IBI Watch 8/11/13

11 08 2013

Meating the Future //

What’s for dinner matters. A lot. For proof, look no further than this week’s announcement of the latest Frankenfood breakthrough – “meat-free” beef. OK, that’s my term for a product created in the library from cattle stem cells. The price for such a feat? A cool $330,000. The fact that such resources would be committed to producing artificial beef says something about people’s deep-seated love for the stuff. But it also hints at an underlying uneasiness that has only been growing in recent years. Despite that trend, Americans eat on average 61 pounds of beef a year – more than a pound a week. Whether or not that lab-cultured goo ultimately becomes a marketable product, there are many good reasons to rethink our beef habit.

At the top of most people’s lists, for better or worse, is human health. The link between excess body weight and type 2 diabetes is well established. But recent studies link this killer – a virtual epidemic – to meat consumption itself. That is, even people who manage not to gain weight while consuming a diet including red meat still show a higher rate of diabetes than those who avoid beef. And diabetes is not all. Of all antibiotics used in the United States, an ungodly percentage – 80 percent – is fed to livestock. Some of that is used legitimately to treat infections, but the lion’s share is for one of two purposes – to encourage fast weight gain, or to keep infections from starting in the first place. And of course those infections are so much more likely because of conditions on the modern factory farm. And if that sounds like a far-away, even concocted, problem, read this. So get this – in order to keep meat prices artificially low, we are risking runaway infections as bugs evolve to shrug off our onetime miracle antibiotics.

And factory farm practices bring us to the next powerful reason to rethink meat. It’s the animals’ inhumane lives. You don’t have to be an ELF eco-terrorist or even a PETA activist to object to factory-farm practices such prison-cell-style gestation crates for sows – just one of the kind and gentle ways that bubbly bacon starts its journey to your breakfast plate. And mama pigs that can’t even turn around are just the beginning. This Humane Society site has a number of videos – just pick your favorite cruel practice.  And then there are the manure lagoons which – guess what – are poorly regulated.

The ponds of putrefying poop lead to arguably the most compelling reason of all – for many reasons, our modern, sleek, massive, industrial meat-production system is just not sustainable. Should developing countries such as India and China – where meat consumption is rapidly growing along with wealth – emulate western per capita consumption levels, we will need several new planets. There’s a lot to learn in the eleven-minute PBS video at that link. And finally, the biggest sustainability issue with meat consumption is climate change. According to the EPA, 14% of US greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. And it is more than just the emissions, as this Worldwatch piece attests – producing meat consumes dramatically more fossil fuel than directly producing food for human consumption – grains, vegetables, fruits, etc.

A lot of money and political might are tied up in our current way of eating. As you might expect, that power will not accept sustainable change easily. The reaction is a new wave of “ag-gag” laws. These are laws – often pushed by good old ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) – that enact severe penalties for whistleblowers who dare to lift the veil of secrecy from industrial farming. The July/August Mother Jones has a fine article by Ted Genoways detailing this crackdown. And note the clever positioning of these efforts – laws that purport to protect the food supply actually “protect” the inhumane, unsustainable practices from public view. Here is more on well-policed secrecy from AlterNet.

In the modern era of rapid information sharing, Big Ag has a problem, and the honchos and spinmeisters know it – most people do not want to return to the days of Upton Sinclair’s Jungle. And if people can see what goes on, they object. I think Nicholas Kristof got animal treatment just right in a recent New York Times information piece.

So for a whole range of good reasons, eating less meat is the right thing to do. And a good first step is looking at sourcing. It was the book Fast Food Nation that dissuaded me from ever again consuming factory burgers. But deciding to eat less meat is not so hard when there are great resources for food that is healthier for us and the planet. A good place to start is Michael Pollan’s advice – “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” And joining a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm is always a good idea (if you could see my refrigerator, you would understand why). You don’t even have to give up meat entirely to do so.

Pay a little more, use a lot less, meet a much better future.


It’s Us, Says Fox News . . . Not

The climate-change-related extreme weather is almost too common to document. It’s the off-the-charts phenomena that really tell the story. There is China’s ongoing heat wave, by some measures pushing temps and humidity to the limits of human tolerance. Here’s more on that wave and its effects on the food supply.  And then we have California’s fire season, which is just beginning and already poised to set records.

One canard heard often in denialist circles in recent years is this one – “Climate change stopped in 1998.” This is related to a possible slowing in the rate of temperature rise. But all that additional carbon dioxide we spew every day – 90 million tons to be exact – has to go somewhere, and continues to have massive, spreading effects. Where will these effects go? Well, the idea of the climate reaching some plateau and staying there while we continue business-as-usual alteration of the atmosphere’s chemical makeup is ludicrous. This graphic details the consequences at various degrees of warming, and there is always the Venus Effect looming in the not-so-distant future if we really screw up. As for the spin on temperatures stabilizing, more evidence is emerging that the oceans are absorbing more of the heat. And if you think that just means more pleasant swimming off Maine, think again.

A radical organization – NOAA – spoke up this week on the causes of climate change – all seven billion of us. So, with all this evidence, why does a level of doubt survive that is sufficient to paralyze policy? Let’s be generous and give credit where credit is due. And let’s be really generous to the right-wing, corporate propaganda machine. This article flips propaganda on its head – showing the truth that would be driving policy, if that imaginary beast, the great and fearful liberal media of myth, really existed.


Florida – State of Caution

I have nothing against the Sunshine State. Many fine people live there. Many more are from there. It is home to the amazing Everglades, for now. But it is also the land of strange, and the stolen 2000 election is only the tip of the alligator.

First, there is news that more election shenanigans are on the way. Do you think there might be just a few minority voters who are actually citizens caught up in this drift net? Now folks, trust that shiny talking head. This has nothing, nothing I say, to do with suppressing the Democratic vote in that evenly divided state.

Then there is the environment. Massive marine creature die-off, anyone? Move along, folks. And develop more of that coastline –  dollars count most.

How about a taser death for a petty crime? Artist?! Hah! He was just painting graffiti on an old abandoned building. Viva the clean plywood!

And don’t forget stand-your-ground and Trayvon Martin.

All this really makes me want to go back and read Carl Hiaasen’s novels. But it does not make me want to visit.


Building Solar

Think of who pays the highest price for our fossil-fuel addiction. Hint – it’s not the consumer at the gas pump. In one hopeful sign for the future, the military is driving the bus on this. And this bus is sustainable – it is the solar energy future.


How a Hero is Made

This AlterNet piece concisely describes an interesting bit of right-wing history. It’s about how Paul Ryan’s hero attained that status. Beware these disciples and true believers.


Carpe Fava

Watch this short, entertaining video. It will get you thinking about what to do with the rest of the day, and maybe more.



“There is no such place as away.” -Chief Seattle



Contributed links to this posting – Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper, Tammie Stadt


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN




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