Monday, July 14, 2008

Fr. John Dear on peacemaking and diet

I've admired Fr. John Dear for a long time. He is a tireless worker for peace. But I only found out today that he is also a vegetarian and that he sees the refusal to eat meat as an aspect of peacemaking. Alternet has published his article "The Only Diet for a Peacemaker Is a Vegetarian Diet". Here's how it gets started:

In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last week to speak at the National Convention of Unitarian Universalists, I met my old friend Bruce Friedrich. We spent eight memorable months together in a tiny jail cell, along with Philip Berrigan, for our 1993 Plowshares disarmament action. A former Catholic Worker, Bruce is now one of the leaders of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. He gave a brilliant workshop on the importance of becoming a vegetarian, something I urge everyone to consider.

I became a vegetarian with a few other Jesuit novices shortly after I entered the Jesuits in 1982 and later wrote a pamphlet for PETA, "Christianity and Vegetarianism." I based my decision solely on Francis Moore Lappe's classic work, Diet for a Small Planet, a book that I think everyone should read. In it, Lappe, the great advocate for the hungry, makes an unassailable case that vegetarianism is the best way to eliminate world hunger and to sustain the environment.

At first glance, we wonder how that could be. But it's undisputable. A hundred million tons of grain go yearly for biofuel -- a morally questionable use of foodstuffs. But more than seven times that much -- some 760 million tons according to the United Nations -- go into the bellies of farmed animals, this to fatten them up so that sirloin, hamburgers and pork roast grace the tables of First-World people. It boils down to this. Over 70 percent of U.S. grain and 80 percent of corn is fed to farm animals rather than people.

Conscience dictates that the grain should stay where it is grown, from South America to Africa. And it should be fed to the local malnourished poor, not to the chickens destined for our KFC buckets. The environmental think-tank, the World Watch Institute, sums it up: "Continued growth in meat output is dependent on feeding grain to animals, creating competition for grain between affluent meat eaters and the world's poor."

Meanwhile, eating meat causes almost 40 percent more greenhouse-gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, and planes in the world combined. (The world's 1.3 billion cattle release tons of methane into the atmosphere, and hundreds of millions tons of CO2 are released by burning forests due to dry conditions as in California or due to purposeful burns to create cow pastures in Latin America.)

Once more, let me ask this: If you're not willing to become a vegetarian, would you be willing to keep one vegetarian day a week? Or maybe two? Would you just be willing to cut down on the amount of meat you eat every day? Those things will help. Really they will.


  1. I think that the root of the problem lies not with eating meat per se, rather with the U.S.'s way of producing that meat. CAFOs are a horrendous way of producing mass meat and abstaining from CAFO meat will lead to a better environment and if enough people follow, will eventually lead to changes in how grain and corn produced domestically is used. But grass-fed beef and free-range chickens (since they happily eat grass and bugs) in small herds with enough range don't actually cause that many problems. Getting meat animals back to eating what they naturally eat is better for them and for the world's poor. Cattle can't easily digest corn. They basically live with chronic and painful acid reflux/digestive destruction because their guts are adapted to eating and digesting grass. Currently around 98% of the beef and chicken produced in the U.S. is in CAFOs, and the laxness of the regulations is pretty terrifying. Anymore if I don't know where the meat came from, I go with the cashew butter for the most part.

    I've gone off on a bit of a tangent, but my original point was that many of these statistics come from U.S. feedlots, and that meat animals can and are raised humanely and with little resulting environmental damage in many other countries.

    And on the biofuel aside, I read in the NYT Magazine last week that the National Weed people (I forget their official title) are working on making biofuel from kudzu because it grows so fast, is in large supply and is much cheaper to grow and process. Pretty cool idea I thought.

  2. I remember reading this column and sending it to my daughter, who is a vegetarian (though an atheist). I believe all the info, but still like to eat meat. I know I'd be healthier if I didn't. . . .


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