« Karadzic | Main | Now This Is Funny... »

July 22, 2008

Comments

And to cap it all off, you won't burn the house down trying to cook something. Everybody wins! (Or is it just me that used to confuse the smoke alarm for the oven timer?)

Ah, yes! Glad the humble and easy lifestyle so many of us lonely bachelors choose is finally getting some props. =)

Every little bit helps?

How about mass murder?

Every little bit helps.

Ayup. The other big thing you can do is when you do buy meat, buy it from a local producer. Same for produce. If you're fortunate enough to have a public market or farmer's market in your city, you should be doing as much shopping there as possible. Here in Memphis we have an free range beef producer about 40 minutes up the road, and he shows up every week at the farmer's market. His products are higher quality than anything else I can buy, and substantially more environmentally friendly.

So: eat less meat, be careful about where you get the meat you do eat, and buy as much food (produce, meat, etc.) from local producers as is practical. It all makes a difference, and in most cases the quality is better anyway. Everyone wins.

So: eat less meat, be careful about where you get the meat you do eat, and buy as much food (produce, meat, etc.) from local producers as is practical.

That sounds like a lot of work, can't we just hire Blackwater to protect the environment.

That's an effective way to look at it. I still boggle when I think back even 10 years ago and I had the mindset that it wasn't a meal if it didn't have meat in it. I still eat meat regularly, but now it's rare that I have it more than once a day, if I have it at all.

Here’s an idea. http://brickoven.blogspot.com/2008/07/potato-blossoms.html ">Grow your own food.

The 20th Century was characterized by urbanization. Ethics professors should be thinking about what comes after oil.

Do we have any reason to think that consumption patterns will be substantively affected by your personal choices? Economies of scale in our economy are so huge I could refuse to eat meat tomorrow and it is doubtful that this would affect meat production in any way whatsoever.

But let's suppose we got a bunch of people together to adopt this plan. Wouldn't this reduction in demand for meat lead to lower prices, which might increased meat consumption by the benighted?

My broad point is this. It is very difficult to ascretain what the real effect of my personal choices--taken in isolation--will be. But this focus on personal consumption is often politically problematic. It often comes off as scolding and self-righteous, and it distracts from the real public policy changes that have to made. These campaigns, I think, cause damage for benefits that are really questionable.

I want to decrease carbon consumption, and I do often find myself--for Kantian reasons that I haven't really thought out very well--changing personal habits. But I don't really think that anything I do in that context has any effect whatsoever.

But I don't really think that anything I do in that context has any effect whatsoever.

It has an effect--too small to measure, perhaps, but it still has one, and it sets an example for those around you. You don't have to be loud about it to have an effect.

I think it's a good idea to reduce meat consumption, not only because it reduces environmental impact but also because it's much better for your health to ingest it in moderate quantities. That said, not all veggie-based lunches are eco-friendly (see, e.g., any food made from crops that require large amounts of fertilizer to grow efficiently, or are difficult and energy-consuming to harvest), and some animal-based proteins are better than others (beef is pretty bad for the environment due to the large amount of grazing space required for cattle, the large amount of vegetation they consume, and their methane-rich farts, but pork, chicken, and fish aren't nearly so bad).

I'd also take issue with this:

The other big thing you can do is when you do buy meat, buy it from a local producer. Same for produce. If you're fortunate enough to have a public market or farmer's market in your city, you should be doing as much shopping there as possible.

It really depends on the economies of scale involved. A crate of tomatoes shipped 50 miles from a local farm in the back of a pickup truck may or may not be greener than a crate of tomatoes shipped 7,000 miles from a giant plantation in Chile on a massive cargo ship. Obviously the ship uses more resources and travels a far greater distance, but it also transports many, many times more goods. I tend to buy local when I can because I like the taste of fresh produce better, but I haven't seen any definitive evidence that doing so is always the "greener" option.

Xeynon: (beef is pretty bad for the environment due to the large amount of grazing space required for cattle, the large amount of vegetation they consume, and their methane-rich farts, but pork, chicken, and fish aren't nearly so bad).

If you have your own private pig in your backyard, who eats your household scraps, no, that's not nearly as bad for the environment - but commercial pig farms are as bad for the environment as commercial fish farms, and world stocks of wild fish have been grossly overfished in unsustainable and enviromentally harmful ways over the past few decades.

Battery chicken farming may not be as bad for the environment as pig or fish farming, but by me, it's unacceptably cruel to the chickens.

Yes, I'm vegetarian myself, and conscious of the environmental/human impact of some of the foods I eat. I don't think I'm an animal rights maniac, though it all depends where you sit, but I do think that when humans make use of other animals for their skin or their eggs or their milk or their meat, the animals ought to be treated reasonably well and killed humanely.

Sorry Jes, but the last line reminds me of the crunchy frog in a certain Monty Python sketch ;-)*
No disagreement with the contents of your post (although I am an uncurable carnivore).

*I guess though that obtaining larks vomit will be difficult without cruelty towards animals

Depends what you have to do to the larks to get them to vomit...

Another handy food tip: rice and beans.

But let's suppose we got a bunch of people together to adopt this plan. Wouldn't this reduction in demand for meat lead to lower prices, which might increased meat consumption by the benighted?

I'm sympathetic to the contrarian nature of your question here, but in the end all of this stuff really does just down to what individual people do.

It's helpful, for lots and lots of reasons, to eat less meat. If you're so inclined, go for it and don't let the macro analysis get in your way. The macro is just what a lot of individual people do.

Shorter me: don't sweat the unforeseen side effects. Do what makes sense to you.

Plus, never fear, Thomas Sowell will always be there to sweat them for you.

I tend to buy local when I can because I like the taste of fresh produce better, but I haven't seen any definitive evidence that doing so is always the "greener" option.

I don't have the chops or the information to do the analysis. I'll just point out that the relative resource cost of transportation is just one of the very many factors that make local production preferable when it's practical.

The food is fresher.
You're putting more money into your local economy.
You're providing an economic basis to preserve open land.
Most likely you're supporting an agricultural model that is relatively less industrial.

And on and on.

Plus they fly a lot of produce if I'm not mistaken. Boats take too long. Could be wrong about that, though.

Thanks -

Another handy food tip: rice and beans.

...but that tends to also stimulate production of a known greenhouse gas, russell.

Actually, Slart, most adult humans don't produce methane when they pass gas, no matter what they eat:
"According to Dr. James L. A. Roth, the author of Gastrointestinal Gas (Ch. 17 in Gastroenterology, v. 4, 1976) most people (2/3 of adults) pass farts that contain no methane. If both parents are methane producers, their children have a 95% chance of being producers as well. The reason for this is apparently unknown. Some researchers suspect a genetic influence, whereas others think the ability is due to environmental factors. However, all methane in any farts comes from bacterial action and not from human cells." cite

So there you go. Eat your rice and beans.

And even if the tomatoes do come from Chile in a boat, they're still going to spend a lot of time on a truck before they get to your market. Even if you happen to live in the port city where the ship arrives, the tomatoes aren't going straight to your table. They're going (probably on a truck) to some distribution center, and then maybe to some intermediate distribution center (again on a truck), and then to your supermarket....guess what, on a truck.

And that doesn't even count the fact that most of the people who eat the tomatoes don't live in the port city.

Should have clarified...my 7:16 comment was a follow-on to the portion of Russell's 6:52 that replied to Xeynon on the transport of food....(If I wasn't up at such an ungodly hour, maybe I wouldn't be so sloppy. ;)

I can unequivocally say that that's the best thing I'll read on the Internet today, Jes.

Ah, a fart thread. At last a domestic issue discussion where I feel I have something to contribute.

A crate of tomatoes shipped 50 miles from a local farm in the back of a pickup truck may or may not be greener than a crate of tomatoes shipped 7,000 miles from a giant plantation in Chile on a massive cargo ship.

OT: in one of my freshman CompSci classes, i had a teacher ran the numbers for us so we could gaze in awe at the colossal bandwidth of a station wagon full of 1/2" tapes doing 50mph on a cross-town trip - it's bigger than any network connection you could find in the early 90s. it's probably still true today, if you substitute thumb drives or memory cards for the 1/2" tape.

"Posted by: JanieM"

Janie! How was/is Britain?!

Uhh, maybe I'm missing something, but wouldn't it be better to, say, spend $1 per day on lunch and then use the savings to buy a carbon emission credit and then let the credit expire unused? I suppose you could do both.

Actually, Slart, most adult humans don't produce methane when they pass gas, no matter what they eat:

I was actually thinking of the water vapor, Jesurgislac.

Ok, I'm lying, there. Interesting. I wonder what flammable gases other than methane might get produced.

However, all methane in any farts comes from bacterial action and not from human cells.

Sure, blame the bacteria.

Gary -- it was a great, great two weeks. Now I'm in Cambridge for work, and still halfway on UK time, so not really "landed" back home yet. Ordinarily I wouldn't be up for another couple hours.

I loved London...would finagle a few months or a year there if I could think of a way. (And I'm not a city person normally.) York was fun and a respite after the madness of London (York Minster was my single favorite "sight" on the trip). I had mixed reactions to Edinburgh, but my daughter loved it. I won't go on with traveler's tales OT, but thanks for asking!

Fish farms vary widely in their ecological impact. There are organic fish farms. Permit me to also take the opportunity to advertise the Marine Stewardship Council certification. That's an initiative that is so good, it was the deciding reason why I joined the WWF. Janie M: When considering total transport emissions from food, it's the last mile - the one in the trunk of your car - that matters by far the most. Driving to that organic farm may not be a good idea. Brick Oven Bill: Nice being able to reply to a post of yours without disagreeing! I grew my own potatoes one year, but the plants were wiped out by dry rot. It didn't make the pods inedible, but it made them spoil more quickly in storage, so we didn't have time to eat them all. Now the house is sold, the wife has left me, and I've turned into a depressed programmer in the big city, so no opportunity to exercise those clumsy green fingers anymore... The thing I miss most about living in the countryside (apart from possibly my wife) is the crazy schemes for growing our own food we had. This one sounds great: http://www.backyardaquaponics.com/ Probably too tricky for me anyway, but maybe something for you, Bill.

Harald K -- tgirsch was originally talking about farmer’s markets, not about driving to organic farms. Xeynon replied to him, I replied to Xeynon.

But now that you mention it, for me personally the nearest organic farm is a lot closer than the nearest supermarket. Granted, I can get only a small proportion of my food there, but since it’s owned by friends of my family, my kids or I would be going there anyhow. My major options are the supermarket (10 miles away, but another one growing gradually 7 miles away) and, in season, farmer’s markets (5 and 10 miles away). Since the farmer’s markets are near the supermarkets, it doesn’t add much of anything to my food gathering to patronize them. I get my apples and eggs locally all year long. Everything else -- it depends.

I realize that the real relevant calculation is what everyone does, not just what I do, and not everyone lives near an organic farm. But there’s another piece of the equation that I think matters, and that’s the gradual changing of habits and assumptions. By buying locally as much as I can, I’m supporting local farmers, supporting open land (i.e. it stays farmland and isn’t developed for sprawling house lots), etc.

As to potatoes,I had a garden for many years, but didn’t try potatoes til my Irish girlfriend arrived on the scene and more or less demanded them. ;)

For me it wasn’t dry rot, it was the Colorado potato beetles. I never knew I had it in me to be so ruthless....squish those little buggers when they first come out of the ground and climb up the stems of the young plants in June and you’re pretty much set for the season. Miss the moment, and there’s a lot more squishing to be done, plus scraping the yellow egg cases off the undersides of the leaves.

I gave up gardening a few years ago when I was diagnosed with an auto-immune skin condition and told to stay out of the sun. That’s really only an excuse, though; I was ready for a break from gardening. I’d like to go back to it, but now the property owner where I live has taken up all the old garden space for his highbush blueberry plants. After many trials and errors, he manages to grow enough blueberries to freeze for muffins and other treats for the whole year.

most people (2/3 of adults) pass farts that contain no methane.

Could be, but I'm skeptical. There is a flammability phenomenon to explain.

Thanks -

A corollary to "eat local" is "eat in season": If you are in the Northern hemisphere and eating corn-on-the-cob in January, your meal traveled a long way.

Now, so as not to lose all of my Mr. Evil, Esq., cred, I'll disagree with Russell ....

I'll just point out that the relative resource cost of transportation is just one of the very many factors that make local production preferable when it's practical.

Of course this only goes so far: There are not many banana trees where it gets cold, so, if you like bananas, you're going to incur some kind of waste.

The food is fresher.
You're putting more money into your local economy.
You're providing an economic basis to preserve open land.
Most likely you're supporting an agricultural model that is relatively less industrial.

Usually fresher? True. Money into the local economy? I'd rather that people work at what is most efficient, so I can't endorse that as a blanket good. There's also a human rights: You're favoring subsidized US (and European farmers) over some of the most destitite people in the world (e.g., African farmers). Open land? I guess.

Most likely you're supporting an agricultural model that is relatively less industrial? Actually, probably not true. The committed, well-funded organic small farmer will likely have less of a carbon footprint per animal than a larger agribusiness. There are real efficiencies of scale (as well as expertise), however, as you scale a business larger. Other things equal, a large agribusiness is likely to more efficient in every respect than a smaller agribusiness.

Moreover, there's a strong classist stain in the instruction to "buy local & organic from small producers." The prices for such goods tend to be comparatively high. It's not a realistic solution for many families.

(A more realistic solution would be to encourage changes in efficient large producers by buying their products.)

most people (2/3 of adults) pass farts that contain no methane.

I believe that the data is to the contrary. See the Summer camp studies (series I, II, and III) and the extensive archives of the Boy Scouts.

von: There's also a human rights: You're favoring subsidized US (and European farmers) over some of the most destitite people in the world (e.g., African farmers).

Only if you're buying only Fair Trade fruit'n'veg. (Which I don't lay claim to, though I try when it's available.) If you're not, then while you're certainly buying food that some of the most destitute people in the world produce, you are doing so from the people who make sure those farmers stay among the most destitute people in the world.

von; (A more realistic solution would be to encourage changes in efficient large producers by buying their products.)

Ha! Gosh, I missed this. There are no changes made to large agribusinesses* so long as people continue to buy their products. Indeed, given that large American agribusiness tends to respond to people preferring not to buy their products by buying legislation to restrict consumer choice, not to change their products, it takes years of boycotting and public information to get agribusiness to change.

The notion that you can promote change by agribusiness by continuing to give them your money? That makes even less sense than supporting John McCain for President.

*And if it's so "efficient", how come it needs so much more government subsidy than those small, "inefficient" local organic farmers need?

PTS: "It often comes off as scolding and self-righteous, and it distracts from the real public policy changes that have to made. These campaigns, I think, cause damage for benefits that are really questionable."

Well, it doesn't have to come across as scolding. And the 'distraction' point: it will not distract us unless we let it. I see no reason at all why I can't eat PB&J for lunch and lobby for policy changes.

Note that the reason meat is so bad, in terms of greenhouse gases, has to do with the huge amount of plant food that has to be used as feed for every bit of resulting meat. Obviously, this is not true if, as someone said above, you have an animal in your back yard, surviving off your scraps (or, as I have sometimes wanted, grazing your lawn and saving you the trouble of mowing it). But for everyone else, it's huge.

I was just struck by the fact that a mere lunch could do as much as this. I knew meat was bad for the environment, but not that bad.

I do think that when humans make use of other animals for their skin or their eggs or their milk or their meat, the animals ought to be treated reasonably well and killed humanely.

I agree. I generally try to buy free range animal products, don't eat a ton of meat or any veal, and don't buy leather accessories if I can avoid doing so.

That said, I think von's right in pointing out that that's a luxury that we as middle-class westerners can afford. I'm not going to insist that poor people spend beyond their means to buy organic veggies, free range meat, or the like if they can't afford it, and I think the moral imperative to provide them with access to affordable, nutritionally balanced food outweighs that of ensuring that no chicken or cow ever suffers. If opening agribusiness-enabled modern supermarkets in, say, Bangladesh, means fewer people there will be vulnerable to famine, malnutrition, or food price shocks, then I'm all for it.

And even if the tomatoes do come from Chile in a boat, they're still going to spend a lot of time on a truck before they get to your market. Even if you happen to live in the port city where the ship arrives, the tomatoes aren't going straight to your table. They're going (probably on a truck) to some distribution center, and then maybe to some intermediate distribution center (again on a truck), and then to your supermarket....guess what, on a truck.

All true. However, goods shipped very long distances tend to be shipped in larger, more efficient containers - even if the tomatoes do get to your supermarket on a truck, they'll get there on a tractor trailer that was loaded directly from a ship, which is more efficient than a pickup truck that was loaded by hand (humans actually produce more CO2 per unit of work than modern engines do). Mass produced goods of any sort, including agricultural products, tend to be cheaper to buy because they are cheaper to produce, and shipping costs are a major factor in production costs for perishable products in particular. At least in terms of CO2 emissions, the market is unlikely to favor environmentally harmful options, because high CO2 production is pretty strongly correlated with high fuel costs in this case.

That said, I'm not arguing that buying local isn't often better for the environment - just that it's not always a slam-dunk case.

*And if it's so "efficient", how come it needs so much more government subsidy than those small, "inefficient" local organic farmers need?

Subsidies are generally given per acre, per head, etc. And my position -- unpopular in the farm state where I sit (although shared by our senior Senator) -- is that farm subsidies should be eliminated.

Only if you're buying only Fair Trade fruit'n'veg. (Which I don't lay claim to, though I try when it's available.) If you're not, then while you're certainly buying food that some of the most destitute people in the world produce, you are doing so from the people who make sure those farmers stay among the most destitute people in the world.

Not true. It is true that, without support for the rule of law in places that produce goods, there is a greater risk of inequality .... but it is incorrect that the "fair trade" label is the only -- or even "a" -- way to assure such a thing. (It deserves another thread, but the "fair trade" concerns generally do more harm than good. Some even verge on the fraudulent.)

Ha! Gosh, I missed this. There are no changes made to large agribusinesses* so long as people continue to buy their products.

I didn't say buy blindly from large agribusiness. I said buy from those large agribusinesses that are doing things that you approve of.

Meat being raised in factory farms uses up lots of energy. Cows raised on pasture don't. Historically, the land used for pasture was land that wasn't very amenable to crops -- hilly, thin soil, rocky, etc. Cows fed naturally not only do not use up carbon resources, they furnish manure to help fertilize both their pasturage and land that's being cropped.

So, yes, let's work to get rid of factory farms and get back to naturally raised meat animals.

Obviously, this is not true if, as someone said above, you have an animal in your back yard, surviving off your scraps (or, as I have sometimes wanted, grazing your lawn and saving you the trouble of mowing it). But for everyone else, it's huge.

This is true, but much of the diet of your typical livestock animal consists of nutritional units in the form of substances that humans don't eat (grass, offal, feed corn, etc.), so I'm not sure you can make a direct comparison. Perhaps devoting the land used to grow crops that are used exclusively to feed animals to raising crops for human consumption instead would be more environmentally friendly, but I'm not sure it would be so in every case - with some exceptions (e.g. potatoes) crops eaten by humans tend to be much more resource intensive to grow than those consumed by livestock, which means using more water, more fertilizer, etc. There's a reason that ranching has historically been practiced most intensively in regions that are largely unfit for other forms of agricultural production (Australia, Texas, central Asia, etc.).

von: I said buy from those large agribusinesses that are doing things that you approve of.

I know of no large agribusinesses that are doing anything I approve of, and you've yet to provide any examples of anything I might.

It deserves another thread, but the "fair trade" concerns generally do more harm than good.

Or so is claimed by propaganda put out by the companies which profited enormously by keeping Third World farmers destitute. Specifically, the unsubstantiated claim that Fair Trade does "more harm than good" was most recently put out by the Adam Smith Institute in February this year, but it's simply refuted: farmers in the developing countries don't have to get the Fair Trade mark, they do so because that way they get more (and a more reliable income) for their products: and shoppers don't have to buy Fair Trade products, we do so because we like the idea of the farmer at the other end benefiting more fairly from our purchases of coffee, chocolate, and bananas. For some reason, right-wingers in the UK or the US tend not to like this very much, and consistently murmur deathly voices about how this does no good.

See Make Trade Fair campaign and the Fair Trade foundation's response to the Adam Smith report for further information.

I see Svensker already made my point more succinctly than I could. Buy free range meat if you're concerned about the environment.

I know of no large agribusinesses that are doing anything I approve of

You don't approve of farming methods that make it possible to grow enough food to feed people in poor, heavily populated regions like rural China and India, Indonesia, and Nigeria? Many "green revolution" techniques aren't practical unless implemented on an agribusiness-type scale, and without these techniques, we wouldn't have enough food to feed the world's current population. You can argue that the world needs fewer people (and I'd agree with you), but even conceding that I think that we have an obligation to feed the ~6,200,000,000 who are already here.

I acknowledge that this is mostly anecdotal, but I strongly doubt that you're going to get much traction advocating this approach to reducing carbon footprints. If there's one thing people tend to feel strongly about, especially in America, it's the foods they eat. Food isn't just a matter of what's best to put in your belly, or what's the most cost-effective, or the greenest--food has deep, deep cultural ties, even for people who don't think they care much about what they eat. I know that despite being personally environmentally conscious, the most you're going to get me to do is buy more food from local producers, and occasionally swear off a really bad company. Eating PB&J does not rank high on my list of enjoyable activities, nor does the general notion of reducing my meat intake more than I already have. I like meat. I like it a lot. You can have my hamburger when you pry... er, yeah. I don't think I'm particularly unusual in this regard either.

And if that's /my/ attitude, you don't even want to think about the response you'll get from the fabled denizens of Middle America. Changing cultural eating habits is a multi-generational effort. Like offshore drilling, it's not going to have any measurable near-term effect, and as someone pointed out above, evangelizing diet changes tends to really annoy people who aren't already interested regardless of the reasons or nature of it.

Sorry, but I think this is the wrong approach. Great idea on a personal level, and if this is your thing then run with it. But as a tactic for raising issue awareness and creating real change, it's a loser.

Xeynon: You don't approve of farming methods that make it possible to grow enough food to feed people in poor, heavily populated regions like rural China and India, Indonesia, and Nigeria

I don't approve of businesses that work to ensure that people in rural China and India, Indonesia, and Nigeria, can't grow enough food to feed their own families. Big agribusiness has pioneered methods of unsustainable farming, heavily dependent on oil and on pesticides: has required by financial muscle Third World farmers to grow crops dependent on heavy pesticide use - which seeds and pesticides must both be bought from the same corporation - and which has consistently worked against the subsistence farming tradition of growing your own food to feed your family and storing and sharing seeds for next year's harvest.

and without these techniques, we wouldn't have enough food to feed the world's current population.

With the business techniques in use by large agribusiness, 850 million people in the world are undernourished.

This isn't exclusively the fault of agribusiness. But the agribusiness industry makes farmers in developing countries put growing luxury crops for those of us in wealthy countries ahead of growing food for themselves.

So, no: given that no agribusiness is doing anything about making sure everyone in the world has enough to eat, why should I approve of the (severely unsustainable) farming techniques they make use of just because in theory they produce enough for everyone? About five million children die each year because they can't get enough to eat. World Hunger

This post is somewhat misleading. Effectively, it states as a "fact" a series of unproven claims. The website on which these claims originated does not show exactly how it reaches its conclusions, beyond some vague statements about the math. Only when it provides a clear, specific breakdown of its calculations, and proof of the statistics on which they are based, will we be able to call its claims factual. Sorry to be a naysayer, but the proof for these claims is lacking, and we should not rush to embrace them without it.

I guess though that obtaining larks vomit will be difficult without cruelty towards animals

The usual method involves taking them out clubhopping and buying them a bunch of Jaegerbombs. Does that count as cruelty?

In semi-arid regions, grazing cattle is generally ecologically destructive. Vegetation on stream corridors and pond shorelines gets eaten and the bare earth trampled into mud, which waves and high water erode.

Aldo Leopold chronicles the result in the Gila National Forest, where he was a national forest ranger, a part of Sand County Almanac: where before there were wooded streambanks with willows and glades, cattle grazing resulted in bare gravel. Once the native bunchgrasses held a sod even in drought, and provided grazing year-round, but cattle prefer them, and so they have been replaced all over the American West by annual cheatgrass and creosote, which are useless as summer fodder.

With the business techniques in use by large agribusiness, 850 million people in the world are undernourished.

My point was, if not for the use of pesticides, fertilizer, large-scale farming and the like which you so decry, this number would be A LOT higher.

But the agribusiness industry makes farmers in developing countries put growing luxury crops for those of us in wealthy countries ahead of growing food for themselves.

About five million children die each year because they can't get enough to eat

Which is terrible. But again, before large-scale commercial farming, and the expensive and difficult-to-implement agricultural techniques which it enables, came along, the number was a lot higher - with a much smaller global population.

I've actually talked to some farmers in third world countries recently. They're not too happy about rising food prices due to biofuel demand and the like (by all means let's get rid of ethanol subsidies - and any other agricultural subsidies while we're at it). But I have yet to meet a single person who wants to go back to the good old days of hoping drought or flood doesn't destroy this year's crop and that mold or vermin don't destroy the seed supply for next year's, rather than being sure that they will be able to buy seed from a reliable supplier like an agribusiness.

Where do they come up with this stuff? It's kind of like the employers who tell you how much money they save by firing people. Well why not fire everyone? Think of how much you'll save then! Let's ban fried foods. I'm sure that deforestation will reverse, political strife will end and beautiful birds will fill the air!

I've actually talked to some farmers in third world countries recently.

How wealthy were they? Were they among the 850 million going hungry?

Wealthy farmers the world over have benefited from the "green revolution".

Subsistence farmers still see their children starve to death.

...but that tends to also stimulate production of a known greenhouse gas, russell.

To continue to treat this comment far too seriously, as a general rule those who have a large, regular intake of beans tend to have far, far fewer emissions than irregular consumers, as the body adapts to processing. I've swung back and forth from veg to non a few times over the last few years (currently mostly veg, no guilt if I want fish occasionally, and lots of guilt if I want chicken rarely, with the obvious aim of weaning myself of that next), and the difference has been noticeable during the periods when I'm eating beans daily, and when I'm not.

Where do they come up with this stuff?

By analyzing the facts. I learned in high school biology that the further you go up the food chain the more energy is being wasted. It's not really complicated.

You seem to suggest that encouragement of eating less meat is antithetical to Freedom. Do you feel the same way about encouraging carpooling? Or promoting public transit? It's the same general principle...

Note that the reason meat is so bad, in terms of greenhouse gases, has to do with the huge amount of plant food that has to be used as feed for every bit of resulting meat. Obviously, this is not true if, as someone said above, you have an animal in your back yard, surviving off your scraps (or, as I have sometimes wanted, grazing your lawn and saving you the trouble of mowing it). But for everyone else, it's huge.

I doubt that - my cousin in Ireland has twenty cows standing in a field (first thing he bought when he got planning permission for his new house, tends to them after his day job and has two kids, he's crazy). They mainly eat grass and silage, which he produces himself. I don't see how he has a negative eco balance, it's simply an extension of your pig in the back yard eating scraps. The important thing is to distinguish between different types of meat production. I fully agree that factory farming and industrial scale mono-cultures are bad, but it doesn't help your cause to throw everything together.

Also, stop using Google ;).

Rajadharma has a point, however bluntly expressed. The claims offered by the originators (PB&J) are far too specific for the very slight statistical support they offer. YOu just can't call these claims facts on the basis they provide, and Hilzoy ought to note this. I know it would be nice if these claims were factual, but they simply aren't at this point, and the post ought to reflect this, for the sake of intellectual honesty if nothing else.

True novokant. I also know a farmer that has an organic beef farm that uses rotational grazing i.e. cows eating grass, which is fertilised with poo [I've also not asked if he wants to go back to the good old days of the black plague and starting fires with rocks rather than getting his feed from a reliable agribusiness supplier, but I digress]. And it's probably as good a source of meat as I could ask for but it is more expensive.


This leads to my next opinion that we're not paying nearly enough for our meat. Most of the costs are buried in externalities like animal abuse and environmental costs as well as issues of long term sustainability of dependence on cheap fossil fuels. But it's no bad thing - we'd eat less and less out of habit, cook smarter by using cheaper cuts more effectively, and treat meat with the respect it deserves. Our current consumption's an historical, culinary and geographical aberration. [regards also to Catsy's "deep cultural ties"]


Sadly, I have to agree that Rajadharma and malikistranslator have a point.

Even though I like peanut butter sandwiches.

This kind of fake numberwotsits stuff actually does scientific argument no favors. It depends where you got your peanut butter and your jelly and your bread, and where you got your meat, and if you cross-compare between the hamburger made out of your own lovingly-reared pig in your backyard and the peanut butter made out of peanuts grown by a pesticide-ridden farmer in Africa who is dying by inches, well, then.

(Of course if you cross-compare between a McDonalds hamburger and a PB sandwich made out of organic peanuts and stone-milled flour from organic wheat, well, you're still ahead with the PB sandwich.)

So come over to my house and share a big pot of vegetarian chilli. Lots of beans. Hope none of you are methane-producers...

Random thoughts:

It's true, if you want to eat locally, you're talking about eating in season. I live in New England, which means from November until late May I'd be eating root vegetables, maybe some apples, and whatever got canned. No greens unless I (or someone) had a greenhouse. It'd be a big change for me, and for everyone else.

I'm not that concerned about maximizing efficiency. Efficient for whom? What do we get for the money we save? Food, and growing food, and eating, are more than just shoveling calories into our guts. Food, and everything that has to do with food, is core human culture.

Here where I live, most farmers could be millionaires overnight by selling their land to developers. Open land is like gold around here. In my town we spent a couple of million bucks buying a three acre undeveloped lot, just to keep a tiny scrap more of land open.

Instead of cashing in, our local farmers get up at god knows what hour to work their *sses off so my wife and I can have excellent fresh things to eat.

I give them my business whenever I can. They appreciate it, and I appreciate them.

It's nice like that.

Random factoids:

The US subsidizes different types of food more or less in direct inverse proportion to the amount of that food the US says we should eat. Eat lots of vegetables and grains, lots of fruit, not so much dairy, less meat. Subsidize meat and grains to feed meat, less dairy, even less fruits vegetables and grains intended for human consumption.

Dumb.

Corn syrup is in every damned thing you buy. It's probably in toothpaste. Corn is heavily subsidized. It's not good for people to eat that much sugar. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease.

Dumb, again.

The "green revolution" assumes heavy inputs of fertilizers derived from petroleum. That's really not going to work anymore.

Time for a new green revolution.

Takes a kilo of grain to make a kilo of pork. Two kilos for a kilo of chicken. Six for a kilo of beef.

This is a topic of some interest to me, I could probably blather on and on for quite a while, but I'll stop now.

...

Hey, if you eat a peanut butter sandwich instead of meat, you'll actually decrease your carbon impact. You'll feel better, too.

How cool is that?

It won't change the world all by itself, but nothing does.

If it's not your cup of tea, so be it. I thought it was a useful thing to know.

Thanks, hilzoy.

Thanks -

The best growing seasons here in Florida are late fall, winter, and early spring. Summer months are for okra, field peas and sweet potatoes.

"I don't approve of businesses that work to ensure that people in rural China and India, Indonesia, and Nigeria, can't grow enough food to feed their own families. Big agribusiness has pioneered methods of unsustainable farming, heavily dependent on oil and on pesticides: has required by financial muscle Third World farmers to grow crops dependent on heavy pesticide use - which seeds and pesticides must both be bought from the same corporation - and which has consistently worked against the subsistence farming tradition of growing your own food to feed your family and storing and sharing seeds for next year's harvest."

This is 'a' problem, but it isn't one of the larger problems caused by big agribusiness. The biggest problems caused by agribusiness are related to the fact that they have enormous political clout in Europe and the US which they leverage into ridiculous subsidies. These completely unneeded subsidies make it impossible for Third World countries to use agricultural industry to further their country's bussiness and technical development--closing one of the most tried and true methods of working your way into the developed world.

That keeps countries poorer longer.

Russell says:

“Takes a kilo of grain to make a kilo of pork.”

http://www.roibal.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/reverend_wright.jpg ">No no no Russell. This http://www.earth-policy.org/Books/PB/PBch8_ss4.htm ">link says 4:1, but it’s closer to 6:1 if you want it good and fatty.

This link says 4:1, but it’s closer to 6:1 if you want it good and fatty.

I'm thinking your source is more likely accurate than mine here.

When you think about it 1:1 doesn't make sense. The pig's got to burn something just walking around.

4:1 it is.

Lentils, my friends!

Also, what Sebastian said.

Thanks -

Meat yields, like everything else, boils down to thermodynamics. Every conversion involves energy loss through both heat and entropy. The more complex the animal, the more energy conversions it processes through it’s lifetime. That’s why the stupider animals are more efficient at converting grain to flesh.

Cows:8:1
Pigs: 6:1
Chickens and Fish: 2-3:1

Every conversion involves energy loss through both heat and entropy.

In other words, friction?

Quite possibly Slartibartfast. But I would need two Budweisers in order to reflect upon comparing entropy to friction. Which I am not currently at liberty to drink.

It's not a matter of how complex the animal is, it's about (a) is it warm-blooded?, and (b) how long does it live?

Warm-blooded animals are *enormously* less efficient than cold-blooded. The Actual Biologists&trade rule of thumb is that about 10% of the energy makes it from one link in the food chain (we call it a "trophic level") to the next, but it's more like 1-5% for warm-blooded animals, 5-15% for cold-blooded. So cold-blooded animals are 3 to 5 times as efficient as warm-blooded -- I assume the reasons are obvious

You can see, btw, that domestic animals are *far* more efficient at energy conversion than wild ones -- because they don't waste time & energy running around and trying to stay alive, basically. And BOB is right that brains are an incredible waste of energy in a food production system.

That’s why the stupider animals are more efficient at converting grain to flesh.

Cows:8:1
Pigs: 6:1
Chickens and Fish: 2-3:1

I don't have a cite, but I'm sure most people here already know that pigs are far smarter than cows.

When I was in Mike and Rob's dorm room in '86 or '87 my farts were very flammable.

And ditto russell @ 1:28.

I heard a very small bit of an interview on NPR a few days ago with a guy discussing potential water shortages around the world. I wish I could remember the number of gallons of water it takes to make a Big Mac if you take it back over the total supply chain, including packaging, but it was a lot.

Tomato sandwiches are really good. I live in South Jersey, which is famous (in South Jersey, at least) for really good tomatoes. I should start growing them again. My back yard is very sunny, at least when the sun is out.


OMG, New Jersey tomatoes! I was there several years back and I swear you couldn't get a bad tomato if you tried.
I think about those tomatoes every year...what make them so good, do you suppose?

rdldot:

what make them so good, do you suppose?

Besides the right kind of weather (mostly), I think it's because the state is so small. No, really: NJ tomato growers are within 50 miles of either NYC or Philly, so they know their tomatoes won't have to travel very far. Therefor, they can afford to actually ripen them, and people like me can afford to get used to Real Tomatoes, so that's what we demand.

And let me tell you, NJ *heirloom* tomatoes are a religious experience.

I wish I could remember the number of gallons of water it takes to make a Big Mac if you take it back over the total supply chain, including packaging, but it was a lot.

It all goes back into the water cycle, though. How many urinary tracts has your average water molecule passed through, I wonder? Humans only account for a few cubic kilometers of urine a year, out of a billion and change, but there's loads of other animals peeing out there.

von:
A corollary to "eat local" is "eat in season": If you are in the Northern hemisphere and eating corn-on-the-cob in January, your meal traveled a long way.

Hooray, something we can agree upon! Except when it comes to tomatoes. Someone has to figure out an environmentally-friendly way to have high-quality tomatoes locally-grown and in-season year round. Also, I want a pony.

The prices for such goods tend to be comparatively high.

In large part because the prices for their conventionally grown counterparts are artificially low thanks to subsidies, etc.

I have to agree with Jes, Rajadharma and Malikistranslator: The factual claim in the post is unsupported.

http://backyardbeauties.com/> This operation has gotten http://www.madisonbusinessgateway.com/>a lot of publicity where I live (about an hour away from Madison). I don't know how environmentally friendly it is, and I can't eat tomatoes any more so I don't know how good they are. But it purports to be an attempt to supply that pony.

Hooray, something we can agree upon! Except when it comes to tomatoes. Someone has to figure out an environmentally-friendly way to have high-quality tomatoes locally-grown and in-season year round. Also, I want a pony.

Ehh, ponies are overrated. Too stubborn. (Little horse's syndrome, perhaps.)

It all goes back into the water cycle, though.

Water is a very stable compound, isn't it? But really, it takes a while, without expending lots of energy, for used water to get back to a state of being what most of us what consider potable. In other words, are we turning our usable water into unusable water faster than unusable water can be turned back into usable water? Or am I taking you too seriously here, Slart? (I'm leaving as soon as I finish typing, so don't be in a hurry to reply or to get a reply to your reply, if you reply.)

von: the basic idea is pretty simple. To produce a given amount of food in the form of, say, beef, you need to produce a lot of food to feed the cow that will become that beef. Cows do not convert plant food into their own edible parts with 100% efficiency; actually, it takes a whole lot more plant food to produce a given amount of animal food.

This is not a problem if the plant food in question is both not planted on purpose and inedible by humans. (I.e., pigs that eat your scraps, cows that live on your meadow.) But in the case of animals that are fed on feed that's grown for the purpose, it is: it takes a bunch of land, fertilizer, transport, etc., to produce that feed, which will then be quite inefficiently transformed into beef. By eating plant-based food instead, you cut out that very inefficient stage.

it takes a while

Yes, of course. The issue is really how fast you're using the water, relative to replenishment rate, isn't it? If you've got annual rainfall like, for instance, Pago Pago, you can support a lot more people or high-water-use industrial activities than, for instance, Seattle. Which in turn can support a lot more of such activities than can Phoenix.

In other words, are we turning our usable water into unusable water faster than unusable water can be turned back into usable water?

I have no idea. And no, I'm not being overly serious, here. The pee ought to have given that away, but I find that I'm a great deal less funny to others than I am to myself.

In other words, are we turning our usable water into unusable water faster than unusable water can be turned back into usable water?

yep. Google water mining, or ogallala aquifer. In terms of long-term damage to vast natural resources, Texans are doing a much better job than Californians.

Summer months are for okra, field peas and sweet potatoes.

And would be for peanuts, if they were grown there. I'd have thought they would be, with that sandy soil and the long season and all, but maybe the rainfall's too intense at the wrong times.

For those of you looking to eat less meat, rather than none: Thai, Chinese, and Indian cooking are tasty and fun to explore.

I live in an area whose hilliness and rocky, pure-clay soils rule out field farming. "Farming" here means raising cattle. But locally raised, grass-fed beef is still harder to come by in my county than it ought to be because small-scale slaughterhouses are a logistical and economic bottleneck (few, far away, not easy to create more because all are burdened with regulations designed for industrial-scale slaughterhouses).

Most cattle here are trucked to Oklahoma or Nebraska or the like for "finishing" -- mass feedlots where they eat grain -- before being industrially slaughtered and trucked to markets all over. Which means that some end up in the Food Lion only a mile from where they were peacefully munching fescue for most of their lives -- but in between the field and the display case a whole lot of petroleum, embodied and not, is expended to make that jump.

I swear you are trying to drive me back into the arms of the Republicans… ;)

JanieM:
But it purports to be an attempt to supply that pony.

For shame! I thought we were trying to discourage eating more meat here! And I've never tried pony, but if it's anything like horse I can't imagine it'd be worth having, anyway! =P

Nell:
For those of you looking to eat less meat, rather than none: Thai, Chinese, and Indian cooking are tasty and fun to explore.

Oh, god, yes. I can honestly say I'd never have dared to go veg had I not discovered Indian cuisine, as my prior conception of vegetarian fare was paltry, insubstantial salads and such. These cuisines make veg dishes a lot more robust than many comparable Western dishes with similar ingredients. And they also can very nicely scale back proportions of meat in a meal w/o leaving the eater feeling shorted.

I know of a woman up in Jackson NH who raises beef cattle. They eat grass, no grain. They are "free range", by which I mean they spend most of their days walking around.

You buy a half cow or a whole cow. Some folks go in together and split a share in a cow. They get slaughtered, butchered, and flash-frozen down around Nashua and she meets you at a nearby mall with the goods.

You put them in your trunk, go home, have a nice meal, and put the rest in your freezer. No mad cow involved, cause her cows don't eat other cows. No Korean mobs rioting at the thought of having to eat it, either.

My wife and I don't use this service because we don't eat enough beef for it to make sense, but we know folks who do. The meat is delicious. It's less fatty than regular beef, and tastes darker and a little nuttier than grocery beef.

Yum.

We get similar quality Icelandic lamb at the farmer's market.

A couple of towns up the coast there's a big (1,000 acre) truck farm. The land is owned by a conservancy and they have an arrangement with a family to farm it. It's run on a CSA arrangement. You buy a share for $600 ($550 if you're a member of the conservancy), which entitles you to one big grocery bag of produce per week for the season (about 22 weeks). You can put whatever you want in the bag, they just put out whatever's ripe that week. You also get big stuff (corn, melons) when they're ripe, and all the berries and other you-pick-it stuff you can pick and carry away.

Basically, it's enough produce for a family of four. Not bad for $25 or $30 a week.

That particular farmstead has been in continuous operation since 1638, and is one of the largest working farms in MA. They do hay rides, and folks can horseback ride and cross country ski on trails that criss cross the property.

The town the farm is in has similar arrangements -- public / non-profit / commercial partnerships -- that keep a handful of old farmsteads working and open. If not for that, they'd all be condos right now.

If you go to Amish country in PA, OH, or IN, you will still see this kind of small to medium sized, family operated, mixed crop, butter and egg farming happening exactly as it has been for the last couple of hundred years. They sell to the big towns near them, or the city folks ride out on the weekend to buy from them.

Even during the hardest times, the Amish folks make good livings from their land. They don't load up on debt, they put a lot of labor into it, and they share big equipment purchases between a couple of families. It works.

Stuff like this happens all over the place. It's a good thing.

Thanks -

Hilzoy, the basic claim MIGHT be true. We don't have anything like the evidence to back it up from those selling this claim as fact. That's where the problem with your post lies: a series of detailed factual claims which are almost wholly unsupported by numbers. Unless you have much better math than your sources, you really should note that these are unproven claims. Sure, I'd like it if they were true - but stating them as fact when they aren't is rather Cheney-esque, don't you think?

"Google water mining"

It makes sense that it might be easier to mine Google water than ordinary water.

Russell,

Do you mind providing some details on these food sources to your friendly neighbor? email is fine.

Don't forget about the lamb.

It makes sense that it might be easier to mine Google water than ordinary water.

Nah, too Brin-y...

Oops. No more email link.

It's my first initial and last name followed by _1999 at yahoo.com.

ok, shower me with water puns; it's my just deserts.

Russell mentioned Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) earlier but here's a link to find CSA co-ops in your area. (Local Harvest also helps you find local suppliers of all kinds of foods.)

With CSA, you eat locally and organically; all the money goes direct to the farmer; everything's fresh so it lasts in your fridge much longer.

One big advantage to eating seasonally is that, after a while, you really don't want stuff that's out of season. Take tomatoes. When they first come in, I gorge on 'em three meals a day. When I can't keep up with the weekly delivery anymore, I start making and freezing pre-sauce--no seasoning, just peeled and chopped 'maters. By the end of the season, I don't want to see another fresh tomato again ever again in my life. Over the winter and spring, I use up the pre-sauce for soups and stews and sauce. By the time it's gone, I'm drooling in anticipation of those first fresh, juicy, meaty, sublime tomatoes.

And so the cycle continues.

Slartibartfast asked if the energy conversion processes in digestion can be classified as friction. This is a good pdf http://www.hsci.info/hsci2004/PROCEEDINGS/FinalPapers/EE3DigestionAsChemistry.pdf ">link. It is about a guy who got shot in the stomach in 1822. An army doctor (Beaumont) couldn’t close the stomach wound so the shootee was incapacited. Beaumont took the shootee into his home.

Beaumont then tied different types of food to strings and dangled them in the shootee’s stomach wound to watch the gastric juices at work. After five hours the shootee began to have problems. These experiments went on for a prolonged period of time. Beaumont noted that the shootee often became irritated during the experiments, and that this could hinder digestion.

When the shootee was able, he made the decision to move very far away from the army doctor. Beaumont became famous for concluding that digestion was a chemical event.

So, Slartibartfast, I have to conclude that defining digestion as friction may be a bridge too far.

To the people making sacrifices and eating more plants so that I may eat meat more cheaply, a sincere thanks. Your solution will not do what you intended, but as it benefits me greatly, I will not complain too much. A more effective approach might be one that either forces the costs of externalities on those that get the benefits from them, or one that increases the income of the billions of people who eat mainly grains so that the cost of eating grain fed meat might rise. I can say that without fear, knowing that either one of those situations is extraordinarily unlikely in a land where "We must not interfere with monopoly and privilege" is - really! - the full extent of what passes for free market thinking.

Anyway, so long and thanks for all the filet. Hope you enjoyed that pb&j (all of which was made to a great degree out of the same corn that fed my cow, but that's another story).

von: the basic idea is pretty simple. To produce a given amount of food in the form of, say, beef, you need to produce a lot of food to feed the cow that will become that beef. Cows do not convert plant food into their own edible parts with 100% efficiency; actually, it takes a whole lot more plant food to produce a given amount of animal food.

I'm not arguing with your basic point, Hilzoy; to the contrary, I agree with it. I'm agreeing with other commentators that the factual claims in the linked piece are not supported. The study provides no competent support for its claim that any given "PB&J" will reduce your carbon footprint by "the equivalent of 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions over an average animal-based lunch like a hamburger, a tuna sandwich, grilled cheese, or chicken nuggets." It could very well be that my PB&J sandwich results in more carbon being admitted than your hamburger.

It could very well be that my PB&J sandwich results in more carbon being admitted than your hamburger.

And the carbon's done so well, great SATs, valedictorian, captain of the football team, how could it not be admitted? ;-)

The website on which these claims originated does not show exactly how it reaches its conclusions, beyond some vague statements about the math.

Well, except for a link to the journal in which the article they're citing appeared. Abstract here. (Article is available by purchase only.)

What more would you have liked to see?

Sorry not to have responded earlier to the claim that this was thinly sourced; I wasn't clear how to reply without a clearer indication of what, exactly, people found wrong with the methodology, and since, as I noted above, the larger point is plainly right. However, since it's come up elsewhere:

PB&J cites a paper on the greenhouse gas effects of various foods as the main evidence for their claims about diet and greenhouse gas emissions, written by two assistant professors at UChicago (Dept. of Geophysical Sciences). On the journal site you need a subscription, but what seems to be the same paper is available here. If someone could tell me what seems to be wrong with it, I'd be happy to respond.

To the people making sacrifices and eating more plants so that I may eat meat more cheaply, a sincere thanks. Your solution will not do what you intended, but as it benefits me greatly, I will not complain too much.

Sure, yuk it up now, but when our secret Islamovegifascist* master sweeps the polls in November and sends in the UN troops to force red-blooded Americans to eat nothing but halal tofu, we'll see who has the last laugh!

Erm, I mean... uh... ha, ha, such a silly joke I made!

*Remember, people, Hilter was a vegetarian!!1!!!!ein!!!!!

Bu, bu, bu, but I like bacon and eggs.

that pb&j (all of which was made to a great degree out of the same corn that fed my cow, but that's another story)

I'm perfectly willing to believe that the facts asserted at the PB&J site are not adequately supported, but the above is egregious b.s.

Regular old supermarkets sell

- peanut butter that's made only from peanuts,

- jelly or jam that's made with cane sugar or fruit syrup rather than corn syrup, and

- bread that contains no corn or corn syrup.

These all sell for a small premium over their counterparts containing corn syrup (and hydrogenated fats and chemical preservatives and other undesirable ingredients), but they're right there on the shelf beside the others.

So for the most minimal effort and expense, you can exercise your tiny effect on the market, and do your bit to discourage the inclusion of King Corn (with its petroleum- and chemical-heavy production) in every "food product".

Wow and here I thought I was just being a lazy college student, instead I am actually helping the environment. Hooray for me!

Nell: plus, even if it were made from the same corn, the making process would in all likelihood be more efficient than the one cows use to turn it into beef. At least that's true for e.g. the (cornmeal?) bread; I'm assuming that it's probably also true for the (corn syrup based?) jelly.

How you make peanut butter out of corn is alas beyond me.

Check out my web site that selects your lunch for you. http://www.todayslunches.com

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad