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Ethical Meat Essay Contest Full of Hot Air?

A recent NYT essay contest sparked a lot of controversy. The paper asked readers to write in and give their account on why eating meat is ethical.  Dissecting our disappointment with this topic could span several blog posts, we would rather showcase how this contest encouraged one of the judges, Mark Bittman, to write a great blog piece not on the ethics of eating meat per se, but on the reality of the consequences of that choice.

The focus of Bittman’s blog is not ethical or theoretical but pragmatic: eating meat is detrimental to our planet and its finite resources.  Research from both the United Nations and World Watch Magazine conclude that livestock account for more greenhouse gases than ALL transportation combined. Depending on the timeline and what’s counted, the livestock industry could be responsible for 51% of human-caused GHG emissions.

It’s true there has been some debate over the exact number, but according to Bittman that number doesn’t matter:

“What does is that few people take the role of livestock in producing greenhouse gases seriously enough. Even most climate change experts focus on new forms of energy — which cannot possibly be effective quickly enough or produced on a broad enough scale to avert what may be the coming catastrophe — and often ignore the much easier fix of adjusting our eating habits.”

Bittman also invokes China’s eating habits which tends to displace blame, especially because Americans still eat twice as much per person.  As Americans, we set standards that are often emulated, and with regards to our poor eating habits can have devastating consequences far graver than our expanding waistlines.

Because of our heavy taste for meat we are depleting our water supply, land is being cleared to grow animal feed (Bittman’s number is 45% of land is used by the livestock industry), and our clean air supply is being compromised.

“Here’s the thing: It’s seldom that such enormous problems have such simple solutions.”

By decreasing our meat consumption, regardless off our ethical position on meat, we could be, as Bittman notes, heroes. Heroes to the next generation, to those who go hungry, and heroes to the animals.

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