Our Sick Farms, Eat Less Meat, and What Cities are Going Green?

March 14, 2009 at 2:44 pm | Posted in environment | 4 Comments
  • Our Sick Farms, Our Infected Food:

    OK, it’s not our sick farms and food because this story from Scientifc American is about American (duh) agriculture, but how much American grown food to you pack in your trunk, eh?

    Agriculture has fueled the eruption of human civilization. Efficiently raised, affordable crops and livestock feed our growing population, and hunger has largely been banished from the developed world as a result. Yet there are reasons to believe that we are beginning to lose control of our great agricultural machine. The security of our food supply is at risk in ways more noxious than anyone had feared.

  • Animal Rights Groups ask Vancouver to recommend Cutting Down on Meat:

    A group of animal-rights organizations is asking the City of Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Team to recommend that residents reduce their consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs.

    “Our current meat-centric diet is entirely unsustainable,” states the letter delivered today (March 11) by the organizations to the team.

    The letter was signed by Liberation B.C., the Vancouver Humane Society, Humane Society International Canada, Earthsave Canada, and the Lifeforce Foundation.

  • What Are Cities Doing to Go Green:

    Best described as a loose association of cities focused on sustainability, the emerging “green cities movement” encompasses thousands of urban areas around the world all striving to lessen their environmental impacts by reducing waste, expanding recycling, lowering emissions, increasing housing density while expanding open space, and encouraging the development of sustainable local businesses.

    Sorry, the article doesn’t mention Vancouver, but has some interesting news about what’s happening in Curitiba, Brazil; Rekyjavik, Iceland; and Portland, Oregon.

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  1. I really wanna comment on this.

    A bunch of people are trying to get backyard chickens ok’d in Vancouver– currently they’re prohibited in a bylaw (here but not in New York City, hah). Factory farms (ironically) and the spca are holding out against it — poor chickens might be treated cruelly, they say, because people might get in over their heads.

    Chickens are a fantastic source of local protein in vancouver, as are eggs, if raised in this way– chickens convert scrap food that is both uncompostable (meat, bread, cooked things) or veggies &c that you don’t feel like composting into eggs and meat. You do have to supplement your scraps in most cases (many people buy a lot of processed food and so don’t have a whole lot of leftovers) with a little bought chicken food or grain, but that’s not an enormous issue environmentally– especially when you count the benefits of keeping that mass out of the landfill, and add the potential for some sort of you-give-me-scraps-I-give-you-eggs arrangement with neighbors (laying chickens can give an egg a day per chicken in good conditions, so you get a lot of eggs pretty quickly).

    OTOH, factory farming eggs and meat creates a waste issue– animals kept that densely produce more waste bedding than farms can accept, especially when it’s full of antibiotics used to keep animals in such close quarters.

    The animals-eat-grain-we-could-feed-starving-people-with bogeyman is just that– the world produces enough calories of food that everyone could have a comfortable diet if there were no distribution issues but it doesn’t pay in our current economic system to feed everyone, and so we don’t.

    As for more notes on our meat-centric diet being unsustainable, again with the factory farming of anything (pigs, cows) being awful for the environment and so unsustainable, but do look in more depth into rangeland and tundra farming if you have the time — reindeer herding, cattle ranching, and pig raising that’s married to local food-production industry (apple pulp from cider and juice pressing, whey from cheesemaking, etc) uses either land that cannot produce vegetable crops because the ecosystem is too delicate to be ploughed up for agriculture (this happens more as you go north and/or up onto thin soil at altitude) or resources that would become an active waste problem if not ‘recycled’ into meat animals.

    Many of these things, pigs and chickens especially, are easier and more efficient to do locally than raising protein in legume form (except potentially for beans), again especially in limited space or in more northern/high altitude places. And the more local you are, the more oil you save for transportation (and the more you avoid grain-feeding animals, the more oil you save too, as conventional agriculture uses a LOT of oil). So it’s a good solution all around.

    Having said all that, it is ridiculous to see people eating meat at three meals per day, sometimes doubling up (bacon and egg sandwich for breakfast, meat sandwich for lunch, hamburger with bacon on it for dinner) especially given the amount of veggies they generally eat in the same day.

    Sourcing food and looking at local conditions really is important though! Don’t support one-size-fits-all answers. 🙂

  2. Hey, would you mind if I used this comment as it’s own post. It’s quite good. I’ll say that you wrote it.

    Are you quoting anybody? what sources are you using? I have a topless picture of you; should I attach that to the story, just to give it a little ‘chicks appeal’?

  3. I’m not directly quoting anyone; I’ve been doing permaculture for a long time and a lot of stuff has sort of seeped into my consciousness at various points. Everything from articles in National Geographic to academic lectures to common sense to research into ‘antiquated’ farming systems put together with general knowledge of some of the major systems movement of food and waste through north america informs the comment. Reindeer herding is practised in Norway, Finland, etc, and was a big thing in Siberia for awhile on a more commercial scale than it is now: see rangifer.net and wikipedia (reindeer and Sheldon Jackson). More info can be found if you speak Scandinavian languages or Russian, but there’s a lot there. The wikipedia article on chickens is great and pretty comprehensive though it doesn’t touch on the waste-disposal issues of factory farming, and it’s got a bunch of citations. Standard US agricultural practice as regards to soybeans (and thus tofu, faux-meat products like veggie dogs, textured soy protein, and protein bars or shakes, is widely accepted as pretty awful – wikipedia agriculture and look at ‘environmental impacts’ and ‘agriculture and petroleum’ for some citations. Soybeans are also one of the major GMO crops.

    Essentially, you have more time to pursue sources than I, but wikipedia is a good collection of starting points. Michael Pollan’s books the Omnivore’s Dilemma &c have a pretty good bibliography, and reading that one book isn’t a bad starting point. Botany of Desire is a worse book in terms of uneven writing, but there’s some good info there too. I can’t find, offhand, but have seen: map of arable (ploughable) land, map of range-able land, here’s a map of more or less current reindeer herds: http://www.rangifer.net/rangifer/herds/images/herd_species_big.jpg (you can see that’s a lotta land that can’t be put to conventional agriculture because it’s frozen as close to all the time as makes no difference, and the soil is easily destroyed if its disturbed in the thaw stage– it turns into essentially barren mud then).

    Essentially, if you’re trying to make an ecosystem out of food and human-use plants and then harvest out of that ecosystem at a sustainable rate, there is no reason to harvest -only- plants (no generalisation is true across all biomes) as long as you’re careful. Animals are an important part of the systems in almost all cases.

    Our tendency is to separate the different parts of agriculture; cows over here, grain over there, lettuce in a totally different state yet again. That causes both waste and an extraordinary draw on resources to feed the system, when in a well-designed system there is no waste, only a resource for the next link in the chain. Reintegration is common sense in a lot of ways.

    Youtube has some great videos (Bill Mollison or Bill Mollison + permaculture) too.

    Why bother with the picture of my breasts? Everyone’s seen ’em already. 🙂

  4. Cuba is fucking awesome for sustainability, btw. 80% of the veggies consumed in the city are grown within the city. (Google sustainability + Cuba)


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