I spend a lot of time scouring anti-industry, pro-vegetarian websites and blogs. I do it so you don’t have to.
The constant refrain voice by virtually all veggie activists, of course, is that meat production is cruel to animals, dangerous to human health and ecologically unsustainable. All three are minority viewpoints,and all three are fairly easily refuted.
Lately, however, the argument goes further. A more radical segment of the veggie coalition—the vegan purists—has begun to complain that Meatless Mondays doesn’t go far enough, that switching from red meat to poultry isn’t a positive change and that raising concerns about the excessive consumption of soy protein is a false and foolish detour distracting true believers from the cause.
The cause being a vegan world, one in which animals have but one role: To roam freely through untrammeled wilderness (killing and eating each other), while we humans turn to our bowls of cornmeal mush and tofu as our daily fare.
It’s a nice fantasy, one completely and utterly impossible to achieve, even if humanity did suddenly decide that beans-and-rice was the ultimate gourmet meal. Heck, such a transition wouldn’t have been possible a thousand years ago, much less today, when seven billion people need sustenance.
Of course, we could try to transform what’s left of the planet’s prairies and forests into farmland, and for a time we’d probably be able to grow enough food crops to replace the world’s supply of animal protein, but ultimately, that would represent an ecological disaster of epic proportions, certainly not a scenario any born-again vegan would ever entertain.
Yet there are millions of people who buy into the notion that if only they shop hard enough at Whole Foods, if only they order religiously from the vegetarian choices on the menu, if only they spend lavishly enough on soy-based entrées and out-of-season produce jet-freighted from elsewhere in the world, then one day the world’s livestock will wander away from their barns and corrals, and we’ll all join hands around a communal pot of vegetable soup, rejoicing in the triumph of enlightened activism.
Or something like that.
The impact of affluence
It’s easy (and tempting) to simply dismiss such thinking as deranged and move on. But the thought process shared by so many activists doesn’t arise from delusions, but from disconnections. A majority of people who have decided to forego animal foods do so in the belief they’re doing something noble and good, that switching one’s dietary choices will trigger a profound revolution in the way the world feeds itself.
God bless ’em for that, but such thinking a direct result of the material affluence the developed world has enjoyed for some 50 years now. Most of us simply haven’t experienced real food shortages, nor had to deny ourselves anything we want to eat.
From fast-food drive-thrus to white-tablecloth bistros, we demand—and we get—pretty much whatever we want, whenever we want it.
Is it any wonder, then, that so many people believe that if they only demand loudly enough, if they insist on it long enough, if they explain clearly enough the rationale behind converting to vegetarian diets, then it’ll be served up to them? In 30 minutes or less?
As a society, we’re slowly (re-)connecting to the reality that there are limits to consumer demands, that there are consequences to lifestyles based on satisfying those demands, that in fact there is a serious downside to a society driven by an unrelenting quest to provide whatever anybody can afford, regardless of how it impacts larger issues of health and food security.
Ironically, the vegetarian movement prides itself on being more aware, more enlightened, more knowledgeable than meat-eaters about resource limitations, energy consumption and carbon footprints as they relate to food production. Yet, so many of its followers entertain the biggest delusion of all: That the domestication of animals across hundreds of millennia was some sort of historical aberration we no longer need to continue.
The typical veggie’s analysis of human history is even more harmful than the junk food diets they condemn.
That’s because there are important, urgent issues that need to be discussed regarding the challenge of ensuring that all people, no matter where they happen to live, have enough nutritious food to sustain a healthy life, issues that include dietary modifications, farm productivity, and yes, the best and most sustainable methods of growing food and raising livestock.
The sideshow conducted by vegan diehards who criticize every and anyone not onboard their crazy train isn’t helping to further that process.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.