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Are Environmentalists Out To Lunch?

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My friend Susanna is an environmentalist. You know the type. She lives in San Francisco and drives a Prius. More than one time I’ve been out to a restaurant with her and watched as she grilled the waiter mercilessly about what kind of box the restaurant would use if she decided to take the uneaten portion of her dinner home. Paper or plastic? Is that recycled paper? Are you sure you don’t use any Styrofoam?

Last month Susanna came to town and we worked for a couple of days rehearsing a song she was going to sing in a show. When she arrived for our first rehearsal I gave her a glass of water. I was surprised a couple of hours later when she was leaving. Instead of handing her half-empty glass back to me she put it on the table by the door. “Just leave this here for me,” she said. “I’ll drink the rest of it when I come back tomorrow. You know, we Californians are careful not to waste water.”

I admire Susanna for being an environmentalist. I can forgive her for occasionally getting a little testy with a restaurant waiter in pursuit of her cause, and I can certainly understand that to her every half-glass of water is an important resource to be conserved. What I can’t understand, though, is why someone that concerned about the environment continues to eat meat and other animal products.

Why is this such a big deal? Consider the facts…

  • Animal agriculture is by far the biggest user and polluter of our water.
  • Animal agriculture is by far the biggest user and polluter of our land.
  • Animal agriculture is a major source of air pollution.
  • Animal agriculture is one of our very largest emitters of greenhouse gasses, and consequently one of the very largest contributors to climate change.

On top of all of this, consider that…

  • Animal agriculture doesn’t even produce food. It is so much more inefficient to feed plants to animals rather than just eating the plants directly, that animal agriculture clearly wastes huge amounts of food.
  • Indeed, animal agriculture is totally unnecessary. As we vegans know perfectly well, life is a lot better, just as tasty, and certainly a lot healthier, without it.

Add all of this up and it’s pretty clear that the production of meat and dairy products is the biggest environmental disaster of our time. So, why isn’t my friend Susanna up in arms about this? Why isn’t she a vegan? After all, if she eschewed (as opposed to chewed) animal products for just a few days how many half-glasses of water would she save? Thousands.

Rather than passing judgment on Susanna and the millions of other environmentalists like her, I’d prefer to lay the blame squarely at the feet of the large environmental nonprofits—the groups that set the agenda for environmental activism worldwide. One has to believe that sophisticated organizations like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace (and thousands more like them) are very aware of the environmental impact that animal agriculture has. It’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room that they continue to ignore. (The same 800-pound gorilla, by the way, that our lawmakers continue to feed with financial subsidies and exemptions from the environmental laws.)

Why do environmental groups idly sit back while animal agriculture rapes the planet? It’s pretty simple. If they recognize the problem, then they have to oppose the obvious source of the problem—meat-eating—and support the obvious solution—veganism. But support of veganism would be economic disaster for these groups. They know most of their members would go somewhere else rather than making the perceived sacrifice (Ha! If they only knew the truth!) of going vegan. The sad fact is that it’s always easier to point the finger at someone else than to change one’s own behavior.

Does this mean that vegans should be marching at the doorstep of the Sierra Club?

Yes! And it would be about time!

Of course we know what they will say. As one frustrated vegan told me the other day, “They’ll give us the same old ******** [bovine excrement] that we’ve heard a thousand times about family farms and locavores.”  Important topics, maybe, but they shouldn’t be used to hide the simple fact that the destruction of the earth begins with your mother’s pot roast.

Wake up, my dear friend Susanna. Take some responsibility, environmental groups. It shouldn’t be so easy to be hypocritical.

Mark is an attorney, author and long-time vegan.  He lives in Colorado with his cat Elgie.  Mark serves on the Board of and can be reached at  Mark’s book, ” The Perfectly Contented Meat Eater’s Guide To Vegetarianism”  can be purchased at our store.



Author: Mark W. Reinhardt

Mark Warren Reinhardt is an attorney and author who has been writing and lecturing on veganism and animal rights issues for longer than anyone can remember. His book, “The Perfectly Contented Meat-Eater’s Guide to Vegetarianism” was published by Continuum in 1998. Mark has previously served on the boards of the Vegetarian Society of Colorado, Rocky Mountain Animal Defense, and Divine Feline, as well as a number of other nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Mark holds degrees in engineering and law from Duke, Harvard, and the University of Chicago. He lives in Denver with his cat Elgie.