist who are looking at the impact of various industries on the planet as a whole. It is a challenge to try and disentangle various aspects of the question.

    Often, documentaries take on a strong editorial comment and marshal the facts they present to produce the strongest and most emotional reaction. However, you should take the time and ask questions like: who made this documentary, who funded it, is it possible to check their facts, who is the intended audience, what do they producers stand to gain. For example, in the quote about water use, it could be that the 100 billion gallons of water used in fracking is polluted and unusable after the fracking process. Could be that the 34 trillion gallons for livestock is recyclable or returns to the water table and is not a source of long term pollution. I really don’t know but my point is to always question the facts that are being presented from an objective perspective and not accept them as gospel truth.

    Nonetheless, the basic question you seem to be struggling with would benefit, I think, from asking yourself, what are the benefits and what are the costs of a new policy. What would be the costs if there was no longer a market for Vermont’s dairy products? How could agriculture in the state be sustainable with the long winters and short growing seasons? Would VT be at a distinct disadvantage compared to states in warmer climates with better soil (like California)? What would states similar to Vermont, like Wisconsin, do? If they didn’t implement the same changes as Vermont, would VT simply go out of business and Wisconsin would become an even bigger dairy state?

    I think the bottom line is that there is no solution that will be best for everyone. There are always winners and losers. An important question is how much do the winners win and the losers lose? Is there a net benefit (benefits minus costs)? And, equally importantly, how are the benefits and costs distributed throughout society? How would you feel about other regions gaining and Vermont losing? Would that be fair and equitable?

    These are difficult and challenging questions that you raise. I hope that you’ll consider them carefully and develop a framework in which to make decisions.

    And, just in case you like meat and still want to give it up, you might consider how you feel about hamburgers produced in the lab! Check out “A Lab-Grown Burger Gets a Taste Test” in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/06/science/a-lab-grown-burger-gets-a-taste-test.html)

    Cheers, Shel

    • This is something that has been a challenge throughout the project; these words and phrases that elicit a very immediate reaction. It can be hard to work out what these huge, generalized statements about things such as water usage mean, as they can vary by circumstance. This is why I’m now looking more at solving local environmental issues related to dairy (for example increasing riparian buffers on farm land to help with the problem of nutrification)

  • Aidan,

    Shel’s comments are well taken and I won’t repeat.

    I would just add that Vermont is small scale. We don’t have the large meat factories that are often the subject of documentaries. I would also argue that the value of farming in Vermont is its impact on open land — both in terms of reducing development but also in creating the open space and views that give Vermont its value in tourism, image and agriculture.

    I think you are headed in the right direction to tell the stories of farmers; it becomes more intricate and interesting.

    geoff

    • Thank you for all these thoughts. I feel as though I was possibly a little overzealous starting this project, getting sucked into these big statistics. Now, as I mentioned to Shel, I have been focusing more on the localized issues with animal agriculture, such as nutrification.

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