Thursday, October 05, 2006

Protein Puzzle

I recently participated in conversation about vegetarianism that left me with the impression that a lot of non-vegetarians believe that those who choose not to eat meat do so out of a general love for animals and belief in their rights.

I'm not so sure... I once met a vegetarian who just really didn't like the texture of meat - but I think that many people avoid meat today because of the impact raising animals for consumption has on the planet. It turns out that this has a name (and its own Wikipedia page!) - it's called "Environmental Vegetarianism". It basically says that the amount of land that is deforested to grow food for cattle and allow them to graze, the type of agriculture used to grow their food, the amount of water that is used to raise one animal, and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions created by vehicles used to feed and transport food, animals, and meat are unacceptable.

Seems straightforward enough...

But what about this: many soy-based products (like tofu!) are grown using monoculture, are causing extensive deforestation in places like Brazil, are subsuming small farms and local, more productive types of agriculture, and that many soy operations in places like South America are run by foreigners. And: a 2003 publication says that it's our whole food system that's unsustainable - in Western societies, anyway. We depend too heavily on fossil fules to package our food and move everything around.

So basically, we're screwed no matter what we choose to eat.

So what's a girl got to do to reduce her guilt around here?

Well, let's be honest. I have never been a vegetarian - but it's pretty clear that vegetarians do have less of an impact on the planet than us meat-eaters. Peer-reviewed research suggests that meaty meals have 1.5-2 times the impact as veggie meals over the whole life cycles of their porduction and disposal, and a bunch of scientists in Sweden are pretty sure that pork meals have less of an impact than vegetarian meals. There's more evidence than that out there - and I'm a little concerned that the life-cycle assessments used to get it aren't taking into account the social impacts of mega-agriculture by foreign corporations in developing nations... but I suppose that 's not something that would be different by protein type anyways.

Next project: I wonder if my tofu package will tell me where they soy was grown and is there Canadian tofu?

Next project after that: get a real job so that I can afford to put my money where my blog is.


Jordan said...

There are certainly "tofu-manufacturing" facilities in Canada. Lots of 'em. Where the soybeans come from is another question.

I agree with you that it's not really clear how "sustainable" a vegetarian diet is in Canada, where you have to truck your green peppers up from Mexico in the winter.

Simone said...

It's true that a veg diet is not automatically sustainable - This is why we need to think about eating locally grown food, meat or veg! (back to your previous post) We just got an order of beef from a rancher from the Interior of BC, it's grass fed and pretty much organic. That's meat I can feel pretty good about eating. We can have a big discussion about this next weekend when you come and visit!!