Every year in the United States we produce enough food to feed nearly two entire American populations, yet 50 million Americans go hungry. The face of hunger is not what you may expect and it is not the face of laziness. It is often your neighbor who seems to be doing just fine, a child too hungry to concentrate on their homework, or the elders who go unnoticed sitting at home without the money to purchase food. All of these people are going hungry while grocery stores alone throw away enough food to feed every single American in need. Together we CAN stop the waste and feed our fellow Americans. This three-minute video shows the problem:
Not that long ago I had an entire cabinet full of products to put on my body. Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant, lotion, cologne, soap, face wash, astringent, toothpaste, mouth wash, and chapstick are a few of the things I can remember but there were more I’m sure. I thought I needed it to look good, smell good, feel good, and be healthy. I also thought since well-known companies made it, that it must all be safe. I assumed I couldn’t really go wrong with an American brand sold in an American store. Everything changed when I started doing a little research. I learned that I’d been persuaded to buy stuff I didn’t really need and had been lied to about the true effects of their products.
I desire to put an end to food waste and hunger in the United States. Sure, it’s a lofty goal, a seriously lofty goal, but I believe that it is possible. In my youth, I see a time when every dumpster in the United States is completely void of all food. But in the mean time our dumpsters are full of perfectly good food and we may as well eat it! First and foremost, I encourage grocery stores to donate their excess food rather than throw it in the dumpster. But in the case of their social and environmental negligence, I encourage people to get out there, dive into dumpsters, eat the food, share the food, and raise awareness about food waste and hunger.
I want you to hit the dumpsters! Even if you don’t want to eat it or collect it for others I still encourage you to go see the waste for yourself.
The topic of meat-eating can be quite controversial and often becomes pretty heated. So, whether you eat meat or not, please take a deep breath and chill out for a second.
To the vegans reading this, I want to be upfront that I utterly support eating vegan. It is one of my first recommendations to anyone who asks me how to live a more earth-friendly life. I eat an almost completely plant-based diet myself; about 95-99% of what I eat is plant-based.
To the meat eaters reading this, please read this fully before you quickly use this blog as an excuse to blindly eat food that is detrimental to the earth, to other species, and to you.
This is my argument against veganism by someone who strongly supports veganism.
We live on a planet that is home to seven billion people, and amongst that massive population there are many, many different cultures. Some are vegetarian by nature, some plant-based by nature, others eat a lot of meat and animal products, and of course there is a wide range in between. I write this argument, in part because some people believe that veganism is the one and only way, no exceptions. I really understand that mindset, given many of the horrifying practices that are taking place in our current industrial agriculture system. It’s easy to come to that conclusion through many of the films that are popular today.
There’s the factory farming with complete disregard to animals being living beings. Chickens are grown too big for them to walk. Female chicks are debeaked shortly after birth and the male chicks are thrown into the trash. Pigs are grown in cages so small that they never get to stand up. Cows never get to graze in the field and barely see the light of day.
There’s the fact that eating a plant-based diet is the single largest thing that an American do to decrease their environmental impact. Raising meat is the single largest contributor to our increasing droughts and our resource depletion. A hamburger takes over 600 gallons of water to produce.
There’s the rainforest deforestation that takes place to raise soy and grains to feed the animals that we eat.
There’s the health risk of eating meat as well. We are pumping our animals full of dangerous hormones and antibiotics that are doing a huge injustice to the human race.
The list goes on and on as to why we should all eat far less meat and animal products. We’d be doing a great service to the earth, to the other species we share the earth with, and to ourselves. But there is another side to the story that many vegans and vegetarians often leave out. There are cultures of people who eat meat and animal products in a manner that causes less harm to Earth and animals than some plant-based diets do.
All plant-based diets are not created equal. I would argue that a person who lives off the land and includes meat in their diet can have a smaller environmental impact than a person who lives in the city and eats all plant-based food (most of which may be packaged and shipped in). Plant-based diets often include food that is shipped from halfway around the world burning fossil fuels, food that is covered in packaging which is very resource-intensive (whether it’s recycled or not), and food that contains harmful ingredients like palm oil. There’s also the fact that creating cropland to grow plant-based food displaces animal populations and kills many of them. A plant-based diet made up of industrially produced food is likely killing animals or harming animals one way or another. Of course, diets that contain meat can do all of the above as well; so below, I’ve included some examples of diets that incorporate meat that may actually have a smaller environmental impact than an urban plant-based diet.
-I spent time in Louisiana and found it is a state with many self-sufficient people. For many of them, the bayou is their bloodline and they live off this land. Their diets include alligators, crayfish, fish, rabbit, deer and so much more. These swamps are absolutely teeming with life and I believe that when they hunt it responsibly, these folk can eat a more Earth-friendly diet than a person living in the city eating a plant-based diet from the supermarket. And a more environmentally responsible diet than going to the stores they have available in the area, where there really isn’t access to quality plant-based foods.
-There’s the exploding wild boar population in Texas that is causing serious environmental problems. They are one of the most destructive invasive species in the US today, displacing native species populations, devouring crops, and tearing up the land they roam. I think that hunting and eating these boars has a much smaller environmental impact (and likely even a positive impact) than just about any plant-based food you can buy at the supermarket.
-Hunting deer in your own neck of the woods, like my friends in Wisconsin do, can also be far less destructive than being dependent on large-scale production of any food. These deer live wild, eating grasses their whole life, and no unsustainable resources must be used in their existence. Plus, by having to hunt their food themselves, these hunters are often much more connected to their food than many urban vegans are.
-The Inuit people live primarily on animals that they hunt and trap locally. Imagine if they instead had all their food shipped in from warmer lands where it could be grown. That would be so much more detrimental than living off their land.
Those are just a few examples of why I would argue against a blanket statement for veganism. To say that everyone should eat plant-based, I think would discredit many of the societies and cultures that are currently or have in the past livied in harmony with the earth to a far greater extent than many of today’s urban vegans.
But after all that, many people would say that we’ve become an advanced enough society to know that it is inhumane to eat meat. Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” I completely agree. We do have a moral obligation to cause no unnecessary suffering now that we’ve learned that we can live very healthy lives (seemingly healthier) without killing animals. We absolutely must practice complete humanity towards all species. However, some would follow that line of thought and say that we have become so elevated that even just the death of an animal by our hands is inhumane.
That thought has one huge flaw in my mind though. I believe that idea separates the human species from all other species on Earth. It is saying that we are not a part of the circle of life like other species are. A wolf can kill a deer, and that is nature – but if we were to hunt a deer, many of us would not consider that nature, and many vegans go as far as to call that murder. Humans are still animals and we are a part of nature, and a part of the natural cycle of life. Yes, we are unique, but so is every other species. We are not above all other species, or any species for that matter. I believe that it is this separation thinking that has gotten us into much of the trouble that we are in. We know that we have only one earth. We know that everything on Earth is connected. Rather than think of us as separate creatures, above all others, I think we should remember that we are animals too and we are a part of the food chains on Earth. We can be the predator and we can be the prey. But if we are to be predators we must use the knowledge we’ve gained to be ethical predators.
I believe vegans should absolutely continue promoting plant-based diets and they should pursue it with great passion. We are in dire times and reducing meat consumption is something that most all of us can all do today to lessen our burden on the earth and other species. I commend all activists and organizations out there campaigning for meat-free diets. I commend everyone out there who is reducing their meat consumption. I commend all vegans and vegetarians.
One recommendation I would make to vegans and vegetarians is to be compassionate too all humans too, not just all animals. We live in a messed up time and it’s very challenging to make ethical decisions. It’s not easy in this country to do the right thing. So much of mainstream society stacks the odds against us leading environmentally-friendly lifestyles. So campaign hard and lead by example, but remember that all people have feelings too and have their own challenging circumstances.
I’m going to continue eating a plant-based diet myself. There really are very few arguments against the evidence – across cultures, a diet high in plants and low in animals is the most beneficial to human health. I used to eat a lot of meat but since I stopped a few years ago, I’ve seen so many benefits. I’m absolutely healthier than ever before. My body naturally stays fit with little need for exercise. I feel great about myself knowing that I’m not supporting any unethical businesses or practices. I’m living in alignment with my morals and beliefs.
I live in San Diego now and it seems to currently not be possible to support a meat-eating population ethically or sustainably in this city or any other densely populated area. So as long as I’m here, you probably won’t find me eating meat – unless I’m down at the pier to catch and take home a small fish. If I move out of the city to live off the land however, or if I am on a long trek through the wild, it could be a different story.
We all have a unique situation, so doing what is right for you, all creatures, and the earth is going to take some thinking and some resourcefulness. We can all make improvements no matter where we are today, but only you can decide to do this for yourself. To be of help to you, here are my top recommendations to make your diet more Planet-Friendly in relation to meat.
- Eat a plant-based diet, which means no meat or animal products.
- If you do eat meat or animal products do it in moderation. A few times per week is plenty. If you eat a lot of meat currently, start by eating one animal free day per week (such as Meatless Monday) or one animal free meal per day.
- If you do eat meat or animal products, get to know your farmer or hunter and get it locally.
- If you eat meat or animal products, try to raise it or hunt it yourself. Start with raising chickens for eggs, which can be done even in large cities.
- Choose dairy and eggs over meat. It is far more environmentally friendly to choose these over meat.
- Choose sustainably farmed chicken over beef and pork. Chicken has a far smaller environmental impact than beef or pork. Beef is the most environmentally taxing and often the unhealthiest, so choose beef last.
- Use every part of the animal and waste nothing. The liver and bone marrow are two of the most nourishing parts of the animal.
- Make a list of goals and take it one step at a time. Don’t be overwhelmed by all the things that you may want to change. Instead, make short-term and long-term goals and have fun checking them off the list.
- Realize that this will not be more expensive. Although it may appear to be to the untrained eye, eating plant-based and healthier food is not more expensive. Simple, primarily plant-based food, such as a meal of rice, beans, and veggies, is far less expensive than meat. My meals at home usually cost me between $1-$2. There’s also the money saved in health costs, gym memberships, diet plans, and the many other ways we waste money to make ourselves look better, which won’t be needed when you take control of your diet.
I met Liselotte through Facebook when she commented on one of my posts, saying she is “dumpster diving her way through her PhD.” I wanted to learn more, so I invited her to do a guest blog for my website. She is an intelligent and inspirational woman doing good for the Earth and the people around her. I just had to share her wonderful story, so here it is!
When I started my PhD in environmental psychology in October 2014, I had been dumpster diving for a while, but I wanted to take it to the next level. The goal was to save as much money as possible so that I would be able to buy a nice block of land after these three years, build a simple eco-home and live mostly self-sustainably after that.
With some big announcements to come soon, I could easily begin coasting through life right now. This year I’m working on a documentary, publishing a book, and I’m also in talks with multiple networks about a TV show. Rather than coast though I am leading by example more than ever before. I’m not in this for the money or the fame. I’m in it to create a just world full of happiness, health, and equality for all. So I’ve vowed to donate 90% of my earnings to happiness, health, and freedom for all.
We throw away nearly half of all the food we produce in the United States while 1 in 7 Americans are often unsure of where their next meal will come from. To me that is absurd, a country with such an abundance of food with such an abundance of hunger.
I’m not down with this.
I’m not down with throwing away all this perfectly good food.
I’m not down with hungry children and elders.
I’m not down with the environmental havoc created by dumping billions of pounds of food.
I’m not down with all the animals that are raised and killed just to end up in a dumpster.
You may have already heard a few appalling facts about food waste but just in case you haven’t, here are a few tidbits of information to catch you up on the issue.
-We throw away 165 billion dollars worth of food per year in the United States. That’s more than the budgets for the United States national parks, public libraries, federal prisons, veteran’s health care, the FBI, and the FDA combined.
-About 50 million of our 317 million Americans are food insecure yet we produce enough food to feed over 500 million Americans.
-To create just the amount of food that ends up in the landfills we waste enough water to meet the domestic water needs of every American citizen.
Even with these mind-blowing statistics you probably still need to see it to believe it. That is where I come in.
This weekend I arrived in New York City from my second bike ride across the United States living on food from grocery store dumpsters. On my first ride dumpster diving across the USA, about 70% of my diet came from dumpsters, totaling up to about 280 pounds of food over 4,700 miles of cycling.
It’s been a huge week in raising awareness about food waste. I created a little media frenzy and my activism was picked up in La Crosse, Madison ran with it, and it blew up in Milwaukee. 14 stories were done between news, newspapers, and radio, and their stories were syndicated by other news outlets around the Midwest as well. There is no doubt that a big impact was made in the Wisconsin region with this campaign.
My friend Dane and I are on a mission to show how much food we waste in the United States, and we know that we’ve got to come up with some creative ways to get people’s attention in the United States. So we decided to make a huge public display of what we uncovered in the dumpsters of Madison, Wisconsin. In a matter of 48 hours of casual dumpster diving we managed to collect thousands of dollars worth of perfectly good food that you see here. Looking at this photo myself, it’s still hard even for me to believe that every bit of this food came from dumpsters.