October 28, 2020

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Choice cuts

Essays on human's animal consumption offer food for thought

Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press files</p><p>Raising animals such as cattle for human consumption has proven to be a major contributor to greenhouse gases.</p>

Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press files

Raising animals such as cattle for human consumption has proven to be a major contributor to greenhouse gases.

Do you ever consider that some foods you constantly crave come from animals purposefully killed for your consumption? Should you care that raising animals for food has become a factor in climate change?

These and other ethical, cultural and socio-ecological aspects of individual and group diets form part of another worthwhile addition to a growing list of food conscious eco-books focusing on the beef industry.

Although packaged as efficiently and attractively as barbecue-ready meat cuts, Green Meat? may similarly be an unfortunate disappointment to some consumers.

It does shine a bright light on the quandary posed by humans — we’re increasingly attracted to the taste of animal protein, yet at the same time raising these animals for our consumption is shown to be a major contributor to greenhouse gases.

Ryan Katz-Rosene is assistant professor at the University of Ottawa with an interest in climate policies; Sarah Martin researches the environmental impact of global food production and trade in animal feed at Memorial University in St. John’s, N.L.

The co-editors feel "green meat" means eating less meat, embracing dietary shifts from animal-based protein to plant-based protein and, most importantly, shifting away from a food system currently relying on mega-farms and giant, consolidated food distributors.

Contributors to this erudite study represent Canadian food producing regions and include food-system advocates, farm-training consultants, university professors and PhD candidates. They all share an interest in "sustainable animal agriculture" and were asked by the editors to address a three-part topic: "Think carefully about what you eat, where it comes from, and how it was produced."

While copiously documented, their reports remind readers of the old adage concerning two opposing orators who leave the audience perplexed by their three opinions; in spite of carefully documented arguments — including the introductory and summative contributions by Katz-Rosene and Martin — the existential problem of maintaining a reliable supply of protein-rich food on a warming planet still begs a practical solution.

This extensive collection of reports confirms the difficulty in achieving what the subtitle suggests, since any solution to food sustainability lies in the complicated intertwining of billions of human protein eaters with even more billions of animals now sharing a home threatened by global warming.

One contributor suggests that increasing trends to consume animals merely represent the "meatification" of required protein people need to survive, reminding us that since 1960 the number of animals raised for food has quadrupled, with actual numbers killed annually "racing towards 120 billion."

The increased consumption of animal protein is meticulously detailed, exposing animal husbandry’s negative effects on the environment and revealing how huge corporate farms put a strain on land areas and water resources, while sewage disposal problems and greenhouse gases emitted by ruminants add to climate change concerns.

A "grazing management" case study suggests there could be an alternative to factory farms, showing how smaller producers can keep animals fed on natural grasses instead of keeping them confined, force-feeding them on grain and then hurrying them to slaughterhouses.

Another report details how encouraging more Indigenous people worldwide to maintain traditional diets is economically and environmentally sustainable and higher in nutritional value than commercial foods, using the "eco-carnivore diet" of moose and fish as implemented in Manitoba’s Garden Hill First Nation as an example.

Ways of curtailing our reliance on animal protein are also touted, such as plant-based meat substitutes which, along with technological breakthroughs in "cellular agriculture" and "in-vitro meats," show the potential for creating meat and dairy products without using actual animals.

Although raising animals for meat is shown to be unsustainable in its present form, alternatives offered in Green Meat? are just forks in the road toward a better future and require famed Yankee catcher and aphorism guru Yogi Berra’s practical wisdom.

Perhaps vegans are, in fact, taking the high road.

Joseph Hnatiuk is a retired teacher admittedly partial to bacon burgers.

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