Lent offers a good opportunity to look at our life choices and examine the impact those choices have on the world around us. Most people I know are particularly concerned with the devastating impact their choices have on the environment we share with all other life forms on this planet.
But, few of us are willing to look seriously at the devastating impact our dietary choices may be having on creation. Food seems to be a topic we are reluctant to talk about.
Yet a year ago, Macleans Magazine carried a cover story looking at the effects of meat production on the environment.
The Macleans article stated that,
According to one exhaustive report, “Livestock’s long shadow,” released in 2006 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, livestock accounts for 18 per cent of worldwide greenhouse gases, more than those emitted by all forms of transportation combined, and is a leading cause of deforestation and water pollution. Other estimates put the percentage of greenhouse gases leaked into the atmosphere during the raising of animals for food even higher. Last October, Robert Goodland, formerly the World Bank’s lead environmental adviser, and Jeff Anhang, a World Bank researcher, attributed a staggering 51 per cent of world emissions to livestock production.
It’s not just CO2 that’s at issue. Thanks to our appetite for bacon, vast lakes of manure dot the North American heartland, steaming nitrous oxide into the air, while the antibiotics fed to our sick, grain-fed cattle ooze into our waterways. …
Then there are the emissions stemming from the methane burps of cattle and other ruminants, and the fertilizer laid out over ﬁelds of feed, not to mention the clear-cutting wrought by the demand for pasture. Estimates of the greenhouse gases associated with different meat products vary, but beef is undoubtedly king—between 13 and 30 kg of CO2 equivalent per kg of beef, says Pelletier. That’s followed by pork, with estimates ranging from 2.3 to 6.5 kg of CO2, then chicken, which ranges from 1.5 to three kilograms, roughly the same as the emissions associated with some food crops. The environmental impacts of ﬁsh are more complex and vary enormously according to species; one University of Chicago study even suggests that ﬁsh and red meat are almost equally energy inefﬁcient.
Where is the conversation about what we eat? Why are we, who are so determined to live responsibly on this earth, so reluctant to discuss the ethical implications of our food?
Diet is deeply personal. We have ingrained unconscious eating habits.
As a wise person of my acquaintance recently pointed out, “we are all hard-wired in our brains in terms of the way we eat. We are mostly stuck in the typical Western diet mindset and find it a challenge to break out of the box.”
Lent is about breaking “out of the box” and looking at how our brains are hard-wired towards habits that may be bringing death into the world rather than life.
It is relatively easy, politically correct, and costs us little to switch from driving a gas-guzzling Hummer to a respectable Prius. But if Johnathan Safran Foer is to be believed,
Omnivores contribute seven times the volume of greenhouse gases vegans do. (Eating Animals)
The production of livestock produces more greenhouse gases than all the planes, trains, and cars in the world. It seems that if you keep driving your Hummer and stop eating meat, you will still be living more gently on this earth.
Food is at the heart of Christian faith. So, how we eat is not an irrelevant issue. The implications of our food begin with our own health and extend out to have a profound impact upon the health of the human community and the environment we occupy.
If I want my life to impact positively on the creation that I cherish as a gift, I need to be willing to at least ask the question of how the food I eat is impacting the world I inhabit.