Mark Chu’s article Dog is organic, right?, published a week ago on The Big Smoke no doubt raised some eyebrows.
It was my understanding that the writer was being facetious, or courting controversy in an effort to garner attention. But in the event that he was indeed being sincere, I felt compelled to respond to what I see as a deeply-flawed piece.
I don’t say this because I disagree with his views. Mr Chu is clearly entitled to his opinion, as are we all, but it was the construction of his argument that left me scratching my head. I couldn’t help but wonder whether he had hastily written this piece after a harrowing dining experience with a particularly cantankerous vegan who enjoys the works of Jonathan Safran Foer.
Mr Chu begins by challenging Safran Foer’s moral assumption, which he claims rests on two pillars – firstly, that inflicting pain on animals is wrong; and secondly, that we wouldn’t eat our pet dogs.
Oddly, he then proceeds to largely disregard the first pillar, with the exception of the occasional, scattered reference to the animals’ suffering. He does make it clear that he takes no particular joy in their misery, but feels that the matter warrants next to no attention, particularly in light of the “happiness” it apparently creates.
I am aware that food is one of the many joys of which humans partake. I’m just not sure why Mr Chu is so certain that a McDonald’s “Happy Meal”, despite its catchy name, is so integral to a child’s happiness. And if their happiness is indeed his concern, why has he no regard for how factory farming will affect these children in the future?
The number one cause of climate change, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, is animal agriculture, over 99 percent of which is derived from factory farming. Factory farming generates 40 percent more greenhouse emissions than the entire global transport industry! It occupies 30 percent of the world’s land surface, contributing significantly to deforestation, water pollution and the undermining of biodiversity.
And yet it seems that Mr Chu is far more preoccupied with children’s present ability to consume affordable chicken nuggets than he is about their future inheritance of a healthy and sustainable planet.
His article proceeds to lament the injustice facing children of working-class families whose parents are unable to afford organic food. As such, he argues that it’s the lower price point that makes factory-farmed food so fundamentally important.
But what of the countless starving children living in poverty across the globe?
Perhaps he is unaware that the majority of the world’s grains and soybean output are now being used to feed cattle, pigs and chickens. Impoverished nations sell their grains and soybeans to wealthy nations so that we might fatten our livestock and enjoy a good steak.
A Cornell University study established that 800 million people could be fed with the grain used to fatten up US livestock alone! So, if those of us lucky enough to be residing in rich countries did without meat, or even reduced our meat consumption in any significant way, no child on this planet would go hungry!
Mr Chu’s article paints him as a champion to children of low-income families, defending their right to consume cheap meat. But at the cost of millions of starving children? Would it not be better for all children to have bellies full of mostly plant-based food rather than some have KFC while others starve?
In addressing Safran Foer’s second pillar, Mr Chu proudly asserts that he would happily eat dog. His excitement at this seemingly esoteric idea is palpable. Only there’s nothing particularly unique about his partiality to dog consumption. Various cultures have been eating dog since the dawn of humankind.
This doesn’t detract from the veracity of Mr Safran Foer’s comment. Most of us in the Western world (his audience, and the predominant consumers of factory-farmed products) wouldn’t consider eating our pet dogs, or any dog for that matter, though we have no qualms about consuming other, equally intelligent animals. It is this arbitrary distinction that Safran Foer is highlighting.
Finally, Mr Chu suggests we celebrate the technology and crafty science that enables us to produce food so efficiently. And yet, factory farming couldn’t be less efficient. It takes 2,500 gallons of water, 12 pounds of grain, 35 pounds of topsoil and the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline to produce just one pound of feedlot beef!
The technology and science we should be lauding is that which enables companies like Beyond Meat, backed by Bill Gates among others, to use heat and pressure to turn plants into foods that look and taste just like meat and eggs. Now that’s something to get excited about; technology and science that just might be able to save our environment, end animal cruelty and meet the nutritional needs of our exponentially growing population well into the future.