Monthly Archives: July 2011

Soylent Green is people!

“Every day forty thousand children die in the world for lack of food. We who overeat in the West, who are feeding grains to animals to make meat, are eating the flesh of these children.” — Thich Nhat Hanh, quoted in The World Peace Diet [5]

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported in 2006 that an estimated 18% of green house gases generated by human activity come from producing meat for humans to eat. [3] The Worldwatch Institute subsequently updated this estimate to 51% when they took other factors into account. [4]

National Public Radio recently reported that 97% of scientists believe that global warming is real and mostly or all due to human activity. However, only a small percentage of the population at large understand that the scientific consensus is that strong because the picture presented in the media is much more conflicted. [1, 2]

In his book, Comfortably Unaware, Dr. Richard Oppenlander describes how raising livestock degrades and depletes land, fresh groundwater, and human health. The resources consumed, land and water, are not renewable in our life time. [6] These are resources that could feed future generations. In consuming and destroying these resources now, we are consuming the flesh of future generations.

About a billion people in the world don’t have enough food. These are people in places like Ethiopia, where grain crops are raised and exported to Europe to be fed to livestock. When we eat meat, we are eating the flesh of those billion people who could be fed by the grains being given to livestock. [6]

You might think that the 97% of scientists who believe in the global warming science would make the connection and stop eating meat and other animal products. Humans are very good at not making connections they don’t want to see. The people who work at national labs, who gather, analyze, and report the numbers on which global warming science is based eat just like the rest of the population. Their healthcare costs are similar to those of other large organizations.

Research has shown that we respond more to advertising than we think we do. [7] We are embedded in a System that is invested in the status quo. The System abhors change even more than most individuals do, even though it is gradually changing constantly, just like most individuals. The System consists of all of us and includes the UN, the meat industry, Big Pharma, the medical establishment, WorldWatch Institute, the banking system, vegetarian organizations, government, farmers, the economy, vegans, carnivores, the media, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Al Gore, and everyone.

Some components of the System have a lot of influence. This is commonly called having “deep pockets”, meaning the entity in question has a lot of money that can be used to buy public relations and advertising. Over time, the System has evolved to a state in which all its components have very short time horizons. Politicians are mostly focused on the next election and are unwilling to do or say anything that would reduce their chances of re-election. Financial decision-makers are mostly focused on the next quarterly report and are unwilling to do or say anything that would reduce their profits. Business leaders are focused on what the populace is buying today and next week and are unwilling to do or say anything that would have a negative impact on their revenues. Few minds are focused on the long term and the few that are have very little influence within the System.

Some parts of the System are actually invested in keeping you confused and sick. If everyone had a clear and accurate understanding of nutrition, the animal industries (producing pigs, chickens, cows, fish, dairy, and eggs for human consumption) would see their revenues shrink drastically. Without sick people, the medical establishment and Big Pharma would lose their market. The banking sector, which finances hospitals, high tech diagnostic equipment, costly drug trials, and the like, would see their investments threatened. Much less money would flow through insurance companies as the population got healthier and needed fewer healthcare interventions.

“Beef, it’s what’s for dinner.” “Got milk?” “The incredible edible egg.” If they can seduce you with advertising, they will. If advertising doesn’t work and you learn enough to be motivated to change, as Oprah Winfrey did when Howard Lyman appeared on her show in 1996, they’ll use intimidation. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association sued Oprah and Howard, costing them a great deal of time and money. The NCBA eventually lost the suit, but the intimidation was effective: from that point on, Oprah avoided any potentially controversial discussion of food on her show. [6]

So, important elements of the System are committed to maintaining the status quo and they do so through advertising, intimidation, and peer pressure. It’s not that they want to kill the planet or their customers, particularly, they just don’t want to see their revenues drop.

The only elements of the System that are free to change are us — the individuals making day-to-day choices about what to eat and how to live. In the movie Soylent Green, the main character discovers that the main food of the culture portrayed was made from the flesh of people who had died. Ultimately, the meat eaten in North America and Europe, and increasingly in China and Brazil, is the flesh of the people who might have been fed, both starving today and future generations, if our ways were less wasteful.


  1. Climate Change In The American Mind: Americans’ Global Warming Beliefs and Attitudes in May 2011. (pdf)
  2. Climate Change: Public Skeptical, Scientists Sure, NPR, June 21, 2011
  3. Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  4. Goodland & Anhang. Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change are…cows, pigs, and chickens?
  5. Tuttle, Will. The World Peace Diet.
  6. Oppenlander, Richard. Comfortably Unaware.
  7. Cialdini, Robert. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
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Posted by on 2011/07/22 in ecology, nutrition, statistics