One of the largest problems facing our society today is the dividers we have put up so we can pretend to be ignorant. We separate ourselves from the unpleasant and pretend it doesn’t exist. The average person is far removed from the unpleasantness associated with industrial farming and energy mining, yet on a daily basis, we all benefit from these activities. Why though, are we not concerned with their sources and effects?
My transition into a greater environmental awareness was caused by a realization of the true cost of modern life. It is much greater than any dollar amount I have ever had and our earth is paying for what I don’t. The earth though, is at a breaking point, as is our economic system which relies on the earth for all of our fundamental resources. Most of us tend not to see this though because of the huge dividers we have put between our modern conveniences and the realities of how they are possible.
Just one example which I have and will continue to harp on is food. Marisa Miller Wolfson, director of a documentary I recently watched, “Vegucated,” is a vegan. She became a vegan when she saw what the true cost of animal products was. To her, being a vegan just made sense, but she wanted to see if the path that lead her to becoming a vegan would apply to other people. Her documentary follows 3 people as she exposes them to the realities of the costs of the foods they typically eat and they try out the vegan lifestyle. While Marisa largely focuses on the unethical treatment of animals, there are also energy issues which she only begins to touch on. These two issues are however directly related. The average american today consumes approximately 57 pounds more meat per year than they did in the 1950’s, over a 40% increase. The only viable way for meat producers to supply the increasing demand, especially at a cost comparable with other foods, was to create massive industrial meat farms. At these farms, livestock not only live in horrifying condition, but they are also forced to eat and grow at unnatural rates. Some mass produced chickens are given so many hormones that they grow until their own legs snap beneath them. In a similar but less horrendous example, most of the other non meat food we eat is also laced with preservatives, hormones, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides. And the cost of this type of farming transcends the moral realm into one that we seem to unfortunately care much more about, economics. The energy input to food-energy output ratio for meat ranges from 4:1 all the way to 57:1. Put another way, the land requirement for 1000 calories from beef is approximately 31.2 square meters. The same amount of calories from vegetables requires a maximum of approximately 3.2 square meters, 1/10 as much. At a time when the cost of land and energy dictate our economic future, we have chosen to waste both in an extraordinary effort preserve and extend the American way of life.
However, the vast majority of people, including myself, are so separated from the production process that the neatly cleaned and packaged food we buy at the grocery store holds no ties to the fundamental problems associated with their creation. We turn away from the realities of true cost of the food we eat because it is convenient.
I used to eat at least as much meat at the next person, a good rack of ribs being one of my favorite foods, but in the wake of my new awareness to the moral and energy cost to that type of food, I have chosen to become a vegetarian. I have also made a new effort to buy organic food and animal free products when possible. Organic food is unfortunately not a perfect solution, but in regards to not meat products, it at least says that they were grown without many of the environmentally harmful products used on non-organic food.
So my message hear is this: I hope that you explore the non-monetary costs of both your food and your lifestyle. I am not saying that anyone should necessarily be a vegetarian or vegan, that is everyone’s individual choice to make. I do think it is important, though, to make an effort to look past the barriers that separate us from the source of our convenient lifestyles. Then, knowing the full cost, everyone can make a more educated decision about the lifestyle they want to live. It can be difficult figuring out where to look for this type of information, so if you are looking for a good start, I recommend checking out “Vegucated” which is on Netflix. Also, the statistics in this post are from the following sources: