I just saw local author James McWilliams give a well-attended talk at BookPeople on his book “Just Food”, where “just” refers to justice as well as purity. I would definitely consider him a kindred spirit. He ended his research quite unconvinced of the importance of “food miles” (the book is entitled “How Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly”) but unexpectedly convinced that meat is unethical.
The talk was wide-ranging, and a number of interesting points came up. I don’t have any central organizing theme of my review of the event, but I thought I’d capture some interesting snippets.
He had been on Ira Flatow’s Science Friday just last week as the contrarian intended to debate Michael Pollan. Of course, he cringed. He gave journalists grief for their craving of simplicity and conflict, but he gave the show credit for letting the two of them actually agree on things.
He believes that organic methods COULD feed the world, but that there would be very little room for meat in such a scenario.
He believes that concentrating on localism doesn’t work. Some places are better suited for growing food than others. They should specialize. However, the places we grow food are the wrong ones. (California, with imported water.) And what we do with the midwest (feed crops) is incredibly destructive.
He is the guy who wrote a New York Times article a couple years back asserting that New Zealand grass fed lamb bought in England was less greenhouse gas intensive than local feedlot lamb.
Grass-fed cows emit MORE methane than corn fed ones. (but lamb also eats grass. contradiction of the previous point?)
General agreement from author and audience that overpopulation is the core problem. In a sense our problems are problems of success.
Energy expenditures for meat don’t seem to include “rendering”, i.e., disposing of what he called “deadstock”, over half the weight of a meat animal that is inedible or unsellable anyway.
20% of all greenhouse emissions in the US are attributable to meat. Transportation is a small fraction thereof. Giving up meat one day a week has all the global warming benefit of zeroing out food transportation costs.
He believes dairy and eggs are not as bad as beef. I’m not so sure. I hope so.
Soil depletion, groundwater depletion, increased population points to increasing food stress in the future. Meat consumption increasingly an ethical issue.
Food problems cannot be solved on an local level. Systems must be redesigned. Global hunger is a food issue, after all.
Most of the questions intelligent and polite. But one woman was intense, upset. Going on about the importance of local control, keeping things out of the hands of corporations. McWilliams was careful to acknowledge her point, but couldn’t get her to acknowledge that localism, while good, isn’t enough. Many people seem very attached to an idea of local self-sufficiency. In Texas! Texas has NEVER supported a significant population on local resources.
Speaking for myself as a liberal in a land of libertarians, it was nice to see a smart Texan thinking global for a change.
It was a thought provoking evening. BookPeople rocks.