Do your own research as long as that research leads you to eat more cows!
My family has a Shabbat dinner tradition of having everyone at the table share a favorite part of their week. We do this no matter what type of week has passed and sometimes it’s really hard. This is not a look-on-the-brightside type of practice meant to invalidate the shitty moments of life. We honor the shittiness by recognizing the moments from our week that gave us the power to get through it, the moments where we decided not to persist rather than cede total control to the shit.
I offer this to you as a reflection, either privately or in the comments below - what was your favorite part of the week?
What I’ve Read
International perceptions of animals and the importance of their welfare - This research included a fairly large sample size spanning multiple countries and it’s one of the first scientific studies I have come across that distinguishes farmed animals and companion animals. The key findings are split up by country so there is a lot of information to go through and opportunity to dig deeper with each population!
Vegan vs. Plant-Based: Which Term Should the Food Industry Officially Adopt? - I’m always interested in terminology and seeing how people within the vegan community interpret the terminology. This gives a decent marketing overview and highlights the perspectives of two food entrepreneurs and I appreciated the call in to the industry. What I find missing from the discussion about the marketability of “vegan” products is the background for how “vegan” became such a dirty, polarizing term in the first place. From my past research I theorize that it’s no coincidence that people’s gut reaction to hearing the word “vegan” is negative. Vegan protests that resulted in property destruction and the disruption of businesses in the 90’s and early 2000’s earned certain vegan/animal rights groups a spot on the U.S. terrorism list; specifically eco-terrorism. As history has shown, the government and specifically the FBI is not found of counter-culture movements and goes to great lengths to influence public perception against them. In the decades since there have been soooo many marketing studies and surveys conducted to validate that “vegan” is too polarizing but rarely do they go into the historical context as to who constructed the salient public hatred of veganism.
Fun fact, Merriam-Webster recently added plant-based to their dictionary and defines it as “made or derived from plants” and “consisting primarily or entirely of food (such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, oils, and beans) derived from plants”.
Woman died after eating ‘vegan’ Pret a Manger wrap, inquest told - Bad ingredient labeling is not just a bummer for vegans who avoid ingredients for ethics, it is literally a lethal mistake. This is a horrible, preventable, tragic story and my heart breaks for Celia Marsh’s family. I would much rather see clear ingredient and preparation details than the word “vegan” on a food label. This may not prevent future problems for people with severe food allergies but it may get taken more seriously and have more standardization since we know “vegan” does not have one universal meaning, especially in food production.
The problem with Facebook’s content warnings - According to this article, The Humane League’s ad that showed broiler chicken’s on factory farms was rejected by Facebook’s algorithm because it was flagged for “sensational content”. Obviously FacebookWhatsappMetaInstagramEtc isn’t the high standard for morality and ethical internet practices and their algorithms are highly problematic. Still, the fact that images of body parts of some dead animals (aka meat) are normatively acceptable to display anywhere and everywhere is an interesting and large-scale example of cognitive dissonance.
Executive Order on Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe, and Secure American Bioeconomy - I am sure the regulatory agencies and animal ag industry are scrambling! The EO focuses this support for lab-grown meat on policy that will support research, safety, domestic industry, market opportunities, workforce and labor expansion, coordination of various regulatory agencies, specific R&D data collection and more. We will have to see how it goes and keep tabs on the responses.
Shoppers Care Less About the Environment as Cost Pressures Bite - When will I stop wasting my time with stupid headlines?? These studies aren’t measuring if people “care less” they measure the firmness of habits for “Eco Activities”. We are all dealing with an incredible amount of bad shit in our daily personal lives and also on a local, national, and global scale. We also know that individuals aren’t destroying the planet, corporations and imperialist capitalist governments are! I think it’s pretty understandable that as the pressures of all the bad shit rise some people literally cannot afford to spend the extra time, money, and energy on eco-friendly activities because our systems continue to make sustainability the exception rather than the default.
Don't cook chicken in NyQuil: FDA warns about dangerous social media challenges - OMFG please don’t cook chicken (the animal or the vegan version) in cold medicine! Add it to the list of horribly stupid irresponsible things teens do and have always done that are so easily amplified and sensationalized on social media.
What I’ve Watched
KITTENGATE: Outrage After Climate Scientist Feeds Kittens to Diners - It feels like a bad play for a reason, give the 5 minute video a chance to show “the irrational mentality of meat”.
Whatsin Store (TikTok) - As someone who has worked with food labeling and branding I have considered some aspects of accessibility for CPG products, but never to this extent. This is a great call in for sighted and non-visually impaired people to support accessibility on products for blind and visually-impaired people. This video was made by CyR.U.S., a company that makes “Raised Universal Symbols” aka tactile language symbols for products.
What I’m Excited About
Rosh Hashana! New Year! 5783!
Exploring what observing Jewish holidays means to me as an adult is an incredible feeling. I am so grateful that I can afford to take (unpaid) time off work and do something that honors my Jewishness and the spirit of the holiday but does not involve going to temple. Typically my untraditional celebrations involve seeing friends and/or family, cannabis-fueled introspection, a lot of cooking, baking, and being in nature. Although if I’m doing this every year…I guess it’s becoming traditional, in its own way!
P.S. I wrote a vegan Rosh Hashana article that was published earlier this month! I’m particularly excited because it’s different from the vegan and Jewish content that is typically available on the first few pages of Google. And by that I mean it isn’t just a bunch of recipes and it doesn’t sell you a particular brand of veganism or Judaism.
Read it here!
P.P.S. I am very very open to more (paid) projects that let me discuss veganism and/or Judaism, just in case you’re curious! 😉
My niche is food systems and while this niche often overlaps with the sustainability field it has never been one of my areas of expertise. Since I started getting involved with Planetary Health Collective (and if I’m being honest…becoming friendly with some kickass climate advocacy influencers on Instagram) I have been learning a lot more about sustainability.
This is the first year I can remember hearing about Climate Week NYC and while I wish I could say it was from my learning-about-sustainability journey, the reality is that it caught my attention on vegan academia Twitter. Dr. Matt Hayek shared a Climate Week webinar called Choosing a climatarian diet: the case for including beef. So obviously I signed up to watch it because I watch food industry webinars like my grandpa watches sports; I always have snacks and spend an hour yelling curse words at my screen.
A friend and I both signed up for the webinar and it was just as messy as one would expect for a Beef industry funded event where the moderator’s biggest qualification is being a “former vegetarian who changed her diet to include beef’s benefits”. There were no climate scientists in the virtual room to lend credibility but don’t worry there was absolutely a “Meat Scientist”!
Below are a collection of thoughts I had from my first watch of the webinar and additional reactions I had when I re-watched it later in the week. Please keep in mind the webinar is obviously extremely biased as it’s literally funded by the Beef industry and that I also have my own biases as an attendee and writer, which is why I have added additional resources when appropriate. Even though these industry events are often disheartening and infuriating, I think it’s incredibly important to continue participating because the reality is that these industries have a lot of control and power over the systems that run this country and many others. To disrupt this we have to understand where they are coming from and strategize accordingly.
Damn this panel is white AF and I’m kind of but not really surprised there are no non-cattle/beef industry moderators to bring any semblance of scientific credibility or partiality, I guess if you sponsor a Climate Week event you can really do whatever the hell you want.
Minor details, but weird that no names or organizations appear on the screen and also the “chat” feature doesn’t actually show chats from participants and whenever you submit a question you get an auto-response of “Thank you for your feedback. We will have a response for you within 24 hours after the webinar ends.” (Shockingly, they never reached out to answer any of the questions I submitted)
According to a panelist, if we go back 75 or 100 years ago sustainability to producers meant operating in a way that the land and ranching operation could be passed down to the next generation so ranching was inherently sustainable even though they did not use the actual word sustainable. Except all the land they were operating on was literally stolen from the Indigenous land stewards who had lived there for thousands of years and hundreds of generations until the American agricultural systems fucked everything up so badly that just 3-4 generations later there are almost no small family farms left and the soil, water, and other natural resources have been extremely depleted. Seems like a concretely shitty example.
Not enough people are talking about how cattle can be part of a climate solution…is a weird way to say you need to figure out how to fix the problems your industry created and are proliferating daily?!
[18:00] Moderator and panelist are bonding over being former vegetarians and using their personal health and everyone’s favorite activity of “doing my own research” . While we are on the subject, I am also technically a former vegetarian do we all get a prize???
[22:00] Moderator talks about how she was confused and scared about beef until someone told her to read her first study and switched to thinking about beef from a science brain instead of her previous humanities brain. She also said that information about beef is taken out of context and how important it is to share accurate data so that people can build their own understanding…except over 20 minutes in and we have seen nothing but personal/professional anecdotes??
A couple scientific data asides:
So much of what we know about the “science” of food has been produced and manipulated by industry and private brands. Read more about this in Unsavory Truth by Marion Nestle (affiliate link) or on the Food Politics blog with an article that highlights the conflict of interest between scientific research on the benefits of dairy products and the National Dairy Council.
Literally so much scientific data and official reports are out there about how the food industry, and specifically animal agriculture is linked to the climate crisis. Here’s a recent article and great chart about How US government diet guidelines ignore the climate crisis!
The panelists started dropping in random tidbits about food security, animal welfare, and nutrition, which is of course important but odd considering nobody on the panel has professional or scientific credibility to talk about these topics and it’s outside the context of the supposed potential to consume cows sustainably.
Upcycling was big here, it’s a catchy phrase these days. Of course it was mostly presented by one of the panelists who represented a company that takes byproducts from breweries and processes them to supply to the beef industry for feed.
[36:00] The moderator acknowledges that we hear a lot of beef is climate smart BUT only if it’s produced a certain way or produced by small operations, which she calls ironic and follows up with an un-cited statistic that, “90% of U.S. farms and ranches are actually family-owned”. The panelists talk about economies of scale and how operations can be efficient and effective at producing beef and that size of the operation doesn’t effect the climate as much as some might believe.
[37:30] “Most cattle actually live the majority of their lives on pastures”, CAFOs say otherwise dude!
At 38 minutes in we finally talk about methane but according to another statistic by the moderator cow burp emissions only account for 2% of U.S. GHG emissions, apparently this is a statistic by the EPA. But that’s not enough, the moderator asks if panelists have heard other figures and how they FEEL about them.
According to section 5.1 of this EPA report, “beef cattle remain the largest contributer of CH4 emissions from enteric fermentation, accounting for 72 percent in 2019”. The report also states that enteric fermentation emission rates have increased from 1990-2019 and follow trends in increasing cattle population size…
Panelist is confused about the variety of ESG numbers for plant-based products and why there are such different numbers, where they are coming from, and where the discrepancy is. She leaned hard into I’m-just-asking-questions rhetoric and her own confusion. Her questions would likely have been answerable if she had given any specifics in terms of: brand, product type, agricultural commodity, etc.
[40:00] Moderator is talking about how social media is damaging because people speak confidently without sources and speak erroneously, which is a challenge the industry faces. Apparently this issue is so complex and cannot be communicated in neat little graphics or social media posts. I LOL’D SO HARD I CHOKED ON MY COFFEE! All the panelists jumped on this like they haven’t spent 40 minutes doing literally everything they accused others of doing.
[41-46:00] Panelist is throwing out a lot of statements about how much better the U.S. is at producing quality, nutritious, safe beef production. He is repeating “that’s proven” after dropping statistics without sources. We are jumping through a lot of domestic and global production, glossing over the details because why would those matter. Sorry scientists, we are too focused on emissions, we need to be more focused on carbon balance!
[48:50] Panelist brings up issues caused by non-native and invasive species in Alaska that they are working to solve by bringing private cattle producers into wildlife refuges. But of course there is no acknowledgment that cattle themselves are a non-native species that wiped out the native bison population and destroyed natural ecosystems.
[50:00] Moderator shifted the conversation to how major food magazines have removed beef from their offerings and how one major magazine in particular put out a grilling issue with only 1 beef recipe…which made her cancel her subscription because the magazine is so clearly out of touch! The sanctity of grilling is at stake people why are we not panicking???? Panelists call out this misinformation and ask other voices to speak up and share information in the form of meat recipes to combat how these biased, private magazines are scaring the public with irresponsible information.
[52:55] Veganism is mentioned and the moderator states, “we know that there are nutritional deficits in vegan diets,” as if nutritional deficits do not also exist in people who consume animals. She then jumps quickly to her favorite fact, “if you were to save 1 transatlantic flight a year…you would have the equivalent, or fewer emissions than going vegetarian or vegan for an entire year”. I cannot decipher this.
Moderator references a piece of paper with statistics (no citation given) so she doesn’t misquote the following: If every American followed a vegan diet and all livestock were eliminated, GHG emissions would only be reduced in the U.S. by 2.6% or 0.36% globally. Obviously this is a hypothetical situation that only focuses on emissions and does not offer a realistic context, even though they are harping on the fact that context for data is key. They also do not define vegan or vegetarian diets in any specifics so we have no idea what the food intake would look like nutritionally or what the agricultural landscape and crop production would be to accommodate this fictional shift. If she says context one more time I will throw my computer across the room.
[55 minutes on] We’ve talked about what consumers do not have to do (go vegetarian) for the climate, but what should they do? BUY BEEF! Of course, it’s so simply you silly goose!
TLDR; This makes me question the entire legitimacy of Climate Week NYC and the organization because this was an absolutely absurd webinar with zero scientific integrity. The biggest takeaway that my friend and I shared after watching this webinar was that, according to the panelists and organizations involved, sustainability means preserving a very specific way of life and maintaining current systems. Anything that threatens their industry in favor of the collective good should not even be considered realistic.
So I will extend that invitation to you; if you have questions or would like to know more, make your way to mfarley’s inbox!