Disney et al's part in forming the developing minds of children in America is likely greater than that of their parents. The total number of words communicated to a young mind by repeated watching of "Pocahontas, the Lion King, and Bambi, etc..." are, in most American homes, greater than the total number of words from parent to child.
The result? Besides the addiction to the entertainment content of TV and Film is a nation of maladjusted adults suffering from "Disney bias disorder". We don't live happily ever after. Most of us are a long way from beautiful - and even those possessing physical beauty only have it for a short while. Events and phenomenon do not necessarily resolve perfectly the way they do on the Disney channel. Animals are imbued with human personalities and sensibilities that they simply do not have (think Timothy Treadwell, the poster boy for "Disney Bias Disorder"). As these inconsistencies pile up in our real lives, the effects upon the mental well being of the individuals most at risk becomes apparent... just not to them.
Recently, Sharon Astyk took James E. McWilliams to task on his pointless diatribe to be found here at the New York Times.
Sharon is too kind. While Sharon declines to criticize vegetarians/vegans position on food production saying she "absolutely respects those who make that choice"... well, I do not. This is just another manifestation of the Disney Bias Disorder. Or anti-social personality disorder/borderline personality disorder. Or... something. I find the condescending lectures I receive from Vegetarian types suffering from Disney's influence to be almost too much to bear (and it doesn't help that in my 50 plus year of living I have NEVER MET a pro-Life Vegetarian... this is not to say that one (or many) does not exist... just that I haven't met one... and, given my experience, if Pro-Life Vegetarians do exist it would seem to me that they are an insubstantial minority of all Vegetarians. I cannot fathom a more despicable hypocrite than a Pro-Abortion Vegetarian. Any person that refuses to eat an animal's flesh on ethical and moral grounds but is willing to countenance the killing of an unborn child is clearly not playing with a full deck. If you are a Pro-Life Vegetarian you have my most sincere apologies. We probably shouldn't spend a lot of time together, but how you live your life is none of my business (and I how I live and what I eat are none of yours). If you are a Pro-Abortion Vegetarian... P**s off. You are reading the wrong blog.
A little history on Vegetarianism in the U.S.: It pretty much did not exist in the U.S. prior to 1971. Yes, there were pockets of "vegetarianism" in certain cultures and religions around the world... but given the history, these were not significant influences on Vegetarianism in the West or the U.S., which I assert, came about more as a result of Mickey Mouse and Donal Duck than Hinduism.
Mr. McWilliams starts out predictably enough using the term "sustainable" in his essay's title (clearly, he wants to align himself with the larger environmental movement). Then comes out swinging:
THE industrial production of animal products is nasty business. From mad cow, E. coli and salmonella to soil erosion, manure runoff and pink slime, factory farming is the epitome of a broken food system.Never mind that the statistical representation of people sickened to death from these nasties is miniscule when compared to the deaths and illnesses from malnutrition... especially, given the subject under discussion the malnutrition caused by Vegetarianism itself. Mankind developed over the past several million years in the absence of agriculture. That means little or no grains or legumes. But we do need, and in substantial quantities such nutrients as Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B-12, Calcium, Iron, and Zinc, just to name a few, and these are largely unavailable on vegetarian diet.
There have been various responses to these horrors, including some recent attempts to improve the industrial system, like the announcement this week that farmers will have to seek prescriptions for sick animals instead of regularly feeding antibiotics to all stock. My personal reaction has been to avoid animal products completely. But most people upset by factory farming have turned instead to meat, dairy and eggs from nonindustrial sources. Indeed, the last decade has seen an exciting surge in grass-fed, free-range, cage-free and pastured options. These alternatives typically come from small organic farms, which practice more humane methods of production. They appeal to consumers not only because they reject the industrial model, but because they appear to be more in tune with natural processes."Horrors"? You are welcome to your personal reaction, Mr. McWilliams, but if you wish to admonish others the least you could do is support your contentions. The "announcement" by the U.S. FDA and your "personal reaction" aside... any appeal of "more humane methods of production" needs a great deal more time and space than you give it here.
For all the strengths of these alternatives, however, they’re ultimately a poor substitute for industrial production. Although these smaller systems appear to be environmentally sustainable, considerable evidence suggests otherwise.
Grass-grazing cows emit considerably more methane than grain-fed cows. Pastured organic chickens have a 20 percent greater impact on global warming. It requires 2 to 20 acres to raise a cow on grass. If we raised all the cows in the United States on grass (all 100 million of them), cattle would require (using the figure of 10 acres per cow) almost half the country’s land (and this figure excludes space needed for pastured chicken and pigs). A tract of land just larger than France has been carved out of the Brazilian rain forest and turned over to grazing cattle. Nothing about this is sustainable.I am going to go out on a limb here... I bet the 60 million American Buffalo that existed before we drove them to extinction emitted methane in the same manner as our current bovine inhabitants, only they were bigger and emitted more... as well as the millions upon millions of Elk and Moose and other large ruminants that roamed North America... and they were all grass fed. We probably have fewer , and a less biomass of, ruminants in North America now than when Columbus landed... but never mind your silly assertion there.... Pastured chickens increase global warming?! Really?! ROFL!!
I keep cattle on my property so that I do not have to "Bush Hog". "Bush hogging" is industrial sized lawn mowing. No cattle? No pasture - and no meat and milk - and no organic farming... but if you want to keep the land in Ag use you will have to "bush hog" - with all of that activities diesel consumption, pollution, and waste. There is this sense that forrest sequesters more carbon than grassland - but that is just not true (feel free to google for yourself... too much data here. The larger point is that the sequestration capacity of forrest versus grass likely favors grass).
Of course, cutting down the rain forrest in Brazil is a bad idea... but what does that have to do with meat consumption outside of Brazil?
Let's move on...
Advocates of small-scale, nonindustrial alternatives say their choice is at least more natural. Again, this is a dubious claim. Many farmers who raise chickens on pasture use industrial breeds that have been bred to do one thing well: fatten quickly in confinement. As a result, they can suffer painful leg injuries after several weeks of living a “natural” life pecking around a large pasture. Free-range pigs are routinely affixed with nose rings to prevent them from rooting, which is one of their most basic instincts. In essence, what we see as natural doesn’t necessarily conform to what is natural from the animals’ perspectives.I have no idea which advocates said what about "natural"... or how they define that. Cross breeding birds happens in nature and in agriculture... not sure what his point is here, other than that these creatures "suffer"... and again on free range pigs... McWilliams' concern is once again about their comfort... attacking agriculture as "unnatural"?... and vaccines, surgery, abortion, refrigeration, HVAC, anesthesia, etc... ARE natural? Man impacts and manipulates his environment, as do all creatures.
The economics of alternative animal systems are similarly problematic. Subsidies notwithstanding, the unfortunate reality of commodifying animals is that confinement pays. If the production of meat and dairy was somehow decentralized into small free-range operations, common economic sense suggests that it wouldn’t last. These businesses — no matter how virtuous in intention — would gradually seek a larger market share, cutting corners, increasing stocking density and aiming to fatten animals faster than competitors could. Barring the strictest regulations, it wouldn’t take long for production systems to scale back up to where they started.Clearly Mr. McWilliams has not traveled much in developing countries. Most of these nations' food supplies, outside of the mega-cities, ARE decentralized, non-confinement, and local... and they have been that way since time immemorial. What prompts these other forces are the mega cities. Are we to undo the mega city?
All this said, committed advocates of alternative systems make one undeniably important point about the practice called “rotational grazing” or “holistic farming”: the soil absorbs the nutrients from the animals’ manure, allowing grass and other crops to grow without the addition of synthetic fertilizer. As Michael Pollan writes, “It is doubtful you can build a genuinely sustainable agriculture without animals to cycle nutrients.” In other words, raising animals is not only sustainable, but required.
But rotational grazing works better in theory than in practice. Consider Joel Salatin, the guru of nutrient cycling, who employs chickens to enrich his cows’ grazing lands with nutrients. His plan appears to be impressively eco-correct, until we learn that he feeds his chickens with tens of thousands of pounds a year of imported corn and soy feed. This common practice is an economic necessity. Still, if a farmer isn’t growing his own feed, the nutrients going into the soil have been purloined from another, most likely industrial, farm, thereby undermining the benefits of nutrient cycling.This just gets weirder and weirder. In agriculture, a farmer either uses industrial fertilizer or animal manures/urine with help from legumes. We do not have enough farm land remaining on earth to allow land to go fallow... and in antiquity, when farmers let a field rest every 7 years, that was the year they put their animals on that parcel. And could Salatin grow his own feed? Of course he could... but why should he? He can trade his meat products onto the market and the contra party farmer supplying the grains can sell his grains on the market - and the nutrient cycle is not broken by this. What breaks the nutrient cycle is the manner in which we humans dispose of our wastes.
I farm organically. I can tell you with absolute certainty that without our animals to cycle the nutrients (with help from yours truly in taking those "nutrients" (manure) and concentrating it where it is needed) organic farming does not work. If that is true, and we did not slaughter and consume our excess males/past prime females the livestock/fertilizer producers would consume all of the food we grew... and what would be the point of agriculture then? Is McWilliams suggesting that 7 Billion people revert to hunter/gathering?
Finally, there is no avoiding the fact that the nutrient cycle is interrupted every time a farmer steps in and slaughters a perfectly healthy manure-generating animal, something that is done before animals live a quarter of their natural lives. When consumers break the nutrient cycle to eat animals, nutrients leave the system of rotationally grazed plots of land (though of course this happens with plant-based systems as well). They land in sewer systems and septic tanks (in the form of human waste) and in landfills and rendering plants (in the form of animal carcasses).
Farmers could avoid this waste by exploiting animals only for their manure, allowing them to live out the entirety of their lives on the farm, all the while doing their own breeding and growing of feed. But they’d better have a trust fund.
McWilliams uses the logic such that "if 2 is good 4 must be better" to arrive at his first assertion. As I mentioned earlier, if we do not "interrupt" the nutrient cycle of some animals the animals will consume all of the food. The only legitimate point raised in this essay is the handling of human waste. McWilliams is spot on there. I have already covered the absolute necessity of slaughtering animals the very moment their feed to meat ratio has peaked. There is a balancing act in permaculture that McWilliams seems unable or unwilling to grasp.
McWilliams does not deconstruct the meat-agriculture system. The regulations promulgated by the USDA created the Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO's) in the first place. Even in the U.S., ALL CATTLE are grass fed into adulthood. In the nations without these silly, onerous, and outdated regulations (think developing countries) that I have personally visited a butcher shop is also the slaughter yard and the "CAFO". In the U.S., it was the regulatory environment, bought and paid for by the large meat packers, that prevents meat from being raised and processed locally and requiring huge inputs of grain (no doubt with help of certain other special interest groups). Because no small farmer/processor can withstand the economics imposed by the USDA "inspection" regulations (ROFL!! SNICKER!!! (LOLOLOLOLOL!!!! Sorry... that got away from me... I laughed because even with that outrageous regulatory expense, the USDA inspects less than 2% of the meat that makes it to market). You see, I am forced to sell my cattle at an auction. The cattle are then driven by truck to Oklahoma to a CAFO where they are "fattened" (read fed with corn with all of that inputs attendant effects on the environment AND your health), slaughtered, and processed at a USDA compliant (and HUGE) facility with the economies of scale necessary to meet the USDA regulations put into place before the advent of refrigeration. The meat is then loaded back on a truck and driven back to the grocery store down the street from where the animal was raised. A 1000 mile round trip of a diesel guzzling and road kill... all because of the F&*(^#ing USDA and the portion of the electorate seeking ever greater regulation.
This is a very complicated story... one that absolutely, positively won't have a happy ending. The solution, however, has NOTHING to do with vegetarianism. Vegetarianism requires people to consume huge amounts of grains (and legumes). How's that massive grain consumption working out for our collective health? Millions of animals are killed in the process of farming grains, transporting grains, milling grains, processing grains... these creatures don't seem to count on McWilliams' balance sheet.... nor the health effects on homo sapiens who evolved to consume meat and not grain.
Lastly... while "we" ARE stuck with the industrial food system, you and I as individuals are not. Individuals can "opt out". Over time, nature will put things in proper balance. Some folks will opt out by paying more for organic foods or by seeking out relationships with organic farmers... Some will simply change how they participate in the system by producing as much of their own food as possible... but that will have some substantial political and societal effects... effects that the political type supporting this change has likely not given a great deal of thought to.
I had this to say about Organic Family Farming in my post of June 12, 2009:
- Putting off marriage
- Not getting married, ever (over 40% of American children are born out of wedlock)
- Those that do marry are Engaging a pre-nuptual agreement more often to level the playing field
Things have changed in the 3 years since that post.
- to be continued.