End Times For Meat?

Asks Time’s Josh Ozersky

Catte Feed Lot CAFOSure hope so. Ozersky explains that the future for meat is looking grim:

But while the bacon panic wasn’t real, there is a crisis in our meat supply and it’s no joke. We produce a lot of meat, but we feed a lot of Americans, and more all the time, thanks to the simple laws of multiplication, along with the simple addition of immigration. There is a drought, so there is less grain and corn for the animals to eat. Most of the producers are marginally profitable at best, and Americans refuse to pay more for meat than they do for Froot Loops, despite the fact that no one has to raise and feed and kill and process Froot Loops. I’m not kidding about this: go to the supermarket and see how much a package of pork chops cost, or half a chicken, and then compare that price to a box of Froot Loops.

All the things that consumers have, rightly, come to fear and distrust about the meat industry are a result of this problem. Hormones, to make the animals grow faster? Check. Antibiotics, to allow animals be cramped and crammed and stressed without dying of infections? Check. Farrowing crates and beak clipping, so as to squeeze more meat more efficiently out of factories? Check. Even the vile pink slime that everyone hates so much is simply a product, literally, of the beef industry’s need to get maximal yield out of each animal. We all love happy animals on small farms, but there’s no way to feed Americans living in or near poverty, as well as having tons of meat to export to China and elsewhere. The result is that producers are bumping off animals as fast as they can and getting out of the business before feed costs get worse and they are forced out. That’s where the bacon shortage comes in. Less pigs, less pork, less pork bellies for yummy, smoky bacon.

To Ozersky, this means a future of expensive, unhealthy meat and abused animals. I would argue we already have two of the three (yes, meat is cheap). He seems to lament the prospect. However, he doesn’t really have much to say on what to do about it.

So I’ll help him out: when a product is getting more expensive, more unhealthy, more ethically execrable, and more environmentally costly (which Ozersky doesn’t really go into), then perhaps the public should stop consuming that product.

I know. Radical idea. But Is it really that hard for Americans and the rest of humanity to imagine a future that isn’t fueled by cheap, factory-farmed meat?

Food For (Non) Thought

Does junk food = Alzheimer’s?

I guess the link to Type 2 diabetes wasn’t enough to wean Americans from an addiction to planet-destroying, health-destroying, industrialized food.

But maybe the prospect of losing your mind will have an impact:

We used to think there were two types of diabetes: the type you’re born with (Type 1) and the type you “get.” That’s called Type 2, and was called “adult onset” until it started ravaging kids. Type 2 is brought about by a combination of factors, including overeating, American-style.

The idea that Alzheimer’s might be Type 3 diabetes has been around since 2005, but the connection between poor diet and Alzheimer’s is becoming more convincing, as summarized in a cover story in New Scientist entitled “Food for Thought: What You Eat May Be Killing Your Brain.” (The graphic — a chocolate brain with a huge piece missing — is creepy. But for the record: chocolate is not the enemy.)

If it doesn’t, at least Americans will start forgetting where the McDonalds is.

(Don’t) Supersize Me

We’re America, so bigger is better. Except when it’s not, like when it drives up our carbon footprint and consumption without really making us any happier.

YES magazine has some telling charts on the growth of home sizes in the United States.

The biggest appeal to me of downsizing is that it requires getting rid of all the stuff your family accumulates because you have space to accumulate.

Anyhow, here is the extreme counterpoint to the McMansion revolution in America: a tiny house:

In 2004, Williams sold her bungalow, shedding a mortgage payment of over $1,000 per month, and bought plans for an 84-square-foot house on wheels. It cost her $10,000 to build, a quarter of which went for photovoltaic panels that generate her electricity. Now her house is paid for, and her monthly bills total about $8—for heating.

Even with the economic freedom she gained, it wasn’t easy to leave her house. “I loved my house and I liked my community in Portland.” And she knew that day-to-day life in the tiny house would be very different. “I’m going to have to carry water, I’m going to have to deal with my compost toilet, find a place to shower.”

“It was scary,” she admits. “But I also felt like, God! This is so cool!”

Leaving her stuff behind was not that hard for Williams. It was liberating. She got rid of photos, old love letters, her college letter jacket—“all that crap that you have because it reminds you of who you used to be.” Her friends and family have quit giving her things for Christmas, she says, “unless I get some kind of, you know, short fork!” She allows herself to own no more than 300 items, and she keeps careful count. “Not because I have obsessive-compulsive disorder,” she laughs, but because she once bet a friend that she had less stuff than he did. She’s kept count ever since.

I know my wife and kids could not go that low, but it’s an example of how simplicity can work. And how current assumptions about what we think we need are both out of tune with reality, and way, way, off.

Mark Bittman Is Coming Out (Slowly)

It’s been interesting to track NYT’s food writer Mark Bittman’s growing preoccupation and alarm over the human, environmental, and animal costs of meat production and consumption. He’s not yet an all-out vegetarian crusader. But he seems to be getting there one column at a time.

Here, he calls on meat eaters to be heroes by….eating less meat. Okay, that’s not terribly inspiring, but he is quoting Bruce Willis in Armageddon, so at least he has the Apocalypytic context right:

Here’s the thing: It’s seldom that such enormous problems have such simple solutions, but this is one that does. We can tackle climate change without inventing new cars or spending billions on mass transit or trillions on new forms of energy, though all of that is not only desirable but essential.

In the meantime, we can begin eating less meat tomorrow. That’s something any of us can do, with no technological advances. If personal choice enacted on a large scale could literally save the world, maybe we have to talk about it that way. We could be heroes, like Bruce Willis in “Armageddon,” only maybe the sacrifice is on a more modest and easier scale. (You already changed your light bulbs; how about eating a salad?)

Well, “heroic” and “modest” don’t usually go together. So I’ll stick to my personal hope that one by one people simply decide to stop eating meat altogether, instead of eating the planet into fiery, supervirus-infected oblivion, one heaping platter of sirloin at a time (while aiding and abetting an animal Holocaust for good measure).

I’d urge you to read Bittman’s piece, anyhow, because even if his rallying cry is a bit timid, his summary of all the impacts of meat eating and production is concise and bracing. It came out of a request the NYT made, asking readers to defend the ethics of eating meat (Bittman was a judge who helped pick the winner and finalists). He writes:

A fascinating discussion. But you need not have a philosophy about meat-eating to understand that we — Americans, that is — need to do less of it. In fact, only if meat were produced at no or little expense to the environment, public health or animal welfare (as, arguably, some of it is), would our decisions about whether to raise and kill animals for food come down to ethics.

That seems odd to me, since it is exactly all of those things (cost to the environment, public health, and animal welfare), which are at the heart of any evaluation of the ethics of meat eating and production (especially factory farming).

Anyhow, it feels like it won’t be long before Bittman is writing about vegan cooking, and wondering why anyone eats any meat at all.

Cycling Can Save The World (Part 3,267)

Denmark: This is how we roll.

Yo! Any countries having trouble imagining how to reduce greenhouse emissions (which I guess is just about all of you), listen up!

Inspire your lazy-ass public to ride bikes like the Danes and you will take a big chunk out of climate change, or so says this study:

If all Europeans bicycled as much as the people of Denmark, the European Union could achieve up to one-quarter of its target for carbon emissions reductionsin the transportation sector by 2050, a new report says. According to the European Cyclists’ Federation, the average Dane cycles about 2.6 kilometers a day. If that rate were achieved across the EU, it would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 55 million to 120 million tons annually, or 5 to 11 percent of the EU’s overall emissions target, by 2020.

Wondering why that sort of logic has trouble in the land of the Big Mac (apart from the fact that our “leaders” scorn Europe)? The explanation is here.

Morality and Science

Since I touched on the topic of morality and climate change today, I wanted to share this powerful and articulate argument about morality and science. It comes from the always insightful Carl Safina, and I hope he won’t begrudge me the license to publish his entire essay–posted on his excellent blog–here (hey, if you’ve written something that can’t, or shouldn’t, be cut, then you have really accomplished something!).

Safina makes a critically important argument: that science is about the search for objective truth, and that humanity must always seek and acknowledge truth–no matter what the moral or political implications–because failure to do so can only bring darkness and crisis.

Take it away, Carl:

Science is essentially the systematic pursuit of what is real in nature.

Science is a method of inquiry. It asks, what is here?; then it seeks to answer questions of why and how.

Science aims to be objective. Two scientists who hold opposite hypotheses, give money to opposing political parties, and are of different faiths will—if they do their science honestly—get the same result.

This is what makes science the most powerful tool for truth-seeking ever devised by people. Science is in my opinion the finest achievement of the human mind.

Science is acknowledged as extremely important in much of the world. But it is also strenuously resisted, mistrusted, and ignored. It is not compatible with oppression and dishonesty, because it requires freedom of thought.

Only in a world where truth is feared can it be “inconvenient.”

A world that better valued and embraced science would be, by definition, more open to the truth, more realistic, more flexible and adaptable. A society more open to truth and more flexible could also be more humane, more compassionate, more pleasant—and more likely to survive.

Science can be flawed by human bias. It can be misused. But by its very design it resists those things; to the extent that science entails bias and is misused, it is bad science. Good science entails an abundance of curiosity, a lack of bias, a desire to better understand reality, and a commitment to embrace the truth. That makes science the most honest—and therefore the most moral—discipline ever devised by the human mind.

I am impressed over and over again with the fact that science must be the starting point for understanding what is really going on, for detecting changes in the world, and for identifying the likely consequences of human action or inaction. Science is a compass; it does not define the destination but it can guide us in getting there.

A populace acquainted with science, with its standards of openness, evidence, and repeatability, would be far less susceptible to the claims of politicians, salesmen, and extremists of various kinds. Science helps people cut through the nonsense. Science is a wise counselor. In short, science is a very good thing for the world.

Because the world is accelerating and problems proliferating, science is crucially important now. We need more science in our world and in our lives. So we need more of what science does, and we need it better understood and better valued.

Tech Silver Bullets (Part 2)

Speaking of whether tech might just be our salvation, here are two quick hits to consider.

One of the iPods creators, Tony Faddell, is developing a thermostat that learns, according to WIRED:

But even before he moved back to the U.S. he was mulling over his next step. Many assumed that the 42-year old technologist would continue his brilliant career in consumer electronics. He might even become a contender to run an existing multi-billion dollar business—in electronics, in mobile, maybe even Apple.

Instead, he told Dani, he was going to build a thermostat.


Fadell explained his concept: Untold tons of carbon were being pumped into the air, with people losing billions of dollars in energy costs, all because there was no easy, automatic way to control the temperature. But what if you could apply all the skills and brilliance of Silicon Valley to produce a thermostat that was smart, thrifty and so delightful that saving energy was as much fun as shuffling an iTunes playlist?…[snip]

…Today comes the payoff, when Tony Fadell’s company introduces the Nest Learning Thermostat. It is available for preorder at Best Buy and Nest.com, and will ship in November. Units are already streaming from assembly lines in the Chinese factories that churn out advanced digital gadgets.

The Nest is the iPod of thermostats. A simple loop of brushed stainless steel encases a chassis of reflective polymer, which encircles a crisp color digital display. Artificial intelligence figures out when to turn down the heat and when to jack up the air conditioning, so that you don’t waste money and perturb the ozone when no one is home, or when you’re asleep upstairs. You can communicate with the Nest from your smartphone, tablet or web browser.

Sexier than an iPod?

Never thought I’d get excited about a thermostat, but we are in crazy times. And if you want to hear some really crazy, yet oddly inspiring and hopeful, visions for how technology can start saving the world instead of destroying it, I urge you to sit back and listen to Justin Hall-Tipping:

Dept. Of Biking Can Save The World

Ordinary bicycle, Skoda Museum, Mlada Boleslav...
Image via Wikipedia

I know, I know. It can’t really “save” the world. But it has so much upside it deserves some hype.

This week the National Bike Summit is convening here in DC. And if there is one takeaway it is that biking is a supremely cost-effective investment.

In a town where almost nothing gets decided in a rational manner that focuses on costs and benefits (and instead gets hijacked by ideology, special interest money and cable madness), it’s always important to hammer away at this point. And the League Of American Bicyclists is doing exactly that, highlighting lots of research on how biking pays off big-time.

Here’s a one-stop sampling of the analysis (with links) that any bike advocate can use to blow away any bike-haters that get in his or her face:

In 2009, we released a literature review of the best research into the economic impacts of investing in bicycling infrastructure. Since then there have been several good additions.

Let’s review:

Between 1995 and 2010, the Portland region spent $4.2 billion on roadway improvements and $153 million on all active
transportation improvements.
Since 1990, the City of Portland saw an increase of 14,912 in daily bicycle commute trips and 37,006 in daily auto trips.
The cost of a new auto trip in Portland was approximately 22 times the cost of a new bicycle commute trip

Cost-effective: Between 1995 and 2010, the Portland region spent $4.2 billion on roadway improvements and $153 million on all active transportation improvements. Since 1990, the City of Portland saw an increase of 14,912 in daily bicycle commute trips and 37,006 in daily auto trips. The cost of a new auto trip in Portland was approximately 22 times the cost of a new bicycle commute trip.

Another new Portland study, by Thomas Gotschi, found that:

By 2040, investments in the range of $138 to $605 million will result in health care cost savings of $388 to $594 million, fuel savings of $143 to $218 million, and savings in value of statistical lives of $7 to $12 billion. The benefit-cost ratios for health care and fuel savings are between 3.8 and 1.2 to 1, and an order of magnitude larger when value of statistical lives is used.

Job creating: A Baltimore study shows that for each $1 million spent, striping bike lanes and signing bike routes creates twice as many jobs as repaving and repairing roads, thank to a favorable labor to materials ratio.

Economy supporting: Bicycle tourism brings in a $1 billion to the Wisconsin economy, in addition to the $556 million from manufacturing, distribution, and retail.

…and then there’s the Green Dividends of…

New York City


San Diego

and Portland.

So dig in and go wild. And keep on riding.

Here’s Rep. Earl Blumenauer, founder of the Congressional Bike Caucus, doing his bit:
Vodpod videos no longer available.


Not to encourage you to become a bike bore, but here are 5 slides to get you started (from the National Bike Summit program).

Save The World? Get A Bike

San Francisco Critical Mass, April 29, 2005.
Image via Wikipedia

Figuring out how to save the world can be a complicated process. Paper versus plastic. Glass milk bottle versus carton. Car versus bike.


Oh wait, that last one is not at all complicated. It’s pretty obvious that transporting our human selves more frequently, when possible, by bicycle, is good for the planet and good for us (though apparently it is tragically annoying to some drivers; and I should mention that some guy in a car, for some inexplicable (really) reason, gave me the finger yesterday while I was riding).

Here in traffic-locked DC, it’s nice to see that this conclusion is starting to change the way people get around, and that bikesharing is taking off.

These kids in Nairobi agree, and they made a pretty good rap ode to how bikes can save the world (backstory is here):


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