Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Should I be a vegetarian?

I was listening to NPR the other day and they covered a story about a U.N. recommendation to eat less meat to help reduce global warming. You can read about the recommendation on the Fox News site here.

This is one of the many moral quandaries I find myself in now that I have discovered how healthy I am on a low-carb diet.

The article is quoted as saying that a 2006 study done by the U.N. found that 18% of greenhouse gas emissions come from methane released from cattle, sheep, and pigs. I can't contest that and I won't try. The suggestion from Dr. Rajendra Pachauri of the U.N.'s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) that I heard on NPR was that there are also green house gases released from the production of feed for these animals as well. This logic makes sense to me as well.

I won't dispute the findings of this committee but I think people should always take any scientific "facts" cautiously and make sure they consider the case fully before drawing any conclusions and I must do the same.

Regardless of the rationale behind these recommendations, I agree with the spirit of the recommendation, although I have a slightly different idea of how we should reduce our consumption.
Dr. Rajendra Pachauri recommends "Give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there,". Dr. Rajendra Pachauri is a vegetarian and I can see how he would advocate this. I don't.

I do think we should try to minimize our waste of precious resources. For instance, instead of farming millions and millions of acres for soy, corn, and rapeseed (canola) to make "healthy" vegetable oils, we have an abundance of animal fats that are being wasted because they are perceived as unhealthy. I think we should go back to the way our ancestors used an animal and wasted nothing from it. Let's go back to putting real meat back in companion animal foods and get soy and soy byproducts out of our food.

If we're concerned about the environment and not just global warming, we need to reform our farming practices too. Farming corn is extraordinarily damaging to the environment, just Google "gulf dead zone" to better understand the effect of all the fertilizers from our corn farming. Also, check out "soy herbicides" to learn a little more about soy farming and all the herbicides it uses. Those can't be good for the planet either.

Where is the recommendation to help reduce the population? If people had fewer children and we were able to reduce the world population even a little, it would have an astounding effect on the environment. Can you imagine if we reduced the world population by even 1%? That would be 67 million fewer people making demands on our limited resources. Developed nations may eat more meat and drive more cars, but we also have fewer children and make a up a smaller portion of the world population.

If you're a person that is obese or overweight and you suffer from diseases like heart disease, diabetes, or other chronic illnesses like chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia, a healthy low-carbohydrate diet could benefit your health.

To pass up the opportunity to be healthy and happy based on a recommendation like the recent one from the U.N. is crazy to me. I won't do it.

Here's what I will do. I will make sure that whatever resources I do use I will use as thoughtfully as possible and as conservatively as possible. I will try to use no more than I need. This should be a rule we all live by. Not just for food, but for everything. Energy, plastics, glass, metals, everything should be conserved.

I drive a compact car. I bike to work occasionally. I recycle. I buy local stuff sometimes. I chose to have only one child.

I try to make the most out of the life I've been given and I want to be the healthiest I can be while I walk the Earth. That's why I'm committed to a healthy low-carb lifestyle.

I won't give up meat. It's my life's blood and I need it, but I respect that there is a cost to it.

Your thoughts?


PS. Don't fear the fat!


Brian said...

Hi Alex,

Nice blog! I was writing a lengthy post on this to topic to reply to Jimmy Moore, but remembered he didn't want political discussion on his blog, so I put it at this new page instead:


You may have seen the news that the Nobel Prize winning chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has urged the world to eat less meat.

The argument goes: as the developing world’s population continues to grow and become affluent in the twenty-first century, they will eat a lot more meat. Ruminants contribute a significant amount of methane to our global emissions. So, we all need to cut back on our meat.

Which means they are telling us all to eat more carbohydrates.

This recommendation flies in the face of ample evidence that when developing countries become affluent, their obesity rates skyrocket due to reckless consumption of starch and sugar, often in refined form, and other diseases like diabetes also appear.

I respect the IPCG and their tremendous work moving toward more effective action to mitigate global warming. But I’m not so sure they are right on this one.

To take one example: rice production, by many estimates, may contribute significantly more methane than raising animals worldwide. The ongoing process of “intensification” of rice cultivation leads to even more emissions. The increased affluence in many rice-consuming countries in the coming decades might even help to avert the catastrophe of a carbohydrate laden McWorld if people eat thoughtfully and responsibly. Rice is important in many cultures, and necessary for food security for the poor, but can the world help mitigate the impact of rice production? By altering cultivation techniques? Or maybe by eating less rice, instead of less meat? Environmental, cultural and economic dimensions make this a very complex problem.

Can we promote low carb without contributing to an environmental crisis?

I’m doing some informal research now, and will post what I come up with on this page. I would be very pleased to hear other ideas and opinions, and if you can send me some useful resources I’ll link to them on the right.

Many thanks to Jimmy Moore and Alex for getting me thinking about this problem.


Thanks again Alex for your insight on this - I think its a fascinating topic and I'll let you know what I can find.

Alex said...


Thanks for your thought provoking ideas Brian.

I didn't know that information about rice production, but I'm not surprised. I think that our farming practices globally are generally insensitive to the environment and I think that whether it's meat, grains, or vegetables, we need to work on safer, greener, more sustainable practices, rather than cheaper and faster.

It sounds like you've take quite a thoughtful approach to the topic and I look forward to hearing the results of your research. I'll make sure I check out your site.

It is by no means a clear issue. As you say, some cultures depend on rice as a staple and it certainly provides sustenance for many impoverished people around the world. For those of us who are sensitive to carbohydrate consumption, trying to go vegetarian at any level sounds akin to a death sentence to me.

I'm not sure if you read National Geographic or not, but in the most recent issue (September 2008) they had a great article about soil and how it is depleted and affected by agriculture. It could contribute to your research or the content on your site.

Thanks for your thoughts! I hope you continue to keep an eye on my blog.


Jim said...

You said:
"If you're a person that is obese or overweight and you suffer from diseases like heart disease, diabetes, or other chronic illnesses like chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia, a healthy low-carbohydrate could benefit your health."

Yeah, I'm finding that to be the case with my low-fat diet. Thanks for all the good information on your blog.