Stern opens Pandora’s lunchbox, food fight ensues

UBC farm

Enjoying my veggie side at UBC Farm

At dinnertime, the cook at my college residence always gives me the same puzzled squint. As his hand hovers between two different serving utensils, he strains to categorize me, then asks one of two questions:



I remind him of the inconvenient truth: “I don’t eat red meat, but if we have fish or fowl tonight, I’m up for it.”

He never looks pleased.

People like categories, and why not? It’s easier to organize things mentally. But because I straddle both sides of the dinner menu, I confound, annoy, and/or anger both strict vegetarians and unapologetic meat-lovers.

If you must call me something, I guess you can say I’m a semi-vegetarian or flexitarian. (To be honest, I think both terms sound half-arsed, but it’s conversational short-hand.) In this Globe and Mail interview, Jonathan Safran Foer introduced me to the terms “ethical omnivore” and “selective omnivore.”

Whatever the label, it does seems like an open invitation to an ongoing dinner debate. And many people don’t find shades of gray very appetizing.

Still, all the uncertainty reflects the lag in the evolution of language when it comes to reflecting changing and nuanced realities. Many busy but concerned people want to make better choices for themselves and for the planet, but there is a whole lot of confusing and contradictory information out there.

As I enjoyed my view from the fence this week, an interesting development caught my attention.

Lord Nicholas Stern, an acknowledged authority on both climate change and economics, came right out said: “Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better.”

And with that, Pandora’s lunch box flew right open.

All you have to do is google “Lord Stern + vegetarian debate” and you’ll see how riled up people can get about this issue (especially if you read the comments below articles).

Now, as someone who peeves off both parties, let me just put some interesting points out there. If you’ll excuse one more bad pun (they just pour out of me when it comes to cuisine!) here’s some…

Food for Thought

From the Times Online|| Climate Chief Lord Stern: give up meat to save the planet

  • Direct emissions of methane from cows and pigs is a significant source of greenhouse gases. Methane is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a global warming gas.
  • [Stern] predicted that people’s attitudes would evolve until meat eating became unacceptable.
  • [Stern] said that he was deeply concerned that popular opinion had so far failed to grasp the scale of the changes needed to address climate change, or of the importance of the UN meeting in Copenhagen from December 7 to December 18.
  • UN figures suggest that meat production is responsible for about 18 per cent of global carbon emission

From the New York Times || The Carnivore’s dilemma

  • …the studies show only that the prevailing methods of producing meat … cause substantial greenhouse gases. It could be, in fact, that a conscientious meat eater may have a more environmentally friendly diet than your average vegetarian.
  • Unfortunately for vegetarians who rely on it for protein, avoiding soy from deforested croplands may be more difficult.
  • As the contrast between the environmental impact of traditional farming and industrial farming shows, efforts to minimize greenhouse gases need to be much more sophisticated than just making blanket condemnations of certain foods.
  • None of us, whether we are vegan or omnivore, can entirely avoid foods that play a role in global warming…Still, there are numerous reasonable ways to reduce our individual contributions to climate change through our food choices.

From the Globe and Mail || Are meat eaters killing the planet? It’s hard to say

  • Lord Stern’s dietary guidance coincides with a new report claiming meat is a far bigger problem than we thought it was. The paper, published by the respected Worldwatch Institute, says livestock generate more than half of all global greenhouse-gas emissions – more than the combined impact of industry and energy.
  • …global warming will be awfully hard to fix, especially when the experts can’t agree on its main causes. The science is so unsettled, it’s changing every week.
  • Meantime, a growing number of prominent climate scientists are cautioning that predictions about global warming should be framed carefully, because there’s an awful lot we just don’t know.


6 thoughts on “Stern opens Pandora’s lunchbox, food fight ensues

  1. Even as far back as the 1850’s the (British) Vegetarian Society was pitching their argument in similar terms, though the appeals were based on national food self – sufficiency rather than global warming.

  2. Even if predictions about global warming could be framed more cautiously human feeding behaviour could undergo modifications.

    To the extent the predictions of IPCC are going to be wrong they are going to be grossly underestimated the risks. So DO err on the side of doubt of the feared damages and you would be very likely to be right. Even if there is an awful lot we just don’t know we need not know we can still guide our habits which is the hard part. What rationality would dictate is practice biomimicry and not mess up the delicate ecological balances. Whenever the feeding behaviour of humans begins to impact those balances red flags must go up.

    Switching from steaks to poultry and fish is not the answer either. They too are pretty bad if not as bad as beef. Numerous examples are there showing that tempering with the natural balances and the way that nature does things have nasty consequences. Omnivore of any sort is going to work out well as long as the keyword of moderation is practiced.

    Half of the food never enters human bodies. Goes from production line into trash. That is a major attack area. Next eat in moderation that cuts the coronary risks and obesity risk as well. In conclusion giving up greed is the cure for GHG which stands for Greedy Humans Greedy if you ask me. Going green is really very simple – requires no expert knowledge or complex skills. Just consume less. Share more. Enjoy life!

    From being rich and miserable it is possible to become wealthy and comfortable. Swapping richness (huge bank balance) with wealth (enough amenities for fun filled life) is the antithesis of greed and the province of the non-stupid. But the Genius has spoken and said, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” Albert Einstein.

    Greed being merely a stupidity variant means that giving it up is curing a big part of human stupidity. It is the greed/stupidity that has brought us on the brink of wiping out of the stupidity and would have to go if we are to survive given the other wisdom by the Genius “No problem can ever be solved from the same consciousness that created it”. Let us grow intelligence plants or trees. Even if money does not grow on trees let us try to grow some wisdom on trees which then we can eat. Adam is said to have done that.

    Elegent piece of journalism. Congratulations!

  3. Guess I’m flexitarian too. When it’s totally up to me, I get the veg option. In social situations though (like Thanksgiving) I find it too awkward to tell my grandma that I won’t eat her turkey and love it too.

    The dwindling supply of fish is scary to think about, especially for us East Coasters! I grew up in Halifax & ate all the fishes that are now going extinct and I’m so sad to think I’ll have to explain what they tasted like to my kids.

    You’re out on the West Coast, right? I’d take the time to make careful choices out there, especially about FARMED Salmon. Scary stuff.

    Anyway, it must be cool to have Stern’s stature. Say one “controversial” thing and suddenly everyone’s talking about it again. Hopefully some people will at least realize that eating less meat softens the blow to the planet…even if we don’t stop eating it “cold turkey” (LOL! Your right about bad puns)

    Imagine we all went semi-veg? It’d be the same as half the planet going full veg.


  4. Pingback: uberVU - social comments

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