Solarpunk Presents

Podcasts about creating the future we'd like to live in

Should Meat Be Expensive?

If you’ve already listened to this week’s podcast Solarpunk Music to Inspire Action, you’ll know that musician Thomas Cannon suggested that it would be better for the Earth, it’s environment and ecosystems, it’s climate, and, ultimately, it’s people, if we moved away from producing as much meat as cheaply and quickly as possible. Instead, he thinks we should produce much less meat less intensively and more humanely, even if the side effect is a skyrocketing price, turning meat from a daily indulgence into a special occasion treat.

Even though I’ve been a vegetarian myself for more than 35 years and I live out in farm country full of the sights and smells of animal waste dealt with by calling it fertilizer and spraying it frequently on fields , I think this is a complicated issue with competing goals. It’s hard to be sustainable and humane and easy on the environment all at the same time… unless, yeah, you cut meat production back by orders of magnitude.

I’d love it if that just happened because everyone (starting with my spouse) voluntarily started eating a lot less meat. The resulting nosedive in demand would drive less production of meat. That would mean a lot fewer cows, pigs, chickens, and etc to feed. Which would mean the freeing up of vast tracts of agricultural land for… rewilding, perhaps? It would also mean the production of vastly less manure and other waste and thus a decrease in the over-nutrification (better known as eutrophication) of rivers and, as a result, coastal ocean waters. And it would mean a great reduction in the amount of methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas, emitted to the atmosphere by the agricultural sector. Those would be lots of wins.

But I know that’s pie in the sky. Although a lot more people are vegetarians and flexitarians (and vegans!) than when I joined the vegetarian club back in the 1980s, great swaths of humanity aren’t going to be cutting back on their meat consumption anytime soon.

Hence, perhaps, Thomas’ dream of making people cut back by driving up the price of meat by producing it way more expensively… which is to say free range, out in pastures, and organically or even biodynamically. But there are definitely some issues with that.

Firstly, do we want to go back to living in a world where only the rich can regularly eat meat? I mean, we’re still living in that world, to some degree, globally speaking. Do we want to pull meat further out of reach of the people at the bottom of the wealth and income ladders? Maybe there are ways we could avoid that outcome, were we to drive up the price of meat? I’m not sure what they’d look like. Rationing, maybe, coupled with subsidies for the less than rich? Maybe you have some novel ideas????

I also suspect that producing meat sustainably and humanely and with a low environmental footprint are goals that are slightly at odds. Industrial farming, which packs animals together in barns and barely lets them see the light of day (if at all) is horrible for the animals, but its land space footprint probably knocks the socks off of free range and grass fed rearing, for example, of cows. The animals are taking up less space themselves and feeding them wheat and corn, which are incredibly energy dense, also probably requires land use than letting the livestock graze on grass. That would imply that ecologically, the problem with intensive meat production is more one of just producing too much meat full stop, rather than of that method of production being ecologically worse, on a cow-for-cow or chicken-for-chicken basis. But treating the animals this way is horrible for them… forcing them to spend their entire lives jam-packed together in ammonia-stinking barns…. I feel like this breaks whatever contract we made with these animals when we domesticated them, and plain old just fails them as fellow brain-bearing – and therefore sensation- and emotion-feeling – beings.

But I also know I’m not exactly an expert here. Maybe my suspicions are way off base. I also know that a lot of people out there have strong opinions about this. So… drop us a comment! Let us know what you know and/or think.

If we get a diverse enough array of interesting thoughts, opinions, and facts, we’ll put together a bonus episode out of them.

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One response to “Should Meat Be Expensive?”

  1. Speaking as a flexitarian who’s been wrestling with this herself, I’m glad we can spotlight different approaches on the podcast – what works for one person doesn’t always work for another. I wrote a blog post a while ago about it here:

    My thoughts haven’t really changed because I haven’t really had much time to devote to thinking about it, but I’m following the model that Thomas Cannon advocates – meat is something that I buy locally, and as ethically produced as I can find, and it’s expensive as heck so I save up for it and it’s become a special-occasion food in our household. I’m hoping this is a stop on the way to being vegetarian and ultimately vegan in the long run.

    I’m interested to hear from other listeners – about their food journeys, their relations with more-than-human beings, and the way they incorporate these into their daily lives. But reminder to our commenters, please don’t try to shame people into adhering to one diet or another, and keep the conversation compassionate.


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