Earth Day Round-Up (no relation to the Monsanto pesticide)Posted: May 7, 2009
For three hours on April 22nd, the top floor of NYU’s student center was transformed into a vegan sanctuary in celebration of Earth Day. The event featured three speakers, including the vice president of PETA, and a complimentary vegan dinner of chick’n nuggets, tempeh patties, and steamed veggies. Although the event used plastic dishes and utensils – deserving of a slap on the wrist considering it was Earth Day – we did walk away with a few “Meat’s Not Green” stickers and posters as well a feeling of meat-free empowerment.
The opening speaker was NYU Philosophy professor and self-righteous vegetarian Ward Regan. He discussed how vegetarianism and veganism (a word not recognized by my version of Office, damn you Bill Gates) relate to a wider “paradigm shift in our consciousness” about the environment and our country’s politics. The way we perceive the world needs to change in order to make change. Affecting change with…change. Fancy that.
Regan was lacking only the pounding of his fist when he zealously admonished the “continually criminal behaviors of our leaders,” a line followed by enthusiastic clapping from the audience. Regan understands being a vegetarian or a vegan as a way to escape the “orthodoxy about life enforced by an ever more powerful organism.”
After Regan’s dictator-esque tirade, the second speaker was like a refreshing drink of non-genetically modified soymilk. Andrew Kropf, the manager of Migliorellli Farms in upstate New York, nervously discussed his farm’s thriving biodiversity. Biodiversity is an exciting word for any avid-agriculturist. Consider how most super markets carry two or three varieties of apples, some which are transported from Mexico or other estates abroad. Thanks to the corporate sphere’s love of profit laundering, there are hundreds of delicious apple varieties resting peacefully in orchards unknown to the average Granny Smith consumer. These varieties are also on their way out as monocrops of apples perfect for the tumultuousness of transport are driving out (excuse the pun) the prized diversity.
Migliorelli farms, which caters to the Union Square Green Market, grows a total of 167 different crops including 12 varieties of peaches, 4 varieties of pears, and 27 varieties of apples. Unfortunately, Kropf’s farm is not organic. Considering that he was speaking to a room full of advocates of sustainable living, I was slightly shocked at his admission. He cited economic feasibility as the reason, “I think organic is a great concept but it’s hard to do in a small farm setting. We want to provide affordable local food for every home in the city.”
Kropf’s farm also does not use any genetically modified seed and practices sustainable farming techniques such as no-till fields and crop rotation.
Next on the agenda was the anticipated keynote speaker, the vice president of PETA, Bruce Friedrich. His list of organizations included the Catholic Vegetarian Society, the Christian Vegetarian Society, and the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians.
Mr. Friedrich’s introduction caused some furiously furrowed brows at our table of passionate leftists because although we attend a liberal university, we are secretly receptive to exclusively liberal ideals. The second we hear “John McCain,” we bleeding-liberals upturn our noses and head for the nearest hip coffee shop (preferably Think). We all began to scribble this poor man’s name onto our Republican hit lists when he took the podium, “I sound like a Jesus freak!” A few guilty chuckles ensued.
“Did you hear Bill Gates bought the Seattle Times this morning?”
Every journalism student in the room cursed their future job opportunities.
“He buys it every morning.”
Ba-dum-chh. We all looked at each other with knowing smiles that implied, “Maybe this guy won’t be so bad after all.”
Friedrich dove right into a discussion of the global consequences of a meat-eating diet. The U.S. grows 90 percent of its soy to feed industrially farmed animals. Contrast that with the 1.4 billion people living in dire poverty and the 187 million people living with a nutritional deficit – a euphemism for starving. “That’s a human rights crime,” Friedrich said. Being a vegan eliminates the competition between the affluent meat eater and the world’s poor. Most shockingly, 70 percent of antibiotics produced in the U.S. are given to industrially farmed animals so they can sustain the brutal conditions.
From an environmental perspective, consuming meat is unsustainable. Meat production accounts for 18 percent of global warming; the transportation of meat used one million metric tons of biofuels in 2008; and industrially farmed animals produce 30 times more excrement than humans. Because there is no universal waste-management system for animals, their waste pollutes surrounding waterways and the air, often at the expense of near-by homes (Peter Singer discusses this problem at length in his book The Ethics of What We Eat).
Friedrich saved the cruelty issue for his last point. He called up a picture of a wide-eyed cat onto the two PowerPoint screens, “Would anyone here eat my cat Gracie?” Of course not Mr. Friedrich, but we get your point, “There is no moral difference between my cat and farm animals.” He then ran through a montage of wincingly cruel photos of animals in the factory farm setting. He emphasized the recurring vegetarian argument that if the pictured animals were cats or dogs, their owners would be in jail.
Friedrich finished with an encouraging list of ways to live more sustainably (another word that Office does not recognize – and you call yourself a humanitarian Mr. Gates…).
1. Buy local and/or organic
2. Avoid genetically modified foods
3. Buy less
4. Educate yourself
5. Practice personal advocacy
6. Practice political and economic advocacy
During the question and answer, Friedrich discussed breaking the U.S.’s cultural and social connections with eating meat. He pointed to periods in history when hierarchical relationships between sexes and races were considered the norm, but have since been proven unjust, “the exact same thing is true of eating meat.”
Regan, however, needed to have the final, ominous word, “It’s simple, we have to save the animals from working in the machinery of death.”