I applaud the Youth Council for their efforts in identifying an area where they feel Council can make a difference. However, I feel that it is a symbolic gesture: high in good intentions and low in impact.
There is some strong research showing that the agricultural livestock has a largely detrimental effect on many aspects of the environment – greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and land degradation, water usage. When compared to vegan food production, the meat industry uses more energy to produce the same number of calories. There is also a health benefit to increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables and lowering the amount of red meat eaten.
These are among some of the reasons cited to reduce or eliminate meat from your diet. However, the concept of occasional veganism is problematic.
The science on the issue is ambiguous:
Researchers at the University of Chicago concluded that switching from standard American diet to a vegan diet is more effective in the fight against global warming than switching from a standard American car to a hybrid. On the other side of the debate, the American Environmental Protection Agency found that just 3.4% of GHG emissions come from livestock agriculture – meaning that if every American went meatless once a week, it would reduce their carbon footprint by 0.2%.
The meat industry, as a whole, does have a large environmental impact. But as with other key issues, this is a systemic problem. And frankly, it’s not one of meat versus veggies: the big impact is between processed foods and whole foods; and between far-travelling and locally-produced foods.
I have personally adopted a vegetarian diet in the past, and went meatless for over a year. I have no issue with eating more veggies and reducing meat consumption – but this is my choice, based on my own lifestyle, ethics, and beliefs.
Our local agriculture – from livestock farming to strawberry patches – is an essential part of our economy. For Council to endorse one agricultural source over another does, indeed, send a signal, but it may be one with unintended consequences. The Washington Post covered the many complexities of “The Environmental Implications of Diet” in a great article last year:
Eating beans is definitely better than eating beef. Driving a Prius is better than driving a Hummer.
[But]There are other arguments, on both sides — so many that it’s easy to pick the ones
that make the case for whichever kind of agriculture you’re inclined to support.
[…] no one label — vegetarian, local, organic — has the corner on responsibility.
There are ways to eat sustainably, and vegetarianism and veganism are merely one route to that, as effective as eating locally, for example.
My concerns with the motion are not a rejection of these arguments. To suggest that occasional Council lunches are the best platform for these decisions is to invest in a wholly symbolic gesture. To me, though, this should be a personal choice – not a political one.