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'Ethical eating', meat eating and sustainability

by Dave Riley

Food politics is never very far from the dinner table and the local ecomedia news feed has offered the snippet that vegetarian diets are more greenhouse friendly.

Based on a lifestyle piece in the Sydney Morning Herald ecomedia asserts that in a new book Ethical Eating, becoming a vegan would save more greenhouse gas emissions a year than switching to a hybrid car.

I'd think there are a lot of switches that would be environmentally friendlier than trading up to a hybrid vehicle --switching to public transport for instance -- but the logic isn't strong enough. If it's a choice of not driving a car or giving up on lamb chops, eggs, milk, yoghurt and cheese I'd rather forgo the car.

But the argument isn't that simple for my own lifestyle or your's.

Since it seems that there is little hope that ruminants' methane production can be contained by inoculation or transposition of intestinal flora (such as an exotic importation of kangaroo gut flora to the insides of cattle) there's a very real threat that meat eating -- at least of ruminants like cattle and sheep -- is a luxury that we may not be able to afford.

Part of the core problem is rising meat consumption. In China for instance meat consumption has risen from 20kgm in 1980 per capital to 50 kgm in 2007. While some research suggests that chicken is the most eco friendliest of farmed meats --
  • Chicken turn less than two kilograms of grain feed into a kilogram of body weight while the ratio for pork is about 4:1 and beef at least 7:1.
  • Chicken also required the least energy to produce and emitted the least amount of greenhouse gases
--sentencing the planet to vegetarianism seems a drastic solution to our climate woes. I suggest that it aint going to happen. Nonetheless, some meat production is extremely conducive to global warming effects so we have to look at the carefree ease with which we consume vast quantitites of lamb or beef.

Does that mean we have to cut back on our meat eating and encourage pandemic vegetarianism?

Cut back -- yes. Forgo -- no.

The logic of sustainable farming has to rely on a mix of elements which has to include the use of livestock as part of an ongoing sustainable recycling chain. The most obvious recyclers are poultry and pigs. But open range grazing animals in large herds produce a lot of methane if those animals are all ruminants.

But what if they're not? What if we switched our meat production from cattle and sheep to.. . kangaroos. This has been an ongoing discussion in marsupial Australia despite our massive cattle and sheep numbers. I think there's a strong argument for the protein detour.

Roos are many times environmentally friendlier than cloved footed sheep and cattle. They don't fart and burp massive methane volumes. The problem is the cultural cuisine shift --and as an avid sheep eater I am loaved to switch to kangaroo because I don't like the taste -- I think. I also dislike the recommendation to lightly cook such wild game. Its' not a question of taste but of concern about parasitic infections.

So me and roo have a few issues to sort out before I cross over and embrace kangaroo steak, lightly done. Goat's fine by me -- so its' just a working through to see how my recipe archive will pan out with a new ingredient.

What we want is an everyday kangaroo cook book.

Near me, an excellent Indian restaurant offers as well as superb goat fare,
  • The Vindaloo Roo:Chef's special recipe(very hot)
  • Kangaroo Korma:Delicately flavored and enriched in a mild aromatic cream sauce (just Right)
  • Kangaroo Curry:Tender cubes simmered in aromatic spices
So that's my marker. I've even located a recipe for Kangaroo Tagine!

I'm saying it is possible to make a dietary shift because that's a good part of the joy of food -- there's always something new you can try --different ingredients, different cooking methods.

And when it comes to lifestyle issues -- while I'm not one to be ethically challenged by what I put in my mouth("First the belly; then morality," wrote Bertolt Brecht) -- these ruminants are a problem for the planet if they are to be continually farmed in such massive numbers.

The same can be said of most fish species as our present catch is unsustainable. (I can only personally hope that farmed black mussels and anchovies remain kosher).

So it is not a simple case of becoming a vego as though that's the one option.

I used to breed rabbits and for a rodent, they make very sustainable fare which was excellent tucker even when taken from the wild. Southern Vietnam now has a growing industry farming rats (good eating I'm told) and in Peru the guinea pigs ( cavy ) are fattened up on kitchen scraps (on the kitchen floor) before going into the pot.

It seems logical to me to eat critters that may be a pest on occasion --such as rabbits or feral goats.

you can guarantee disease free meat I'll eat it.

Maybe before I'll eat ratus ratus I'll have to do some homework -- but I guess it's like tripe, some people just can't stomach the thought of it if they knew it was in the soup.

So I'll eat Skippy -- just so long as he's well cooked.And I'll eat Skippy because it's for the good of the planet.

That's me being ethical.

And I may even get to like him well done
See also:

2 Com:

Dave Riley | September 12, 2008

The tragedy is that kangaroo meat is not cheap. It's not expensive either but the asking price can be something like $10-13 per kilogram in the supermarkets which, given the raising inputs, is absurd. The 'rancher'-- or the wholesaler at least --does nothing and charges in line with domestic livestock.

The other debate is the killing of kangaroos as there is some concern as to how humane night shooting can be or whether cull numbers are sustainable.Then there's the issue of gutting in the bush then transporting the carcases in open trucks acrose dirt tracks.

But I'm sure these issues can be resolved in the same way as any concerns over diseased meats and zoonoses.

ABC Science Show ran a thoughtful piece on kangaroo ranching issues:
Animal farming and greenhouse gas emissions

Kangaroos greenhouse emissions better than cattle

Scott and Ruth | December 06, 2008

Greetings from the USA.

As an organic farmer (vegetables) for 36 years, and a chef for that same amount of time, I can tell you that meat eating is simply a habit.

Good? Bad? Look at the data and make your own decision...

We are flexitarians. We do not reject meat when it is shared in a social setting, with love and respect.

However, I was raised a fisherman and not a hunter, so it is more natural for me to kill and eat wild seafood, if it is up to me. But I live inland and I farm, so it is much simpler to grow plants, eat them, and sell them to others. Tasty, too!

We wrote a book which we publish, detailing how simple it is to create wonderful, global-fusion cuisine using plant foods with the occasional addition of wild seafood.

In the USA the operative question is---if I eat meat, does it take food away from others around the globe, as well as causing significant, preventable, environmental destruction?

Unfortunately for those with a meat habit, the answer is yes.

Scott Parsons

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