Where’s the Beef?

The answer is: not in my diet, for reasons ethical, environmental, and health-related.  If you share this preference, you already know it can make you a problematic dinner guest, not quite of the gluten-free or raw food variety (no offense to either), but close.  But recently I made an exception for my meat-loving family, a special birthday celebration — my first born’s 50th! — in a recipe for buffalo chili from an Andrew Weil cookbook.  I am fortunate to have a local source for verified grass-fed meat thanks to Farriss Farm, a small farmers-market-based enterprise run by Robert and Paula Farriss who have seen their business turn around by a burgeoning demand.

ChiliBut the Where’s the Beef line that everyone over a certain age remembers from a Burger King commercial, is a good question for all of us Americans.  Our habits of consumption,  including but not limited to a diet high in meat, means each of us needs approximately 5 times the resources — food, water, energy — the Earth can provide for each human now alive. Our allowable ‘personal planetoid’ is about 4.5 acres. You don’t need to be a math whiz to figure that someone somewhere is getting the short end of the stick now, and with the population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, something is going to give.  From Pope Francis’ encyclical published today: “… a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.” You and I know this, and even so, it’s difficult to accept personal responsibility for a problem so complex it took Pope Francis 184 pages to cover.

If you are a fan of small, specific tasks, you may also be cheered by an elevator speech (love them!), How to Fix America’s Beef Problem in Under 2 Minutes, by co-author, Denis Hayes, of  Cowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture, and EnvironmentUnlike the daunting title, this video (thank you, Grist!) is upbeat and accessible like The Story of Stuff series and others of its ilk, and inspiring on multiple levels. Hayes, whose bona fides as an environmentalist are impeccable, isn’t trying to do the impossible: turn 317 million burger-chomping Americans into vegans overnight. Like Michael Pollan (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”), he offers a reasonable goal of 50% reduction in meat usage, still way beyond what the average citizen in the developing parts of the world consumes.

You may also enjoy the case made by Small Footprint Family for returning to pastured livestock because, among other things, it helps improve soil depleted by agribusiness mono-cropping and sequesters carbon. The article references Alan Savory’s sensational TED Talk  How to Fight Desertification and Reverse Climate Change (over 3 million views).  Savory’s experiment has since drawn fire for being unscalable and for promoting more rather than less meat in the diet. If you can get your hands on a copy of the DVD, Symphony of the Soil, a film it was my pleasure to help introduce in my area, offers a balanced view.

More mindful food choices seem like one of the easier things we can all do to trim our ecological footprint as well as preserve our well-being (which considering the cost of healthcare, is itself a public good). Transition’s 10% local food challenge is a great place to start, whether you are an omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, or raw food enthusiast. Switch 10% of your food purchases to what is produced nearby and keep your small farmer in business.

We aren’t looking to increase the intake of meat in our household, but I must admit that the buffalo chili, flavored with Ancho chili, cumin and dark chocolate, was worth the wait. Glad to share the recipe. Just ask in the comment section.

Small FootPrint Family

What Would Happen If The Entire World Lived Like Americans


Where’s the Beef? Everywhere

Local Food Shift

Personal Energy Descent Plan

Relocalizing, resilience and community-building are hallmarks of the Transition Movement, but at the heart of it all is energy descent. This recognizes that 1. global warming is real and threatens not only our way of life but life itself, and 2. easy energy is history (aka Peak Oil).  Absent a technological breakthrough that can be scaled quickly enough to fill current needs, energy shortfall is the reality we are all facing, sooner rather than later. Energy, including our own human energy, is something we have some control over, so it behooves us to experiment, here and now, in order to become better able to handle it and other challenges, e.g. food and potable water shortages, that could arise further down the road.

‘Cheap’ energy has created our civilization and continues to drive it forward (although the costs will soar once externalities become accounted for). So in one sense, people who already ‘make do’ with far less energy have a leg up on us. To take one example: as difficult as it is to imagine in the Southeastern U.S., with millions of square feet artificially cooled, many people around the world have developed other strategies for dealing with extreme heat. Think mud walls. Strategically placed trees and landscaping. Minimal clothing. Communal watering holes. Siestas. Evening strolls (paseo). Even spicy foods. Hold these in your mind while you recall that the thousands of people who succumbed to the ‘killer’ heat wave of 2003 were all in the developed parts of Europe, many housed in apartments during power outages, many isolated from family and friends.

What might we be able to learn from our ancestors and extant native traditions about cooling it?

As I sit here in my home office, feeling over-cooled though the thermostat reads 79°F, I find myself thinking about fellow Transitoners and artists, Beju Lejobart and Sherryl Muriente – he from France, she from Puerto Rico – who defy conventional wisdom that AC is best and have devised any number of methods to cool their single-family home in a neighboring town, including strategic positioning of fans to encourage cross-ventilation and a swimming pool they happily use in the middle of a hot night.   Sherryl also teaches urban planning at FAU, and dreams up ways of making small urban spaces more human-scale, walkable and liveable. See C’est La Via.

solar chargerAlthough we’re far from a Net-Zero existence, we keep adding to our personal energy descent plan in as many ways as we can. This morning, we got an invoice for $108. from Pear Energy, the renewable resources company that powers our home and EV.  In May, our power was supplied by Superior Wind Project, in Iowa, which came on-line in Spring 2009. We have previously been powered by Lakota Wind, also in Iowa, and now have the opportunity to switch to solar energy via Gainesville Regional Utilities for an extra $.01 per kilowatt-hour. When people who attend one of my rants, uh, presentations on global warming ask me, What can I do? I suggest the 10% local foods challenge, composting, and switching to Pear Energy as three very doable choices. No martyrdom here.

We cannot wait to see how the White House initiative on ‘carbon pollution’ will play out (or what kind of reframing will make global warming more easily digested by more people.) There is much we ordinary citizens can do about our own energy usage, and in Southeast Florida, that means paying attention to AC. Here are a few random facts and observations

  • Most indoor spaces are too cool for comfort (ask most women). We need smarter thermostats and zoned HVAC in our homes, and more responsive retailers, restaurateurs and public officials.
  • “Air conditioning takes indoor heat and pushes it outdoors. To do this, it uses energy, which increases production of greenhouse gases, which warm the atmosphere. From a cooling standpoint, the first transaction is a wash, and the second is a loss. We’re cooking our planet to refrigerate the diminishing part that’s still habitable.” William Saletan
  • Refrigerators and air conditioners are the largest consumers of energy in American homes today. Find ways to cut down.
  • AC use for the average American home emits over 6,600 pounds CO2 a year. Maybe smaller spaces are an answer. See LifeEdited. Or the Tiny House movement.
  • The U.S. uses more air conditioning than the rest of the world combined, but that is about to change as the developing world catches up. Let’s hope not.
  • Even Eskimos are purchasing AC units.

Final note: I added a Solar Charger to my sunny East window this morning and plugged in the iPhone I’m trying to rely on less. Two hours later, 100% charged. One small step for energy self-sufficiency…

Other Sources:

EPA, Clean Energy Calculations — very useful for an energy audit

Carbon Rally — take the challenge