On February 24, the Editor-in-Chief of Sierra Club Magazine, Jason Mark, published a long-winded excuse for meat consumption and the “moral” case for it. By the second sentence, Mark admits, “I had no problem with killing animals,” in opening with how he “experimented” with being a vegetarian for environmental reasons. For any environmental organization, these reasons should debunk all arguments in favor of meat consumption.
Several reports have linked meat-eating to deforestation, and cited that a reduction in meat consumption is imperative to curbing the destruction of the environment. A paper published in 2015 by scientists at Florida International University and Oregon State University found that “livestock production is the single largest driver of habitat loss, and both livestock and feedstock production are increasing in developing tropical countries where the majority of biological diversity resides.” The scientists advised the key to biodiversity conservation was reducing meat consumption.
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The Rainforest Alliance noted this environmental impact is being driven by the heavy meat consumption diets of Americans. “If the entire world ate US levels of meat, which hovers above 200 lbs a year, it would mean a projected 320% increase in animal products and the cropland needed would be at least double what we use today. We simply don’t have enough land available to meet the demands of the global embedding of the US diet.”
Meat consumption has been scientifically linked as one of the greatest contributing factors to climate change, and the United States, as reported by the Telegraph in November 2016, consume the most meat per-person out of every country in the world. Meat consumption also redirects food source for animal feed, when current global crop production could be feeding billions more people — if it were not used to fuel the meat industry. “Currently, 36% of the calories produced by the world’s crops are being used for animal feed, and only 12% of those feed calories ultimately contribute to the human diet (as meat and other animal products),” cited a 2013 study conducted by scientists at the University of Minnesota and University of Maryland. “We find that, given the current mix of crop uses, growing food exclusively for direct human consumption could, in principle, increase available food calories by as much as 70%, which could feed an additional 4 billion people (more than the projected 2–3 billion people arriving through population growth). Even small shifts in our allocation of crops to animal feed and biofuels could significantly increase global food availability, and could be an instrumental tool in meeting the challenges of ensuring global food security.”
The moral case for meat consumption in the US, where vegan and vegetarian dietary options are in no short supply, ends here before one even considers the overt animal welfare and animal rights implications of consuming meat. But the Sierra Club defense of meat consumption attempts to argue a paleo-philosophical argument for the moral consumption of meat. “Might the suffering that animals experience in the course of being sacrificed for human food contribute to some other social good? I think the answer is a conditional yes,” Mark writes, before embarking on a series of arguments that meat consumption is enlightening. “By eating animals, we can remind ourselves of our animal natures.”
The paleo-philosophical argument used to defend eating meat, claiming the consumption of animals helps humans reaffirm our animal nature, is nothing more than excuse rather than a moral defense. Mark concedes there are other ways to connect with nature other than meat consumption, but this is based on the presumption that eating meat connects one with nature rather than serves as a disconnect, reinforcing the environmentally destructive attitude that nature is subversive to man. The paleo argument for meat consumption ignores that humans began eating meat through scavenging, which evolved into hunting, but both were based out of opportunism and necessity. Humans, especially Americans, have evolved from this dependency on meat as a dietary staple to meat as a dietary preference.
“Meat eating can be an ecological good insofar as the act reaffirms an environmental ethics that places other species’ interests alongside human interests,” Mark argues, claiming meat consumption, if done responsibly, can somehow produce an environmental friendly consciousness by “humanely” killing animals to consume them. There is no humane way to kill an animal against its will, which makes human interests of meat consumption directly in conflict with the interests of other species. Veganism and vegetarianism are based in part on reaffirming an environmental ethics through a dietary choice that reduces suffering for animals and mitigates the destruction of the environment.
Mark cites the relationship between a sheep and a shepherd is more meaningful than a human’s relationship with broccoli. This is an archaic argument, as at most a small handful of Americans are tending a herd of animals for their own sustenance, and raising livestock for consumption against their will is hardly a deeply meaningful relationship. Based on this logic, eating the dogs and cats we keep as pets would somehow deeply put us in tune with natural world.
“To eat meat is to consume the body of the world,” Mark states, which disturbingly sounds like something from a cannibalistic cult.
The article then diverts into a commercial for Dinner Bell Farm, which the author discloses are owned and operated by his good friends. Consuming meat is bad, unless it’s from Dinner Bell Farm, is the message Mark conveys in propagating his case for “moral” meat consumption.
It is shamelessly irresponsible for one of the largest environmental organizations in the country to purport and defend meat consumption, the most environmentally destructive practice on an individual scale. The Sierra Club should be setting the standards and leading environmentally friendly habits and policies rather than perpetuating the false myth that humane ways to kill animals for consumption reaffirm environmental ethics. It’s one thing for the Sierra Club’s members and employees to eat meat, but it’s on an entirely different plane for the editor-in-chief of its magazine to make a “moral” case for meat consumption while plugging their favorite grass-fed, small scale meat stores.