Meatless Mondays and other planet-saving diets

As I noted in my "Greenwashed" commentary [July 1], eating a vegetarian diet one day per week reduces greenhouse gasses more than eating an all-local diet every day [of the week]. Some characterized my comments as an attack on local food. Not so: We should go out of our way to support local businesses. But we need to make decisions based on science and common sense, not emotion.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, "If every American had one meat-free meal per week, it would be the same as taking more than 5 million cars off our roads." The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is promoting Meatless Monday (www.meatlessmonday.com), "in order to improve personal health and the health of the planet."

If cutting out meat for one meal, one day per week provides significant environmental benefits, think about the astounding changes we'd see if everyone dramatically reduced or eliminated meat consumption. Yet some local producers and merchants promote gluttonous pig roasts and barbecues. In their quest for profits, they send the false and destructive message that you can eat all of the meat you want, as long as it's produced locally. Heck, even Progress Energy tells us to conserve electricity. 

Dr. James E. McWilliams' new book, Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly, provides an in-depth look at why it's a mistake to focus on transportation and ignore other factors such as economies of scale and the massive amounts of energy used in producing certain foods.  Dr. McWilliams notes: "If you want to make a statement, ride your bike to the farmer's market. If you want to reduce greenhouse gases, become a vegetarian."

— Stewart David
Asheville

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18 thoughts on “Meatless Mondays and other planet-saving diets

  1. mtndow

    Is, or is not, Stewart David, the single most published contributor to MountainX Letters?
    For how many years has he and his PETA-powered pals been given space here to promote their personal agenda/menu?
    I don’t care if one eats meat or not. I don’t care if cattle and fowl are allowed to wander about downtown. I’ve lived long enough to see swine flu.
    Let’s give Dave his very own page for his compostings.

  2. travelah

    Stewart, thank you for reminding me that tomorrow is Thursday and I’m having a pulled pork platter for lunch. Just for that reminder, I’m going to pass on one of the sides and have a small side of brisket. In fact for one of our business team lunches next week, I’m going to have one of our local caterers do a barbeque lunch rather a sandwich and salad tray…. Yummy!!

  3. joeinmadco

    I was thinking the same thing mtndow. I think the MX opinion editors have an unhealthy love-passion for vegan propaganda. This letter is nothing but a condensed version of the majorly flawed commentary Stew wrote only two months ago. Hey MX and Stew: printing the same crap over and over again does not make it any more valid.

  4. chops

    The truth is, meat production and consumption requires the expenditure of more public resources – and we are currently consuming more than our share.

    In fact, If everyone in the world consumed like the average U.S. citizen, we would need at least four more planet Earths.
    (Source: Purchasing Power, World Watch Paper 166)

    This means that our practices are unsustainable – and in order to maintain our lifestyle, we are leveraging our power so that we can gobble up a disproportionate amount of energy, water, and land.

    I see it as stealing, from future generations, and from others around the globe.

    Trav sees it as a joke (as many do).

    Mtndow doesn’t care. I wonder why.

  5. Trey

    Stewart, Chops, you have a wonderful idea of how to save the world. With the same fatal flaw that is part of all the ideas people have had to save the world so far.

    Your plan relies on “people” to just “be better”. I feel like I’m telling a 4 year old there is no Santa Claus, but guess what? It aint gonna happen. Peruse a few history books if you don’t believe me.

    So instead of all the wasted effort trying to change “people”, how about stepping back out of your feel-good “box” with a limited view(changing the world via diet, recycling, riding your bike, etc.)and put that effort towards changing the very core of our worldwide collective “taker culture”.

  6. Piffy!

    [b]As I noted in my “Greenwashed” commentary [July 1]…[/b]

    You mean that commentary where you got called out for leaving out key points in the report in favor of your own vegan agenda? That one?

  7. mtndow

    The Turth. As if…
    It gets be a chain letter writing club.
    Vicious Egotistical Greedy Angry Nasty & Selfish Club

  8. Question. Does anyone have a scientific comparison of the energy & chemicals used to produce one pound of local beef versus the equivalent amount of “crumbles” or fake beef?

  9. Piffy!

    JMAC-

    i have actually searched high and low for similar numbers, but havent foudn any yet. Unfortunately, the PETAphiles only believe in using numbers from Factory Farmed Amazon Rainforest Beef fed on GMO soy, and try their darndest to not acknowledge that small-scale, locally raised animal products are not comparable in any way to these factory-farm numbers.

  10. xvelouria

    JMAC,
    I don’t know if you read the Carnegie-Mellon study from the aforementioned commentary, but it may be of interest to you, in reference to considering the energy-related benefits of local food…:
    http://psufoodscience.typepad.com/psu_food_science/files/es702969f.pdf

    Although it does not address the difference between grass-fed and grain-fed, and it does not discuss anything about processed vegetarian meat analogues… although I do not see why you want to compare “local beef,” by which I’m assuming you mean locally raised/grass-fed/free-range/happy cows, with “veggie crumbles/fake meat”… as if those are the two most popular options? I think you would find that in reality most meat-eaters do NOT consume much, if any, local beef… and most vegans do not consume much, if any, “fake meat crumbles”; those of us who aren’t making a lot of money are more likely to consider such items a luxury. A lot of vegans don’t even eat any soy, if you can believe that.

  11. entopticon

    I agree with Stewart’s wishes for a healthier, more sustainable planet, and climate change is a very serious issue, but I disagree with his approach. I know he means well, but I think his attacks on localism actually do more harm than good, and I think in an effort to get out his message, he may be willfully ignorant at times by relying on somewhat hokey stats.

    I do appreciate Stewart’s attempt to get people to eat a little less meat, but as evidenced here, Stewart’s indignation only seems to have a reverse effect. One of the great things about localism is that it brings in people from all ends of the political spectrum. I have made great friends with conservatives and liberals alike, who all care about small farmers and the fruits of their labor.

    The sociopolitical diversity at the farmer’s market is a truly encouraging thing, because it suggests a broad enough appeal that it really can make a difference. If most Americans spent just a few percent of their grocery money at local farmer’s markets, the economic boon for small farmers and the local economies of cities and small towns across the country would be absolutely astronomical. It would have far more economic and environmental impact than most any political solution (which are important as well).

    I also have to agree with some of the posters who have expressed concern that the Mountain Xpress seems to be crossing a line into advocacy by constantly publishing Stewart’s viewpoints. If that is what they want to do, perhaps they should just give him a regular column.

    For an alternative perspective, I strongly recommend Eliot Coleman’s informative, compelling article, Debunking the Meat/Climate Change Myth, where he rightly points out that “The culprit is not meat eating but rather the excesses of corporate/industrial agriculture.”:
    http://www.grist.org/article/2009-08-07-debunking-meat-climate-change-myth/

  12. Piffy!

    I have to winder if Stewart even read Dr. James E. McWilliams’ book, or if he just got the PETA news alert. Because he may have been kind of shocked ot discover than McWilliams goes out of his way to defend GMOs and chemical agriculture in the name of “feeding the masses” (while ignoring that the earth already produces more than enough food, there are no food shortages that arent due to politics).

  13. although I do not see why you want to compare “local beef,” by which I’m assuming you mean locally raised/grass-fed/free-range/happy cows, with “veggie crumbles/fake meat”… as if those are the two most popular options?

    I never mentioned popularity. I am trying to find non-biased facts, to formulate an educated opinion. It seems that this type of discussion always dilutes to the same left vs right type rhetoric that happens in politics, except when talking about food it becomes the extreme meat eaters(who think that being a vegetarian is stupid) vs extreme vegans(who think their diet is personally solving all of the world’s problems)

  14. Piffy!

    JMAC-

    Stewart doesnt appear to know how to use non-biased numbers. Even when he does come across them, he cherry picks the ‘fatcs’ that serve his purpose, while ignoring the big picture, like he does in the above letter.

    It’s unfortunate because locally-produced animal products offer a real, tangible alternative to the Factory Farmed Agricultural Products that Stewart and his PETA friends are so concerned about. But in their dogmatic, ridged, and pre-determined world-view, they cannot accept these functional solutions, and will only accept “Vegetarianism” or “Veganism” as the ONLY alternative to globalized food production (as if being Veg’n is somehow inherently ‘local’)

    Stewarts newest campaign against local producers is truly disappointing, because he is attacking the roots of a movement that seeks to create long-term solutions to these problems. Instead of working on realistic compromises with potential allies, he and his ilk continue to draw lines around themselves as “Right”, while the rest of the world is “Wrong”.

    The notion that you will EVER be able to get a majority of the population to accept an entirely Veg’n diet is absurd to anyone with a non-dogmatic agenda. Should people eat less meat? Yes. Absolutely. Does this mean EVERYBODY should stop eating meat, forever? Of course not.

  15. entopticon

    I’m in agreement with pfff on this.

    To be honest, Stewart’s approach very much reminds me of the right to lifers’. They both seem to be compelled by a crusade of blind certainty which leaves little room for opposing points of view. And in both cases that moral crusade often results in an ends-justify-the-means tweaking of the facts.

    In related news, Gertrude Baines, the world’s oldest person, just died at the age of 115. Her favorite food was bacon. Other favorites of hers were ice cream and fried chicken. Apparently there still hasn’t been a single confirmed case of a vegan centenarian. Admittedly, that doesn’t prove anything. It’s just kind of funny.

  16. Betty Cloer Wallace

    I get lost in your statistics and can never figure out what you mean by “local” in the context of good eating, but here’s what will be happening in Macon County this week.

    The autumnal equinox is coming, as it has come forever (well, a long time anyway), and the agricultural county fair will celebrate it, as people in this latitude and longitude have celebrated their bountiful harvests for centuries. (No carnival flash and glitter will be found at this fair.)

    The young people will bring in their animals for show and sale, culminating in the beef-on-the-hoof auction, the highlight of the fair. After the auction, most of the beeves will be taken twenty miles away to a slaughter house in North Georgia (is that considered local?) and then returned to a locally-owned processing business in Franklin for packaging and freezing.

    The youngsters will be proud of having their hard work recognized; they will have money in their pockets; their friends and relatives will praise their accomplishment; and people who bought the beeves will have good meat for the winter with nary a preservative to worry about.

    Along with the beef, fairgoers will buy Granny’s prize-winning coconut cakes, Aunt Mary’s colorful quilts, an assortment of homemade crafts both beautiful and useful (including Uncle Dillard’s turned hardwood bowls, walking sticks, and gunstocks), and an array of home-produced fruits, veggies, preserves, and breads.

    A good time will be had by all, and we’ll all eat big, meat-lovers and vegans alike.

  17. entopticon

    Thanks to pfff for that link to Stephanie Ogburn’s excellent book review titled, “James McWilliams’ Over-Hyped and Undercooked Anti-Locavore Polemic. I just got the chance to read it. She did a remarkably good job.

    It is a bit ironic that Stewart would be citing a rabidly pro-pesticide, pro-gmo advocate to try to make his case. McWilliams is also a fervent supporter of vastly increasing freshwater fish farming in the US. I doubt that Stewart would actually agree with most of McWilliams’s arguments. He cherry-picked the bit that he wanted to acknowledge.

    The fact the Stewart was actually using someone such as McWilliams, who is diametrically opposed to him in so many ways, to try to make his case, is compelling evidence of the reality of how complex and challenging food and environmental issues really are.

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