Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"Meat Guzzlers"

This article in the NYT argues American diets must be changed because they are "meat guzzlers". "A sea change in the consumption of a resource that Americans take for granted may be in store — something cheap, plentiful, widely enjoyed and a part of daily life. And it isn’t oil. It’s meat." Eating meat is bad for the environment, causes global warming, is obscene in the face of widespread world hunger and makes food expensive for the rest of the world.

And therefore the price of meat must be changed to reflect its "true cost". "Perhaps the best hope for change lies in consumers’ becoming aware of the true costs of industrial meat production. 'When you look at environmental problems in the U.S.,' says Professor Eshel, 'nearly all of them have their source in food production and in particular meat production. And factory farming is ‘optimal’ only as long as degrading waterways is free. If dumping this stuff becomes costly — even if it simply carries a non-zero price tag — the entire structure of food production will change dramatically.'"

And of course the persons who are going to adjust the market price with regulatory measures -- who will calculate this "true cost" -- are bureaucrats. Regulation is already part of the problem. The NYT article argues for eliminating food subsidies that "account for 31 percent of global farm income" just before it advocates the new regulations. The proposed regulatory fix will fix the fix -- like an operating system service pack -- and eventually 'change the entire structure of food production dramatically'. But the desire for dramatic change can create unexpected consequences. The fascination with ethanol -- renewable energy -- has pushed up food prices. For all its faults markets often allocate resources much more efficiently than bureaucrats. To the extent that current dietary trends reflect consumer and producer preferences they contain a logic which ought to be respected.

Update

The alacrity with which people are ready to declare behavior "appropriate" or "inappropriate" is surprising. Just today, the Berkeley City Council "voted 8-1 Tuesday night to tell the Marines that its Shattuck Avenue recruiting station 'is not welcome in the city, and if recruiters choose to stay, they do so as uninvited and unwelcome intruders.'". The Contra Costa Times went on to report:

In addition, the council voted to explore enforcing its law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation against the Marines, and officially encouraged the women's peace group Code Pink to impede the work of the Marines in the city by protesting in front of the station.

It's clear why some communities want the world to be "just so" -- nuclear free, purged of any disconcerting sights like Marines or meat -- and decorated instead by the more agreeable images of tofu and Code Pink protesters. That's the way they want reality to look. But wishing doesn't make it so and it's a legitimate question to ask how long Berkeley, California or Brattleboro, Vermont would last in the world as it is, as opposed to how they imagine it to be.



34 Comments:

Blogger Marty said...

Reminds me of the old Soviet-era joke about the day Luxembourg is the last market economy in the world and petitions Moscow to go Communist, and the Kremlin says, "No, if you do, no one will know the price of anything." Food and agricultural prices are already way distorted, and here comes someone who feels ("thinks" would be giving them too much credit) that somehow the pricing is "wrong" wrt their pet issue, only, and the wise government has to put it right... yeah, sure!

1/30/2008 03:31:00 PM  
Blogger Stephen Renico said...

I just read this while enjoying a fantastic buffalo burger. Thanks.

1/30/2008 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

The food police can kiss my ass. My Porterhouse is there for the taking. Right next to my .357.

If these clowns are concerned about the misuse of resources and global food costs then they should be working to end the ethanol farce.

1/30/2008 03:55:00 PM  
Blogger Robohobo said...

Shoot, these folks dislike so much of the world. If it does not conform to their worldview they take the tack of making it illegal or immoral.

They conform highly to this profile:

http://nononsenseselfdefense.com/profile.html

Take a look. So much of what we do as humans is wrong to them I get the feeling they will only be happy when all the humans are gone from the planet. I would be happy if they would be first. Lead the way and show us what you are made of!!!!!

1/30/2008 04:48:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Thank God they're not going after the Beer Guzzlers!

If you followed LarryD's reference to the
The Jacksonian Tradition
, you know that would be right up there with going after the Guns.

Today's "Liberals" embody the opposite of the dictionary definition of "liberal" - Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; aka Jacksonian.

Today's liberals believe in speech codes and political correctness, they should tell us what we eat. In the Superman comic book, would they be Bizzaro or Mr. Mxyzptlk?

1/30/2008 04:56:00 PM  
Blogger Alaska Paul said...

We eat a lot of salmon, sheefish, halibut, and other species, organically grown, heh. Also have moose and caribou, when we can get it.

Let the Urban Ecologists™, with all their infinite wisdom, eat Soylent Green.

I will agree with them on factory beef, but their methods of regulation come right out of the Soviet playbook.

1/30/2008 05:07:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

For many years the NY Times has promoted anti-nuclear prejudices. Since the NY Times considers itself "the paper of record", does that mean the fine liberals at the Mold Grey Lady are willing to admit they are responsible for Global Warming?

Which is worse, generating false fears about the "danger" of nuclear power or generating false fears about the "danger" of Global Warming?

1/30/2008 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger Nomenklatura said...

Really funny. In the case of Berkeley and San Francisco, it's the 'meat guzzlers' versus the 'tax guzzlers'. Berkeley survives on government grants, state subsidies paid to UC Berkeley and pension checks, and San Francisco on tourism taxes. Productive businesses have been fleeing both for decades.

That's why they don't have to listen to the rest of us, but it's also why the rest of the US can never be like them. Somebody else has to earn the money so they can be like they are, and despise the rest of us.

People do at least work to earn their meat.

1/30/2008 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger newscaper said...

Sigh.

Low(er) carb diets are actually grounded in what we know of human evolution. Vegetarianism (and veganism) are the farthest thing from being "natural". There are no primitive cultures that are voluntarily vegetarian.

[Aside, why are so many "cruelty-free" enviros against hunting? It's the ultimate "free range" meat!]

Farm waste looks increasingly good for biofuel production.

"True cost" is horse shit.

Market price is actually a pretty good proxy for energy cost, both directly, and in terms of the energy implied in extracting/processing scarce materials/components.

Drop the damned subsidies!

1/30/2008 06:35:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Without having read the NY Times story, I have to wonder if the bottom line is something entirely different than global warming concerns. I wonder if what the Times and its moonbat supporters REALLY want to do is take meat out of the mouths of Americans -- because we don't deserve it, being all evil and everything -- and give it to the starving people in North Korea, Africa, Russia and Venezuela.

This would simultaneously accomplish several different things: it would enable them to "feel good" about their charity and helping the poor people AND it would weaken the hearty he-people of the Red States who really enjoy using their carnivore teeth.

Someone is also bound to bring in the correlation between heart disease, meat-eating and the costs of health care, so that if you sneak a burger then you'll be disqualified from your insurance coverage for not taking good care of yourself.

For years there've been bumper stickers about "You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead fingers." I think the ante is going to be upped to "You can have my gun and my steak when you pry them both from my cold death fingers."

1/30/2008 06:38:00 PM  
Blogger lewy14 said...

The NYT article constitutes an "argument" the same way a finger painting constitutes a "blueprint".

Which is sad to me because I think some of the issues raised are quite serious.

It seems the author is more interested in pissing people off rather than getting his points across.

Rather like the accusations the MSM regularly hurls at bloggers.

1/30/2008 06:40:00 PM  
Blogger Donald Sensing said...

NahnCee said, "Without having read the NY Times story, I have to wonder if the bottom line is something entirely different than global warming concerns."

No kidding! In fact, GW isn't ev even the point tangentiallty. It's simply the latest horse to ride to promote their anti-meat agenda.

You know the GW has devolved to foolishness when every nutcase in the country tries to attach his/her personal crusade to it.

1/30/2008 07:10:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

Ahhh, but we should run our cars on the stuff our meals should eat. Hmmmmm.

Anyway, I don't have a problem with the proposition we eat more meat than nature engineered us for, but I have a problem with the idea we need govt mandates to deal with it or we were NOT meant to eat meat.

Meat is desirous exactly because of the fats and other trace nutrients it contains. The human is not engineered for easily available fats it is engineered for a Ted Nugent state of nature. I recall hearing on some show how it wasn't until our kind took to eating meat the brain & corresponding mental abilities started to progress in a serious way.

I always try to be non-cantankerous and easy going but vegetarians work me up to no end. I had a vegetarian in a lunching group once, god, she had veto power on where we would eat. Oh, they don't have a veggie burger (wtf is a veggie burger? Eat meat or don't pretend to eat meat), oh they only have salads, etc.

What was funny was her mother-in-law was a strict Hindu and Ashley would tell me they would see a cattle truck headed to Green Bay and Ash would tell her mother in law "Oh look Ma, there goes your grandma!" Yeah, they didn't get along.

1/30/2008 09:11:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

The sub-prime crisis is actually rooted in global warming. Yes it is, you see the rise in defaults corresponds very neatly to the rise in CO2 in the atmosphere.

What's that you say? The defaults a couple of years ago didn't correspond? What, don't you care about the cute polar bears and penguins? What would Tux do without an iceberg to float on? How about Knute?

1/30/2008 09:14:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

Most the arguments raised by vegetarians about the inordinate cost of raising MEAT have much merit. (Wait! Don't have a Cow!)

• Many times more acreage and water to produce a unit of meat protein compared to grain protein, especially for certain critters. (For instance, turkey & emu seem to be significantly more efficient in creating turkey & emu flesh than other beasties.)

• Pollution from animal wastes, especially if they are concentrated and accumulated so much that they overwhelm the ability of the locale to absorb & "metabolise" them.

• Pollution by fertilizers & pesticides for MEAT production versus Grain Production cancels out.

• Proteins produced by fermentation (bacterial metabolic processes) may in some cases require heat & sugars & end up approaching the cost per unit of MEAT protein.

On the other hand, Meat is CONCENTRATED nutrition.

All the arguments vegetarians raise can be properly addressed by a diet with REDUCED proportions of Meat Protein. We all benefit from reduced costs, pollution, etc., without having to eliminate MEAT entirely.

But Pinch and his ass-licking toadies need to ingest manure and expire. For those poop-forebrains to be lecturing us on nutrition is just as absurd as for them to be lecturing us about politics or morality, about which they demonstrably know only wrong stuff.

Those of us living "sur le revenu" have noticed that since Señor Chavez enjoyed such great success raising the expectations of migrant farm workers in California, a great deal of agricultural enterprise has migrated across the border to where those raised expectations don't count for much.

In principle the farmers must pay significantly higher wages. That works out to mean that the distributors pay a much more for much less American agriproduct, re-allocating their purchasing power to tomatoes and guavas grown and picked by workers who are not being paid the wages triumphantly wrested for migrant workers toiling in California three decades ago. The final result is employment for far fewer agricultural migrant workers in California, many more of them in Mexico, and much higher retail prices for veggies in the Piggledy-Wriggledy.

Anyhow, the upshot of all this is that when we venture into a modern grocery store, we now pay MORE per pound for the flesh of a green pepper than we do for the flesh of a Holstein.

I calls it progress.

Yep.

1/30/2008 09:34:00 PM  
Blogger bobal said...

Prions

1/30/2008 10:01:00 PM  
Blogger Kirk Parker said...

Hey, America's not the only place, and and not even the foremost one actually, where beef is central to the diet!


" markets often allocate resources much more efficiently than bureaucrats"

Wretchard, I appreciate your desire to come across as calm and understated, but surely here it would be just as accurate to replace "often" with "virtually always".

1/30/2008 10:22:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

I think that vegetarianism is great. I've always enjoyed driving along and watching the vegetarians working out in those fields. I find that cattle are better workers because the elk and deer are always running and losing weight.

As far as Berkeley is concerned, there has never been a case of dungaree liberty established in the literature (it's an urban myth in the military), but I would be interested in the effects on Berkeley after such an encounter.

1/30/2008 11:14:00 PM  
Blogger Jrod said...

Just today, the Berkeley City Council "voted 8-1 Tuesday night to tell the Marines that its Shattuck Avenue recruiting station 'is not welcome in the city, and if recruiters choose to stay, they do so as uninvited and unwelcome intruders.'"

8-1? I wonder what the dissenter's problem with the initiative was? Probably it didn't call for a molotov cocktail party.

1/31/2008 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

"Thank God they're not going after the Beer Guzzlers!"

Oh, but they are. You haven't noticed that the legal limit for blood alcohol percentage when driving keeps going down and penalties keep going up to the point where a person is afraid to have a single beer unless they damn well KNOW they won't be driving for at least 12 hours?

You haven't noticed the very concerned "experts" who keep screetching about binge drinking on college campuses (relatively unchanged over the decades), correlations between alcohol and domestic violence (a bad problem, but not one that's worse than it has been historically, and probably better now), and so forth?

The health nazis leave NO stone unturned when it comes to ways to use tax dollars to annoy the ones who pay taxes. And most of them are products of the Left. I fully expect that before it's all said and done, our taxes will have quintupled and we will be forced by law to eat NOTHING but tofu, lettuce and parsley. Maybe a carrot at Christmas.

1/31/2008 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger knuckles said...

Just fyi - meat is cheap because of regulation. If the government reduced regulation (namely corn subsidization) beef prices would rise.

1/31/2008 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger Kevin T. Keith said...

It's interesting - but hardly surprising, because it's a long-established phenomenon - how free-marketers' obsession with markets vanishes instantly when they are actually asked to participate in a free market.

The article was not suggesting some kind of bureaucratic management of food policy. It was merely suggesting that meat producers should be asked to actually pay the cost of their production. The true cost - negative externalities included, and subsidies eliminated.

If ranchers were no longer given free or almost-free grazing on public lands, while destroying the same lands through overgrazing, erosion, and manure fouling, and if they had to pay to clean the water supplies they destroy with manure and pesticide runoff, and if they were somehow held accountable for the health effects of their indiscriminate use of antibiotics and hormones in their products, then we would have a true market in meat products. The inevitable result would be a vast increase in price, but that is a price that is already being paid for the producers by the public at large. If they had to pay their own costs and pass them on to consumers who had a free choice whether to accept those costs or not, their free ride would come to an end - as would their unmitigated environmental damage.

A free market should account for those costs. None of these economic concepts - the traged of the commons, and the distributive effect of subsidies - is new, or "liberal". They're just basic facts about capitalism that capitalists somehow feel it's unfair to be asked to face. Quit your damn whining and pull your weight, for once.

1/31/2008 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

Mr. Keith, some of your premises deserve a little further discussion.

The only folks who would not benefit directly from allowing cattle to graze on "public lands" at any price, would be those who refuse to eat beef. And it could be argued that even though they aren't eating the beef, they receive benefits from simply living within a society where the cost of meat is lowered by allowing cattle to graze on public land.

Yes --- Mis-use of Antibiotics is a Universal problem, whether for food animals or any other critter or human. Promiscuous use of antibiotics merely tends to breed microbes that are resistant to the antibiotics! I contend that sloppy methods --- the "indiscriminate use of antibiotics and hormones" --- are expensive delusional attempts at reducing costs. It should have to be demonstrated that selective and conservative use of those drugs would be more expensive or result in lower quality or less healthy animals.

Badly managed "over-grazing" can damage any land public or private. But the idea that cattle manure is bad for the environment is ABSURD. Without citing any instances of persistent over-grazing, it sounds as though you are simply labeling ANY grazing on public lands as damaging.

Where the distortions come into play is in the vast commercial feeding lots where tens of thousands of animals are crowded shoulder to shoulder. I'm not aware of ANY such lots located on public land. By their nature, they have to be located close to rail or highway links.

The critters in those feed lots live in conditions that are ideal for the spread of disease. (That's mostly where the abuse of anticipatory antibiotics plays out.) They are also by any definition, unpleasant for the animals. There has to be a better way to do things.

For one thing, we as a NATION need to have a lot more VICTORY gardens.

I've never had better dining than when I had my own garden. It's not rocket science, and it can be mighty satisfying.

Many ranchers marketing the meat of bison (buffalo) use pure organic methods, letting the animals live un-molested until selected ones are killed and slaughtered. The meat is untainted by antibiotics nor hormones, and though more expensive than grocery-store ground beef, the store prices I've seen are still only approximately double or so for high quality bison compared to the mass-market beef.

There should be some middle ground.

1/31/2008 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

A beautiful excerpt from the article on Steaks in Argentina, to which the link in Kirk Parker's post leads:

"Argentine beef really is extraordinary. Almost all of this has to do with how the cows are raised. There are no factory feedlots in Argentina; the animals still eat pampas grass their whole lives, in open pasture, and not the chicken droppings and feathers mixed with corn that pass for animal feed in the United States."

Definitely a fun read.

1/31/2008 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger Greg Barton said...

Bureaucrats are already manipulating the "real cost" of food. Ever heard of farm subsidies? Eliminate those and you'll see the real price of food, and we can have a true free market.

1/31/2008 02:50:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1/31/2008 03:00:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

One other thing--- Professor Eshel claims that environmental problems in the U.S. nearly all come from food production.

This is an insane claim on the face of it.

Mercury used to process gold from ore is not related to food production. Nor is the challenge of what to do with the spent fuel rods from Nuclear Power Plants. There is a huge list of ecological and environmental problems that can only be remotely or tangentially linked to food except for Cooking it:

Miners poisoned and asphyxiated in coal mines, nor their long term agonies from silicosis; strip mining for coal; slag heaps and burbling fluourescent pools of heavy metal waste from smelting copper, iron, magnesium, and all the other metals we use; acid rain from the burning of coal for electrical power; by-products and worn-out units from all the thousands of manufacturing processes and products --- petroleum-based pharmaceuticals, petroleum-based textiles, petroleum-based fuels, petroleum-based plastics and all their manifold applications, computer monitors, cell phones, regular phones, television sets...

Jeez, you could go on for days and days without even mentioning a single food item.

For the NYT to leave unchallenged a statement of such surpassing stupidity is... well, absolutely consistent with their past journalistic standards. Like letting Joseph Wilson publish his alleged "findings" from his trip to Niger as an Op-Ed piece. For someone with an advanced degree to make such a statement shows that the guy is clearly out of his depth.

1/31/2008 03:02:00 PM  
Blogger davod said...

When will the man in the street wake up to the fact that, if the warmenists have their way, the man in the street will be priced out of the market for real food, sizeable housing, heating/air conditioning and private transportation.

Soylent Green has come to pass. The differing living conditions between the have and the have-nots could certainly become a reality.

While the part where we are eating processed dead humans might not be applicable, we could end up with being able to afford only some sort of processed slop which tases like crap.

1/31/2008 03:50:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Soylent Green has come to pass.

Does this mean that if I want a steak, I get to kill a moonbat and eat his fat ass?

1/31/2008 04:28:00 PM  
Blogger SMSgt Mac said...

Um. You guys DO realize this discussion is about a FOOD writer's thoughts on the subject, with all the scientific, economic, and biologic expertise OF a FOOD writer? This is akin to having a sportscaster spout a political opinion. Who Cares?

As to the alluded 'rent-seeking', the problem with trying to include indirect costs, is one has to also factor in indirect benefits: both may be impossible to calculate. As an academic who actually KNEW something once said "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted". The Tragedy of the Commons assertion is (no pun intended) B.S.!

1/31/2008 08:31:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

There are now markets for opinion where you can bet on who will win the nomination or whether the North Koreans will launch a missile. I don't really grasp the whole thing, but it makes me wonder whether there could be some sort of financial instrument designed to track the common wisdom on externalities.

Externalities, in an honest market, should be captured somehow -- at least negative externalities. When you extend your airport and start bringing in SSTs, certain people will suffer a serious degradation of their environment. Other people will suffer more indirectly, perhaps by traffic changes or damage to the wildlife. A certain amount of this cost can be recovered by the suing mechanism. The airport will definitely have to come to some sort of terms with neighbors on the new flight path, or perhaps with the mayor instead. But a lot of what happens is a form of very subtle theft, like walking across someone's lawn on your way to the store. It is almost impossible to trace, much less rectify, but a measure of the total cost should at least be taken because it could effect an economic decision. In particular, it bears on the decision of whether the airport should be permitted to go ahead with the expansion. People don't like the cost/benefit analysis because it seems biased and under control of the government, but maybe some sort of market, open to all, would be seen as more fair.

1/31/2008 10:18:00 PM  
Blogger SMSgt Mac said...

I find the SST example appropriate to illustrate the argument AGAINST your assertion.
First, by what right can anyone living near an existing airport (or in any environment) reasonably expect the air traffic or other aspects of the environment to never change? What right can anyone have of an unchanged living environment over time? Life IS change, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.
More problematic with the 'detriment' argument as presented is that it ASSUMES a damage will be done, while discounting potential benefits - and getting back to my original post, these things are unquantifiable in any neat accountant-like manner. Life is messy that way.
I am by no means an ardent fan of Ayn Rand, but she wrote about one common misperception people have and that I think about whenever some Luddite rails against 'progress': seeing all 'change' as 'harm'. She saw that error as the mistake of assuming that anyone had a "divine right to stagnate".

2/01/2008 08:06:00 PM  
Blogger Zachary said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/04/2008 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger Zachary said...

The NYT article argues for eliminating food subsidies that "account for 31 percent of global farm income" just before it advocates the new regulations

This is what we like to call, technically, a "lie." Either that, or the person can't read worth a damn. The article does argue for true market costs (and what real conservative wants to see that?). After it argues for getting rid of subsidies, it argues for "investment in livestock breeding and management." A call for new regulations simply isn't there. But it's the NYT, and it talks against corporate welfare, so hey, let's just lie to make our case.

2/04/2008 12:13:00 PM  

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