Two articles caught my eye recently, both elaborating on points made in Michael Pollan’s essay “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch.”
The first is “Farmers Can Feed the World,” a Wall Street Journal editorial by Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution. He makes a strong case for using every technological means available to keep the world fed:
Given the right tools, farmers have shown an uncanny ability to feed themselves and others, and to ignite the economic engine that will reverse the cycle of chronic poverty. And the escape from poverty offers a chance for greater political stability in their countries as well.
But just as the ground shifted beneath the Italian community of Lâ€™Aquila, so too has the political landscape heaved in other parts of the world, casting unfounded doubts on agricultural tools for farmers made through modern science, such as biotech corn in parts of Europe. Even here at home, some elements of popular culture romanticize older, inefficient production methods and shun fertilizers and pesticides, arguing that the U.S. should revert to producing only local organic food. People should be able to purchase organic food if they have the will and financial means to do so, but not at the expense of the worldâ€™s hungryâ€”25,000 of whom die each day from malnutrition.
He’s right, of course. Organic food is a luxury when people go hungry, just as bottled water is a luxury when people are still dying of cholera and dysentery.
The second is “The Meat of the Problem,” an opinion piece by Ezra Klein in the Washington Post. He drops this bomb:
Two researchers at the University of Chicago estimated that switching to a vegan diet would have a bigger impact than trading in your gas guzzler for a Prius (PDF). A study out of Carnegie Mellon University found that the average American would do less for the planet by switching to a totally local diet than by going vegetarian one day a week. That prompted Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to recommend that people give up meat one day a week to take pressure off the atmosphere. The response was quick and vicious. “How convenient for him,” was the inexplicable reply from a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. “He’s a vegetarian.”
The visceral reaction against anyone questioning our God-given right to bathe in bacon has been enough to scare many in the environmental movement away from this issue. The National Resources Defense Council has a long page of suggestions for how you, too, can “fight global warming.” As you’d expect, “Drive Less” is in bold letters. There’s also an endorsement for “high-mileage cars such as hybrids and plug-in hybrids.” They advise that you weatherize your home, upgrade to more efficient appliances and even buy carbon offsets. The word “meat” is nowhere to be found.
I had already made a shift in my dinner menu planning to incorporate one meatless meal a week, and I’ve been slowly shifting away from beef for a while. I was doing it primarily for variety and health reasons, but I’m happy to be inadvertently contributing to greenhouse gas reduction.
I’ll never allow politics to interfere with my enjoyment of food – there’s a whole lot of foie gras on the menu at this coming Sunday’s dinner – but I will consider some of the longer-term implications of my food choices. After all, what’s one less burger or sandwich a week?