Tuesday, July 26, 2011

cow farts

Sometime in the spring we had a moment of weakness and went to a pizza chain (a sit-down one. with a bar) for dinner. When the waitress took our order, I asked whether a particular sauce was meat-based and my daughter (almost 5 now) exclaimed, "Daddy doesn't eat beef because of cow farts!"

She's not wrong. It's why. It's also why I tend not to eat even the "happiest" lamb or mutton (actually that's because of sheep burps). Last time I had red meat, then, was Easter dinner. We bought a leg of lamb, organic and locally sourced, from our local butcher. It was melty. And I tried not to feel guilty.

So generally I avoid beef no matter what. In their book The Way We Eat, Peter Singer and Jim Mason do an excellent job of pitting the various ethical factors in our dietary decisions against one another. In terms of beef, they convincingly argue that pasture-fed organic "free range" cows are actually more damaging to the environment than factory-farmed ones fed corn and other grain because eating grass makes the happy cows fart more. This produces more methane, which is a greenhouse gas 90x more potent than CO2, and accounts for the fact that by some estimates, our North American meat industry alone is responsible for around 40% of our total greenhouse gas emissions. Ugh. Which means that even if I get happy beef that has been shot in the back of the head while watching the perfect sun set with its adoring bovine family, it's still going to be responsible for record-breaking temperatures, droughts, water shortages, etc. for something like the next 800 generations of my offspring (apparently greenhouse gases stick around for about 20,000 years).

But ho, what news? Apparently, we're working on the scientific equivalent of bovine bean-o. See here in the March 2011 edition of Business Green!

So maybe, just maybe, one day I'll be able to eat a non-lentil, non-tofu, non-mushroom burger again. A boy can dream.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

tiny little OCD decisions

I may have written about this before, I can't remember.

We don't buy bottled water in our house - we (perhaps naively, but I'll save that for a future conspiracies blog) just trust what comes out of the tap. But we like it cold. Today, when I was filling up the jug to put in the fridge, I wondered, does it take more energy to let the water cool before I fill the jug, or just take the first water that comes out and let it cool in the fridge? It occurs to me now, it uses less water to do the latter, which then seems like an obvious choice. But having read The Way We Eat, I find myself weighing various environmental consequences against others: which is worse, wasting a couple litres of water or using extra electricity by putting lukewarm water in the fridge?

I have no idea what the answer is, but I'm plagued by such decisions. Here are choice others:
  • driving at what speed does it become equally bad, because of drag, to have the windows down as to run the AC?
  • is it worse to water your own vegetables (thereby using water) or to buy non-local non-organic veggies from somewhere with high rainfall (thereby using petrochemicals)?
  • does it take more gas to turn the car off frequently and then turn it on (like at a long light) or just to keep it running?
  • is it worse to drive to the bookstore (using x amount of gas) and buy a new book or to order it secondhand online (using y amount of gas - likely more than x)?
  • do the eggs I buy from a local farmer actually use more resources - in terms of food, water, gas, etc. - than the ones I buy from the grocery store (because the latter are mass produced and more carefully controlled)?
...as a musician and academic, I'm also always thinking cost because money's always a little tight, so then factor that in too. Sometimes, I have to admit, cost wins over environment. It can be expensive trying to do right by the Earth, and much as I want to think long-term, there are times when I can't afford to. Those are times when I feel incredibly guilty, times for which I imagine myself apologizing to my daughter and her children in 25 or 40 years.