The Green Movement’s Dirty Secret

greenbible02_t_w600_h600By Michael Parrish DuDell

It wasn’t very long ago that I found myself huddled in the corner at a particularly fancy, über exclusive green-themed party in the trendy meatpacking district of New York City. I won’t say who was throwing the bash, but they’re a leader in the green industry and have a solid track record for establishing effective change in the movement.

It was clear that while planning the party, this particular group had been quite thoughtful—meticulous, even—in making sure that each and every aspect of the event was environmentally kosher.

The CFL light bulbs were responsibly hung and complimented the sustainable furniture, neatly scattered throughout the efficiently air-conditioned space. The staff wore fair-trade, organic cotton t-shirts proudly displaying the organization’s logo in crisp, soy-based ink. Even the invitation was up to par—embossed with those six hypnotizing words: “Printed on 100 percent recycled paper.” Yes, at first glance one might think that Mother Nature herself had blessed this sustainable soiree.

And then the hors d’oeuvres were passed.

Resting stylishly on recycled bamboo serving platters sat a ménage of beef tartar, pork belly something-or-other, and a trilogy of pungent unidentifiable cheeses. I felt my eyes begin to roll.

The onset of attitude was two-fold: First, I am a vegan of almost nine years and it was obvious that the growling noises clamoring from my stomach would be competing with the beat of the house music for the rest of the evening. Secondly, I was frustrated that nobody on staff had made the seemingly obvious, absolutely critical connection between what we eat and the health of our planet.

With buckets of scientific evidence proving that animal products cause infinitely more harm to the environment than their plant-based counterparts, I was shocked to witness this menu served at an eco-conscious event by a company with a genuine stake in sustainability.

The dangers of animal production are no secret. In 2006 the U.N. released a report stating that raising animals for food generates more greenhouses gases and contributes more to global warming than every mode of transportation in the world combined!

Producing more methane and nitrous oxide than any other industry in the world, animal agriculture is to sustainability as Kanye West is to humility. Deforestation, mass pollution, and soil erosion are all symptoms of our society’s method of raising animals for food. And then of course there’s the undeniable fact that animal production simply requires more resources.

In the early nineties, the Water Education Foundation in Sacramento—a non-profit that prides itself on being “the only impartial organization to develop and implement educational programs leading to a broader understanding of water issues”—worked with the University of California on a study that found it takes 2,464 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. To compare, it takes 15 gallons to produce one pound of lettuce and 30 gallons for one pound of potatoes.

Assuming there were 300 people at the party in question, and 38 pounds of beef were purchased to create single 1-ounce servings of tartar for each guest, that would mean 93,632 gallons of water were used for beef alone—and that’s not including second or third helpings.

How does this translate to everyday water usage? Consider this: current federal regulations mandate that new shower heads must exceed no more than 2.5 gallons of water per minute. A little number crunch on the old calculator will unveil that you could take 7,490 5-minute showers with the same amount of water used to create this one appetizer — that’s one shower a day for more than 20 years.

My point in playing math teacher is not to discredit this group’s fine work or to discount the important steps they did take to throw an eco-friendly bash. Environmentalism isn’t only about food and I certainly applaud their valiant attempt to create a planet-pleasing party. I choose to dissect the menu only to reveal that even the most conscious environmental organizations have still not yet fully accepted—or at least put into practice—the fact that eating lower on the food chain is a critical step to creating a more sustainable planet.

At a recent concert in Sweden, Moby asked Al Gore why he didn’t mention the heavy environmental impact of animal production in his film An Inconvenient Truth.

“He answered honestly,” recounts Moby, “basically saying that getting people to drive a hybrid car isn’t that difficult. Getting people to give up animal products is almost impossible.”

I agree. However, I also argue that the greatness of our world and the potential of the human race is only truly revealed when the “almost impossible” is achieved.

One hundred years ago a woman’s right to vote was “almost impossible.” Fifty years later the thought of an African-American man becoming President of the United States was “almost impossible.” 20 years after that, the idea that a small box with a processor and a screen would redefine our culture and forever change the way we receive information was… well, “almost impossible.”

And yet each of these “almost impossible” ideas sprouted and blossomed into magnificent truths, leaving many to wonder why they were ever so hard to imagine in the first place.

If we as a society are willing to recognize that our purchases and lifestyle choices have an impact on the planet, then we must also recognize that our sandwiches do too. Like the delicate tartar or the peppered pork belly served that evening, change also comes from a recipe: one part education mixed with two parts action. And it’s our responsibility to get cooking—even if sometimes it seems “almost impossible.”

This article originally appeared on

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18 Responses to The Green Movement’s Dirty Secret

  1. I think one of the reasons this issue has been overlooked by the green movement is that it hits a little too close to home. Even though many are ready to change other aspect of their lifestyle, most people are just not willing to change their eating habits in such an apparently radical way. Sure, they might switch to free-range meat, but they don’t go the next step to questioning eating animals at all. I’m not sure what would motivate a person to do so, either, since it’s hard to imagine that such environmentally conscious folks have never heard or read the statistics of meat production.

    • Are there any Hare Krishna sects that are Vegan?
      The author is Vegan himself and most likely has about the same repulsion for Milk, Cheese and Butter as he does for milk.
      The Vegan concept is certainly a very high standard of diet, but in fact the Hare Krishnas aren’t Vegan. They especially love their butter, ghee and milk curds.
      If you really think about it, the chastisement the author is directing at the so-called “Green Movement” would in principle apply to the Hare Krishnas and the Hindus who don’t eat meat but who love their dairy products.

      That is why the Hare Krishna movement is the better movement for leading the way towards a “Green” society inasmuch as the Vedic culture had that figured out thousands of years ago.
      Even today you can go to India and find beautiful farm villages where the people farm the land with bulls and oxen and produce milk and cheese locally from the cows.

      The classic Hindu farm village in ancient India is all the prototype the world needs to see how man can live in Harmony with nature and farm animals.

      There are many places in Asia, South America and other parts of the world where there are still farm villages producing food grains and dairy without dependence on petroleum or Nuclear energy.

      We don’t have to re-invent the wheel, as the ideal prototype for the direction modern man needs to go is already there in the example of our ancestors who all lived off the land in a world without dependence on Petroleum or Nuclear Energy.

      • Yes, vegans have good intentions but their solution divorces humans and cows, the two of which are happiest and healthiest living in a domestic relationship with one another. Will vegans drink milk from cows that are raised sustainably without any slaughter?

        • I have heard some Vegans say that for humans to have milk the calves must be deprived.
          They say “you are ripping-off the cows”.
          So, some of them most certainly do not approve of even milk that is attained through non-violent, sustainable, organic means.

          Hard-core Vegans don’t accept dairy even from such humanitarian dairies.

      • We don’t have to re-invent the wheel, as the ideal prototype for the direction modern man needs to go is already there in the example of our ancestors who all lived off the land in a world without dependence on Petroleum or Nuclear Energy.

        Well said. Agrarian based societies have stood the test of time; they lasted because they work. The models already exist, as you mentioned, but who is willing to live like that now? To voluntarily live without the comforts and conveniences industrial civilization provides, like, say refrigeration or central heat? Very few, I’d bet.

        • You do not have to revert back to Middle Ages in order to live in a sustainable or green way. Some technological advancements like refrigeration are extremely useful in saving food from spoiling. And not all ‘old ways’ are equally good. For example, the whales were not saved by the early environmentalists but by development of oil products from petroleum.

          It is not hard to combine the best of both worlds (modern technology and traditional sustainable methods) to create a stable and relatively comfortable model of human society – you just have to be willing to pay the price (in more ways than one).

        • Combining modern technology with traditional sustainable methods would indeed be the best of both worlds–a fridge in every mud hut! Kidding aside, there is a problem with that idea: modern technology requires unsustainable methods to produce it. Unless somebody figures out how to manufacture computer chips and solar panels in their back yard it remains the domain of massive industrial networks to create such items. Increases in population plus technology do not make for a good scenario, even if everyone were vegetarian.

        • When was the last time you visited a high-tech manufacturing facility? I know many companies here in US who are very sustainable, generating their product with very little waste and with no damage to the environment. The idea that industry has to be a smoke belching, all devouring dragon is so 19-th century… 😉

        • When was the last time you visited a high-tech manufacturing facility? I know many companies here in US who are very sustainable, generating their product with very little waste and with no damage to the environment. The idea that industry has to be a smoke belching, all devouring dragon is so 19-th century…

          Belching smoke may have gone by the wayside (at least largely in the West), but sustainable manufacturing is an oxymoron at best. The megamachine of modern industrial society requires vast amounts of energy, in particular electricity. Most of that at present is generated by fossil sources or nuclear, both of which are unsustainable and hugely polluting.

          Green power is a step in the right direction, unfortunately all the solar, wind, and hydro in the entire world combined amount to only a small fraction of the present global usage; without fossil and nuke there is no way to run industrial society at its present scale. Neither is green power actually sustainable; it still requires huge amounts of energy to manufacture the components to harness those sources, much of which comes from fossil fuels. The energy returned on energy invested is negative, which amounts to unsustainable. Even solar is ultimately a losing game when we take into consideration the embodied energy in the solar panels, wire, batteries, inverters, etc. that solar power involves.

          And what about the extraction, transportation, and processing of raw materials to manufacture the goods of daily life out of? Industrial society may become less damaging, for sure, but having the ability to continue indefinitely without destroying the biosphere I don’t see happening any time soon.

          Anyway, sorry for the rant.

  2. Historically just about all sustainable (green) human societies had a mixed diet including meat, fish, and eggs. I am not sure that you can make an argument that in order to be ‘green’ you have to be a vegetarian.

  3. I just saw a movie called Age of Stupid ( which is about the climate change and how we as humans contribute to it. The movie screening was organized by Greenpeace and each viewer was given a DVD and a pamphlet to take home. In the pamphlet it was very frankly said that eating milk/cheese is as bad for the climate and environment as meat-eating.

    For me, this was certainly shocking news. Of course, I knew that the dairy industry has it’s problematic side (treatment of animals, etc.) but I had no idea that consuming cheese was equally destructive for the environment as eating a steak, for example.To be honest, this has made me wonder if I should “go vegan” in the sense of not eating/consuming milk-products when there is no local, sustainable means to buy those milk-products.

    • It’s a good idea to think carefully about what you eat and what impact it has on you, other living beings and the environment. If you can’t obtain anything other than milk and milk products that are mass produced by the dairy industry then I think your idea is progressive. On the other hand, you may be able to find dairy products from local farmers who are selling organic raw milk and products produced from it. I do believe there are ways to keep cows that have little negative impact on the environment.

    • The problem is that humans some need some animal fat in their diet. So look for the least harmful dairy sources. The vegan diet is unbalanced in my opinion.

  4. Ultimately, the pipe dream that advanced modern industry can support an environmentally friendly Hi-Tech civilization and at the same time be “green” is quite the wishful thinking at this point because there are so many nasty chemicals used in the production of computer components that even if the power source was green you would still have the issue of generating and storing all the toxic chemicals used in making electronic computer devices.
    Undoubtedly, the modern Hi-Tech world of Communication Satellites, Internet and Computer Technology cannot be stopped all at once, but human society and world governments need to start putting a lot more importance on sustainable food production.
    Right now Petroleum is feeding the world and that is of course the main factor that will result in Global starvation if in fact something happens to disrupt the oil supplies.

    • The real pipe dream is that somehow people will volountarily give up the technological advancement and revert back to ‘good old’ madieval civilization. Even devotees who entertain such pipe dreams are not doing it… they just talk about it, waiting for some apocalypse to make it happen.

      IMO the only hope is to combine advancements of technological civilization with utmost care for the environment and sustainability of human population.

      Btw… I have worked all my life in the areas of waste management and protection of the environment and have absolutely no doubt that ALL industrial activities can be conducted in a sustainable and environmentally responsible fashion. All it takes is some extra effort and some extra money. Even toxic chemicals are quite easy to handle properly and I work with them just about every day.

      • Just because most people won’t voluntarily downscale (or give up their meat) due to a deeply entrenched addiction to the consumer mindset does not mean that global-scale industrialism can be made sustainable. I’m afraid I don’t share your view that it ever can be. At any rate, there is no doubt in my mind that if “business as usual” continues then there will be a collapse rather than a smooth transition to a simpler, cleaner lifestyle.

        • if “business as usual” continues then there will be a collapse rather than a smooth transition to a simpler, cleaner lifestyle.

          Well said. In fact I would say quite prophetic and the unfortunate truth of the calamity that must eventually befall humanity.

  5. Who knows what the future brings. I am no longer either hopeful or pessimistic about the future. Pretty much just emotionally divorced from the human adventure. It has been an interesting journey through this world and it is amazing to see how civilization is transforming so fast, some of it may be good and some of it may be bad, who am I to say at this point. We know from the Vedas that it seems that people are going to continue to degrade in Kali-yuga so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a technological dark age where a technological elite control the resources and lives of the masses and humans are subjected to eugenics experiments and all sorts of other strange machinations. On the flip side I suppose it may be possible for some sort of integration of nature and technology to bring about a golden age, who knows? I don’t necessarily buy into the whole apocalyptic calamity scenario anymore but I suppose it is possible.

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