By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
Our friends in vegan-land issue a call every year about this time asking people to consider celebrating the holidays without eating animals.
For those of you already looking for turkey substitutes and other veggie friendly recipes, you can jump off right now to Gentle Thanksgiving, where theyâ€™ve got a recipe for juicy, tofu-based stuffed Not-A-Turkey. Or skip over to Meatless Mondays and check out their long list of veggie dinner entrees or to the ready-to-go veggie “turkeys” by Tofurky or Gardein or Field Roast.
We recognize that some people might find this call to abandon the roast beast needless, strange, even an affront to their position atop the food chain. That is certainly understandable considering that the Thanksgiving turkey and the Christmas ham (or brisket or pork loin roast) are a big part of the winter holidays. Other events that fall around this time, like Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, also have their meat components, kosher or otherwise. Having meat is usually part of the repast.
Among holidays, Thanksgiving is most dependent on its meat. Known by its entree, Turkey Day,Â recalls the hardships of the pioneers who faced starvation when settling the U.S., and were saved by helpful Native Americans and their own fortitude (but mostly by helpful Native Americans). The roast turkeys and squash of those early harvest feasts stoked the health of the settlers, helping them endure the harsh winter.
Yet on this shrinking planet, where food scarcity looms like an anvil over human existence and family farms are giving way to hyper-driven factory facilities known for brutalizing animals and workers and spreading infection, it is time to consider reducing our meat intake. Doing so on Thanksgiving can be a symbolic nod in this direction. But the day doesn’t really matter. We shouldÂ take stock of how much meat we eat every day, every year, and consider shifting our diet toward plant-based meals. Go meatless just one day of the week, perhaps; that’s what Meatless Mondays is all about.
In today’s world, it is still the neighborly thing to share our food and expertise, as the Native Americans did, and many of us will donate food to those less fortunate this season.
But more may be required of us.
Producing meat takes so much energy — a lot more than growing grains or vegetables for food — that the â€śWestern dietâ€ť is being blamed for the loss of land around the world.
A 2010 United Nations Environmental Programme report on dwindling resources, â€śAssessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Productionâ€ť identified the meat-intensive diet as a major contributor to the loss of habitat and native species, and to increased pollution. Livestock operations don’t just claim a lot of land, they produce a lot of waste because the majority of companies controlling the process don’t follow sustainable practices.
The report noted that:
- Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of the consumption of freshwater worldwide. Some of this water is devoted to growing grains and produce that we eat directly; but more than half of crops grown worldwide are used to feed livestock. (Which is a crazy situation because the beef cattle eating all that grain are ruminants or grass eaters; the grain is used simply to fatten them quicker and make the meat more fatty and tender, another questionable “Western” contribution to food production.)
- Livestock farming ranked third on the reportâ€™s list of â€śproduced goodsâ€ť with the greatest environmental impact. (Vehicle manufacturing and pig iron/steel products ranked first and second). This ranking looked at the greenhouse gas emissions, use of metal and organic resources and contribution to the acidification of the oceans over the products’ entire life cycle).
Even fossil fuels didnâ€™t present as large of a sustainability challenge as food consumption, particularly when diets are weighted toward animal products, according to the reportâ€™s nine authors who came from universities around the world.
â€śImpacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth, increasing consumption of animal products,â€ť they wrote. â€śUnlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal productsâ€¦â€ť
The authors also questioned whether we should be using our arable land to grow biofuels, and they lament the loss of forests in countries that have sacrificed these resources to expand livestock operations.
As our world population grows, the discussion of how to use the worldâ€™s finite land, will gain urgency. Already experts are warning of another possible food crisis reminiscent of 2008 as food prices spiral in parts of the world.
So this Thanksgiving, roast a bird, if that’s your tradition. (See our list of greener turkey options.) But, once the leftovers are gone, consider following up the feast with a pledge to lower the impact of your diet. Then go make an avocado sandwich.
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