03 November 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “The Carnivore’s Dilemma,” by Nicolette Hahn Niman (Op-Ed, Oct. 31):

Living “green” is not easy. Yes, every decision we make results in more or less of an impact on our environment. As a parent of young children, I have much to worry about regarding what my children eat—a balanced, wholesome diet, free from antibiotics, hormones or bacteria. Need we feel guilty about being carnivorous?

The best advice Ms. Niman gives us is to pay attention to the source of meat products and what our mothers always told us: clean your plate. Regardless of what we choose to eat, doing so will reduce our dietary carbon footprint by half because “about half of the food produced in the United States is thrown away.”

Jeffrey H. Toney
Union, N.J., Nov. 2, 2009
The writer is dean of the College of Natural, Applied and Health Sciences at Kean University.

To the Editor:

The claims Nicolette Hahn Niman makes for how greenhouse gases might be reduced while still eating meat may very well be true, and I do not have the expertise to challenge them. But the method she advocates for reaching those goals—raising grass-eating, pasture-foraging farm animals—would appear to be notoriously difficult to reproduce on a scale large enough to harvest enough meat, at a reasonable cost, for all the people wanting to eat meat in this country, let alone the world.

What would the cost of a hamburger at Burger King or McDonald’s be if the meat were to come from Ms. Niman’s ranch and others using comparable methods? How many people would be able to afford the price?

When I see “grass-fed” beef from the Niman Ranch and others on menus at the high-end restaurants I occasionally visit, the items offered are invariably among the most expensive on the list.

And how much land would be required to contain ranches like the one owned by Ms. Niman for pasturing the animals to provide all the beef, turkey, chicken and pork eaten in this country? Would no forests need to be cut down to create the pastures?

Lois Bloom
Easton, Conn., Nov. 1, 2009

To the Editor:

As an ethics instructor who aims to inspire my students to think about the connections between their values and daily practices, I found Nicolette Hahn Niman’s article disappointing.

Borrowing a move from the tobacco industry, Ms. Niman obscures the well-evidenced connection between veganism and environmentalism.

Contrary to Ms. Niman’s suggestion that the findings do not apply to smaller farms, the United Nations and the University of Chicago reports demonstrate the inefficiency of beef “production” because a cow must be fed to convert grass or grain calories into protein before a human can consume even “humane” or grass-fed beef.

Ms. Niman’s argument amounts to lowering an ethical standard to fit the demands of our meat-centric culture and Western privilege. Instead, we should heed the chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, who advised giving up meat for one day a week at first, and then decreasing it from there.

Stephanie Jenkins
Highland Park, N.J., Nov. 2, 2009

To the Editor:

While Nicolette Hahn Niman’s article demonstrates our folly in oversimplifying solutions to many of our challenges and offers many viable solutions to sustaining our lifestyles in generations to come, she leaves out one very green practice: hunting and fishing.

There is little that is less polluting and less harmful to the planet than hunting wild game responsibly. What is greener than forage-fed meat? I take umbrage at the omnivores who buy grass-fed beef and call me a barbaric savage for harvesting Maine’s overpopulated deer, moose, rabbit and fowl.

James Siegel
Portland, Me., Nov. 1, 2009

To the Editor:

Nicolette Hahn Niman’s otherwise fine article would have been stronger if she had not blurred an important distinction. After noting the special criticism beef receives, she treats all meat the same.

Yet the turkey she raises is a much smaller factor in advancing global warming than the cattle on her ranch because they produce meat much more efficiently. Birds need only a fraction of the food that cattle do to gain a pound of meat.

Indeed, in Ms. Niman’s natural environment they’re even more environmentally beneficial than cattle because of their diet. A “free range” bird eats insects, as well as plants, so it gets more nutrition out of the same amount of land than do her cattle, which eat only the grass. They also help with pest control.

Thus, it’s not enough to say that Americans should “cut back on consumption of animal-based foods.” Regardless of how much meat they eat, they need to switch from eating beef to poultry.

Barry Rehfeld
New York, Nov. 1, 2009
The writer is the editor of Zero Energy Intelligence.com.

To the Editor:

When Nicolette Hahn Niman refers to “a conscientious meat eater,” she is using an oxymoron. Can anyone in good conscience be complicit with the unnecessary suffering and slaughter of another sentient being?

Steven G. Kellman
San Antonio, Oct. 31, 2009