Got Beef?by Brendon Bosworth / 29.05.2009
It’s the vegetarian’s hydra – the volley of questions that surround the action of placing a soya patty on the braai grid. Why don’t you eat meat? What’s wrong with you? Is it ‘cos your girlfriend’s a veggie?
In the beginning I was all for the visceral approach, picking choice scenes from that animal cruelty doccie I watched, the one that finally turned me, and relaying them in graphic detail. I spoke of that redneck rancher. Swaggering into the sheep pen, swearing at the top of his tar-stained lungs, picking up the little lambs, puffs of cotton wool; holding them high above his head, filthy hands trapping their twiggy forelegs, then ceremoniously slamming their heads against the cement floor. Dashing them against that stony surface – cave man with a club – until their skulls collapsed. Then there were the pigs: packed into their stifling sty, air thick with schizophrenic ‘reeting.’ That fat one lying on its side with a pus-filled goitre swelling on its belly – distorted balloon. A cannibalistic comrade, demented, pushing its snout deep into the abscess, snacking down on the infection. Making that bacon taste better. The cows: disconsolately following the death march, shivering in line, eyes popping, waiting to be strung up, sliced up, bled to death. The twitching of the bodies and the spraying of the blood. Old adage: if the abattoirs had glass walls less people would eat meat.
But it’s old, it’s boring. People switch off after the lamb schpiel. The new angle is fresher, it has currency. Jump on the sustainability bandwagon and slag off the earth murderers. An aptly titled report by the UN FAO, Livestock’s Long Shadow, lays it down nice and proper. Globally, the cattle farming industry generates more greenhouse gases, as measured in carbon dioxide equivalent, than all of the world’s transport combined. Which means that smug cycle-everywhere guy can wipe the eco-friendly smirk off his face if he’s tucking into burgers for dinner.
A quick bit of science: cattle burp and fart methane, a gas 23-times more potent that carbon dioxide. So gaseous are the grass-chewing quadrupeds, that livestock accounts for 30-40% of anthropogenic methane emissions worldwide. When it comes to growing grain to fatten up our future T-bones, nitrogen-based fertilizers are used extensively. The manufacturing process spews nitrous oxide into the air – a devilish gas packing 300-times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, with an atmospheric lifespan of 150 years. Overall, it’s estimated that the livestock industry is responsible for 65% of anthropogenic nitrous-oxide emissions.
On top of that, there are the massive swathes of Amazonian rainforest that have been decimated to make way for Brazilian pastures; the fact that roughly 30% of terrestrial land is used for animal farming; the many freshwater systems that have been poisoned by manure-riddled run-off, the growth hormones, antibiotics and other crazy meds they pump into the creatures. Shit that might make you grow man-boobs or send your eight year-old sister into premature menstruation.
By this stage everyone hates me for preaching. The intellectually-gifted are calling me a hypocrite because I wear leather shoes and drink milkshakes, they’re bringing up the whole GM soya thing, whilst noting that soy plantations have gobbled up a fair bit of forest themselves. The sceptics are ranting about the myth of climate change. The coals are dead, the meat is under cooked and no-one really feels like eating. Next time I’ll hou bek and tell ‘em that dry-looking patty is ostrich.