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Saving our Earth or Defending our Right to Eat Animal Products?

I live in a small town and every year for the last three years we have celebrated World Environment Day with an information day organised by the local environment centre. Dozens of groups set up tents and disseminate information about what they are doing to help the planet. There are workshops, speakers, live music, fun events for kids and healthy food. This was the first year we had a meat-free festival.
Months ago I was promised my usual speaking spot which somehow got forgotten by the organisers. Then a week before the nod was given and I set to prepare my talk. The subject was 'Biodiversity-How can we Protect it?' Given that I only had five minutes to cover this rather large subject, many hours were invested in practising and shrinking down what I wanted to say. This is what I ended up with (a variation on the speech I gave to council just last month except tailored to the audience):-

I don’t know about you but I feel so blessed to be on this incredibly beautiful planet. Such a myriad of exquisite animals living on the land, flying in the sky and swimming in the ocean. Boundlessly abundant flora healing our bodies and spirit spring up effortlessly from beneath our feet. It pains me so deeply to know that this blue-green jewel floating in space that we call planet Earth is in deep trouble. There are 16,000 species at risk of extinction today. This mass extinction is caused by one species – us.
Australia has the worst reputation having driven 38% of its mammal species extinct in just over 200 years. The Tweed Shire has probably the most biodiversity in Australia yet a whopping two thirds of our species are at risk of extinction.
Biodiversity loss is a much bigger problem than climate change, because climate change could be turned around in 100 years, but biodiversity loss could take between 10,000 to 100,000 years to turn around.
Somehow we forget that all species are interdependent. E.g. if bees became extinct all of life on this planet would end in just four years. If plankton became extinct, we wouldn’t have enough oxygen to breathe.
We forget that healthy ecosystem needs diversity, many species each with large populations and strong gene pools – like a jungle teeming with life. Instead we clearcut land and overfish the oceans and wonder why we are in ecological crisis.
We forget our resources are finite acting like they will be there forever – if we keep consuming and populating at the rate we are going we will hit a wall where life won’t be worth living.

The Convention on Biodiversity aims to significantly reduce biodiversity loss by 2010. Every loss of species is a threat to global biodiversity. The Convention is concerned with the moral and ethical aspects of biodiversity loss.
What does that mean? I think it means having reverence for life. Animals have feelings, just like us. They feel happy, sad, lonely, they grieve. They fear death and they love their families. When their habitat is destroyed, they die – in terror.
In Queensland between 1998 and 2004 a total of 104 million animals died as a result of land-clearing. If we had reverence for all creatures, we could coexist with them instead of paving the planet. There would be no species loss and no extinctions.
But the bottom line is, humans regard animals as resources to harvest instead of sentient beings with feelings and the right to live in peace.
So how do we change human consciousness on such a profound level? How do we make a paradigm shift away from being anthropocentric to being biocentric? It depends on you and me making that shift on a personal level and political level and it’s very important to do both.

Demand that Governments and councils enforce laws to protect biodiversity + stop developments from destroying koala and endangered species habitat such as Kings Forest. Such as helping NRG stop the ridiculous Repco Rally tearing through national parks in the wildlife breeding season.

Do obvious things like driving slowly in the country at dawn and dusk to avoid roadkill, restrain your pets or become a wildlife carer. But more importantly, the most fundamental thing you can do to stop biodiversity loss is stop eating animals and eat plants instead. Why? Livestock Industry causes most damage to the planet - DEFORESTATION, DESERTIFICATION, SPECIES EXT. WATER SHORTAGES, GHG, POLLUTION WATER). 7 billion people eating fish is causing a dire crisis to the oceans. And don’t even think of eating kangaroo to save the planet because they are on track to extinction too.

Will Tuttle’s book The World Peace Diet talks about not only the environmental destruction a meat/dairy diet but also the profound social fragmentation and spiritual disconnection it causes from being in denial about the suffering of non-human animals on our dinner plate. We cannot have peace until we embrace kindness to all creatures.
Yes I am asking you to do probably the most difficult thing you have ever done in your life – but the situation on Earth is dire and unless we all shift to a plant-based diet this earth is doomed. We must act today – tomorrow it will be all gone.
This earth is too precious to lose. For the sake of your grandkids, for the animals who want to live here and the planet, please take one small step in this direction. Make the effort to overcome a lifetime of social conditioning and habits. You’ll be so glad you did.

Then a day before the event I was contacted by one of the organisers asking me for my bio. I sent him my speech and this was his reply:-

Dear Menkit
After reading through your talk, it is obvious to me that you are gifted with a strong commitment to our communities' moral and ethical evolution.
So I hope that you will read my opinions, below, not as a personal offence of any kind, but rather as a loving pointing-out of aspects that could be sabotaging your true aims.
To this end, I have not pulled any punches. (Also, please note that when items from your talk appear 'in single quotes', they're being paraphrased, not quoted.)
The festival is intended to encourage a wider audience of non-environmentalists to take a simple first step or two. (Thereby gaining a sense of achievement and pride that can fuel ongoing and larger committed actions.)
Indeed, my intuition is that your talk would neither serve the festival audience nor help to achieve your own aims, were you to deliver this talk on Sunday.

'flora heals ... our spirit'
'all animals feel love, fear death, are sentient beings, and live by choice'
'eating yoghurt causes a profound spiritual disconnection'

Perhaps an environmental festival for the general public is not the appropriate place to air one's own spiritual or religious beliefs?

'mass extinction of 16,000 species caused by one species - us'
+ 'Australia has the worst reputation' + 'Somehow we forget'
+ 'we forget' + 'we forget' + 'life won't be worth living'
+ '104 million Qld animals died in terror' + 'buried guilt'
+ 'we're all doomed unless we all become vegans'
+ 'you are all lazy and socially conditioned'

Such a collection of accusatory, punitively worded facts and statements (many of them unsupported) is unlikely to achieve anything other than to overwhelm, upset, and destroy hope in the festival's audience. (Many of them could well be taking their first, furtive step towards assuming greater environmental responsibility).
Also, using the words "us" and "we" is really only authentic when they're used to describe something that the speaker and their audience share in common. Throughout the talk, "us" and "we" are almost never used this way. Rather, they're code-words for "all of you out there", "ignorant consumers", and so on. As such, they foster a vague sense of alienation and anger, the very antithesis of the sense of inclusion that's intended.

'humans have caused all animal extinctions'
'biodiversity loss is a much bigger problem than climate change'
'if plankton became extinct, we wouldn't have enough oxygen to breathe'
'changing our attitude guarantees no species ever becomes extinct again'
'we're all doomed unless we all become vegans'
'tomorrow [the earth] will be all gone'

Many of your talk's statements I found either deceptive, unqualified, or exaggerated.

"demand governments enforce laws to protect biodiversity"

Vague statements like these sound impractical to a general audience, so they're unlikely to motivate ordinary people into action. In fact, I found only one concrete, feasible solution to the plethora of problems that your speech raises (to drive slowly on country roads to avoid roadkill).
Unfortunately, your talk amounts to scare-mongering.
I invite you to re-examine your motivations for wanting to tell people the specific information that you do,

Frankly I found this response baffling, given that I could back up with references everything I wrote. Was he saying that my information was incorrect or that I was expressing it in an offensive way? I asked repeatedly how I could say it in such a way as to not offend but no reply was forthcoming.
It seems odd that an environment group, whose purpose is to help save the planet, would be deliberately repressing the very information that is needed to create a radical transformation of our world. Changing light bulbs, recycling and riding bicycles isn't going to do it fast enough.
What hope is there if people won't even listen to the pros of a plant-based diet? Why are people so terrified to question their dietary habits and make a shift? Its not that hard. It can be taken very slowly, in baby steps, and in a short time people feel terrific.
In short, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.


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Thats a very good speech Menkit, Im sorry you were not allowed to present it. The attitude that exists in many conservation groups is that we have to go softly, softly, or we upset people. So what? Let's upset them!

We dont have time to pussyfoot around, we are on a very limited time span, to being able to continue to exist on this Planet. Forget the so-called conservation groups, I urge you to put your considerable talents elsewhere where they will do more good. Cheers, Pat

THE OECD and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation have just released their combined annual agricultural outlook. It suggests that with one billion undernourished people in the world already, food availability must increase by 60 per cent in the next 20 years to overcome this mess.
With population growth, and one billion people undernourished already, "food availability must increase by 60 per cent in the next 20 years to overcome this mess". Easily said than done! With a global population crisis and less land to cultivate for food, increasing food production by 60 per cent is going to be a phenomenal challenge considering that we can't just have wall-to-wall cities and then the monoculture of farms!
Ecosystems have their own lifecycles, and we can't just keep destroying oceans, rivers, forests and biodiversity and still maintain that resources will just keep expanding!
A plant-based diet needs to be phased in world-wide. We also need a world sustainable population program before Gaia takes her own revenge on this "mess"!

I think the Tweed Shire World Environment Day organisers owe an apology both to you and to the broader public for having treated you in this way.

Is it any wonder that the Environmental movement has gone so far backwards, when the most dedicated, talented and passionate environmental activists are treated this way?

I thought your (so far unpublished) reply to that conceited fool was also very good and should also be included as an addendum.

It seems that you are right that we have no choice but to adopt veganism if we are to emerge out of the hole into which humankind has dug itself. If it is possible to conclusively show that we would actually be healthier if we were to adopt veganism, that would help immensely.

This web site would be a good place to explore that question.

It sounds like a very 'managed' environmental conference and 'managed' environmental conferences generally turn into entertainment festivals with sponsors, professional speakers or speakers from outside the community, and only very general environmental messages, so as not to discourage immigration, property development, big garden stores and supermarkets by allowing locals to have a voice.

Menkit has a political position which is different from mine but we are a long way away from a head-on collision.
My political position says that, vegan or (less) meat-eating, if our economy is organised centrally and distantly, we are doomed to biological, economic and social impoverishment and slavery.

I think we are on the road to insufficient calories per capita on a global level because we are destroying our soils and water, and the fossil fuels to make our industrial food production and distribution systems work are becoming scarcer, but we have already arrived at ambient malnutrition and pockets of starvation in many places. If we distributed food according to need, rather than according to capacity to pay, probably no-one would go hungry ... for a while. In North America, Australia, Canada and Europe, and even among the elite of some third world countries, some people are having fat sucked out of them via machines (liposuction) whereas the poor of the world do not get enough fat to eat.

This situation coincided, however, with internationalisation of economies, where local power to produce food and participate politically in an effective manner, and to adjust population to the local carrying capacity, were abrogated and confused by the removal of power and production to distant places and large industrially based systems.

I am worried that a plan to feed the world using grains would run into the same problem of internationalised, profit-based economies. I imagine, for instance, corporations destroying all the wild biodiversity in the richest regions in order to produce the grain to 'feed the world'.

What would then happen to the marginal lands, where you cannot grow crops? My understanding is that farmers will always grow crops where they can because they can get a far higher return for them. On marginal lands they run grazing animals because those animals can move over a very wide area to sustain themselves.

So what would happen to people who live in marginal areas, if we all went vegan? I don't think they would be able to produce enough food for themselves. Perhaps then, we should abandon the marginal lands and only live where crops and food trees can be grown?

Would that mean that more of us would crowd into the hot biodiversity spots (that occur on the richest land)?

One would hope that big business would not stop us, as it tries to now, from allowing our populations to diminish to adjust to more biodiversity and socially friendly small-scale societies.

One would hope that big business would not stop us from occupying those rich areas in small populations, harmonious with the local fauna, as it is trying to do now because it wants to develop those areas for real-estate and crop-growing.

Another thing in Menkit's speech was the statement that we would all die in four years if bees became extinct. Is she allowing for the transport of pollen by flower wasps and other insects and animals, which might take over the task if bees were not around? What about the fact that most members of the grass family (including wheat, barley, rye, rice, bamboo and corn) are wind pollinated and non-dependant on bees? See, for instance, Pollination and Reproductive Behavior of Crop Plants, by Dr. C Kameswara Rao. I feel a bit bad about using Dr Kameswara's article because it appears on a biotech industry blog which informs an industry that wants to take over more biodiverse land to produce crops on an industrial scale using artificial methods, with the excuse of 'feeding the world'.

I have read that the grass family feeds, directly or indirectly over 90% of the World's population. Statements in this
Encarta source
would support that view.

The problem of grain-cropping marginal or range lands (which, merging with hot desert, comprise 75% of Australian land) is raised in this article, Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler.

"Another suggestion is a return to grazing beef, a very real alternative as long as you accept the psychologically difficult and politically unpopular notion of eating less of it. That’s because grazing could never produce as many cattle as feedlots do. Still, said Michael Pollan, author of the recent book “In Defense of Food,” “In places where you can’t grow grain, fattening cows on grass is always going to make more sense.”"

The statement appears in an article on a Prout website. Prout is an organisation with a non-denominational religious base that promotes, "Economy of the People, For the People and By the People! Put Economic Power in the Hands of the People!"

The article is interesting because it shows an awareness that human social organisation on a local scale permits a variety of lifestyles in tune with much lower carrying capacity. One such lifestyle is the semi-nomadic one of following grazing animals around their range. (When the Somalis still supplemented local grain economies with semi-nomadic herding economies, they had stable populations that could survive droughts. When they got wells and turned to intensified agriculture, their societies produced landless people who could not survive droughts. That's what western 'food-aid and agriculture' does.)

The Prout article also makes this statement:

"Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. This despite the inherent inefficiencies: about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, according to Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States."

The use of grain to feed cattle on the scale it happens in America is a recent development.

The economics professor's use of the term 'efficiency' is skewed here to mean 'most direct route to human stomachs'. Biological efficiency would mean allowing the world to return to a functionally biodiverse state and that would certainly not mean a population of 6.6 or 9 or 11 billion humans. Financial efficiency simply means cornering the most production for paying humans, meanwhile throwing us socially and ecologically into chaos - half of us starving and the rest of us needing liposuction. So many questions arise. For instance, why would we increase crop production just to feed more humans when we already have enough food to feed them? There is an even greater need to question the belief that human populations must continue to grow when humans, on a local basis, had long been able to control their populations down to the local carrying capacity, well before the invention of the pill.

Another big question of our time is, why do we see so often versions of this statement, also by Dr Dr. C Kameswara Rao, "I am not a scientist, but rummage around in the scientific research about GM and a clear picture emerges: if we want to reduce starvation and “feed the world”, as Sir Bob Geldof et al tell us every Christmas, we must go GM. The argument in favour of GM crops begins with a simple one: the world is growing fast."

The answer that comes to my mind is that GM and agriculture with and without GM are big business and big business does not like local economic and political empowerment because the case for massive GM crop production does not exist in local economies run well within their local carrying capacity. Global GM mass crop production for profit needs run-away population growth to survive. The human population could survive quite well without GM as long as it did not continue to grow or to provide massive profits for a few shareholders in a globalised economy.

So, for me, the problems of preserving rich plant and animal biodiversity, reducing carbon gas emissions, decreasing wealth and increasing political empowerment seem to lie in the relocalisation of our economies. That may give people the choice of eating vegan in some societies but not in others. I am open to argument here.

The Prout organisation put out a film some while back about Venezuela. It was done by the same person who made No Woolies in Maleny. I found the organisation's use of religion interesting because, as I recollect, it was felt that it is easier to communicate ideas as beliefs than as systems to be learned... maybe we need an article by Prout here. On a local level when the religion itself is local and functions to preserve the environment and local working systems, religion seems to work. Where a religion is generalised into an overarching abstract set of rules and applied over a wide variety of locations, peoples and systems, then it dictates absurd behaviour and prevents people from acting on their own behalf from local information - in much the same way as does the global economic growth economy - which, come to think of it, is really a religion.

The arguments Menkit alludes to about cruelty to animals are particularly convincing when you look at our industrial processing of other species as food. The scale of cruelty, of deprivation of liberty far exceeds, but ressembles in its systematic pseudo-efficiency (to feed the world) the nazi concentration camp system.

This is yet another argument for relocalisation with view to allowing our populations to reduce naturally.

Would the quality of food available to most of us in our industrialised overdrawn system be adequate to lead vegan lifestyles, especially if we don't have access to land to grow our own food on? The rate of obesity seems indicative of some decline in food vitality. Menkit, in her Essential Oils cookbook (which communicates fabulous recipes and useful technologies), talks as if finely ground flour can cause diabetes. Although I do not know her source for this, I do know that there is a lot of evidence that many people cannot cope with low GI foods and that the introduction of flour and sugar to Australian aborigines and other indigenous people coincided with high rates of diabetes and obesity. But low GI industrially produced foods are more and more the only ones available to many people. And big business and a government near you are pushing for this situation to expand.

In conclusion, I don't think that all of Menkit's claims were right, but I don't think that she should be stopped from talking at a conservation festival. James Sinnamon, who comments on this article as well, often makes the point that so many political rallies, including conservation festivals, consist of talking heads standing up there as if they were the ultimate authority. Audiences are allowed a short 'question period', when really a discussion should open, involving all those with something to say.

I note that Menkit previously spoke every year. Perhaps the problem is, once again, partly due to the breaking down of the local society where she lives, in favour of bringing in outside 'authorities'. In a localised society of comfortable size, everyone gets a voice and no-one is a comprehensive expert.

Cut the Menkits from a small town and suddenly you have a bunch of newcomer ignoramuses racing cars through national parks and building blocks of flats on local farmland with the rest of the population completely sidelined like so many suburbanites in Sydney or Melbourne, sitting in front of t.v. watching the 'real people'.

None of us is a complete authority when you get right down to it. But big populations hierarchialise and specialise, creating illusions of authority either through credentialism, professional politics, religion, and big bucks. So, if you have a professorship or a profession, you can get up there and make claims about kangaroo populations and a judge or a politician will take your claims seriously even if they are wrong. Likewise, if you have a lot of money, you can get up and say what you like about growing our population being a good thing. The recently deceased Mr Richard Pratt's self-serving performance at the Melbourne Population summit of 2002 was an example of this.

For me the big issue is that big societies remove the choice of going vegan or not to some decision way above our individual heads. And that decision is likely to be made by someone whose reasons would not stand up on a local basis but who we will never be able to question.

Sheila Newman, population sociologist
home page

It is not a problem of having to produce MORE crops and grains, it is about re-distributing it! Much of our crops now go to livestock, and thus for the more wealthy in the world. This is gross inefficiency as a way of food production, land and water usage. The addiction to meat and dairy is due to ingrained conditioning and tradition and also as a symbol of affluence and ego - of being on top of the food-chain. Meat inevitably comes from animals.

Wealthy Indians are suffering from an "epidemic" of diabetes due to Western foods after being on subsistence plant-based diets for generations. Processed foods and diabetes amongst our indigenous peoples is no doubt due to the same excesses. Changing people's mindset about foods is no doubt the hardest part of convincing people about diets and health! We are heading towards increasing "food miles" due to urbanisation and population growth, and thus more food industries rather than "real" locally grown food.