It wasn't very long ago that I found myself huddled in the corner at a particularly fancy, über exclusive green-themed party in the trendy meatpacking district of New York City. I won't say who was throwing the bash, but they're a leader in the green industry and have a solid track record for establishing effective change in the movement.
It was clear that while planning the party, this particular group had been quite thoughtful -- meticulous, even -- in making sure that each and every aspect of the event was environmentally kosher.
The CFL light bulbs were responsibly hung and complimented the sustainable furniture, neatly scattered throughout the efficiently air-conditioned space. The staff wore fair-trade, organic cotton t-shirts proudly displaying the organization's logo in crisp, soy-based ink. Even the invitation was up to par -- embossed with those six hypnotizing words: "Printed on 100 percent recycled paper." Yes, at first glance one might think that Mother Nature herself had blessed this sustainable soiree.
And then the hors d'oeuvres were passed.
Resting stylishly on recycled bamboo serving platters sat a ménage of beef tartar, pork belly something-or-other and a trilogy of pungent unidentifiable cheeses. I felt my eyes begin to roll.
The onset of attitude was two-fold: First, I am a vegan of almost nine years and it was obvious that the growling noises clamoring from my stomach would be competing with the beat of the house music for the rest of the evening. Secondly, I was frustrated that nobody on staff had made the seemingly obvious, absolutely critical connection between what we eat and the health of our planet.
With buckets of scientific evidence proving that animal products cause infinitely more harm to the environment than their plant-based counterparts, I was shocked to witness this menu served at an eco-conscious event by a company with a genuine stake in sustainability.
The dangers of animal production are no secret. In 2006 the U.N. released a report stating that raising animals for food generates more greenhouses gases and contributes more to global warming than every mode of transportation in the world combined!
Producing more methane and nitrous oxide than any other industry in the world, animal agriculture is to sustainability as Kanye West is to humility. Deforestation, mass pollution, and soil erosion are all symptoms of our society's method of raising animals for food. And then of course there's the undeniable fact that animal production simply requires more resources.
In the early nineties, the Water Education Foundation in Sacramento -- a non-profit that prides itself on being "the only impartial organization to develop and implement educational programs leading to a broader understanding of water issues" -- worked with the University of California on a study that found it takes 2,464 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. To compare, it takes 15 gallons to produce one pound of lettuce and 30 gallons for one pound of potatoes.
Assuming there were 300 people at the party in question, and 38 pounds of beef were purchased to create single 1-ounce servings of tartar for each guest, that would mean 93,632 gallons of water were used for beef alone -- and that's not including second or third helpings.
How does this translate to everyday water usage? Consider this: current federal regulations mandate that new shower heads must exceed no more than 2.5 gallons of water per minute. A little number crunch on the old calculator will unveil that you could take 7,490 5-minute showers with the same amount of water used to create this one appetizer -- that's one shower a day for more than 20 years.
My point in playing math teacher is not to discredit this group's fine work or to discount the important steps they did take to throw an eco-friendly bash. Environmentalism isn't only about food and I certainly applaud their valiant attempt to create a planet-pleasing party. I choose to dissect the menu only to reveal that even the most conscious environmental organizations have still not yet fully accepted -- or at least put into practice -- the fact that eating lower on the food chain is a critical step to creating a more sustainable planet.
At a recent concert in Sweden, Moby asked Al Gore why he didn't mention the heavy environmental impact of animal production in his film An Inconvenient Truth.
"He answered honestly," recounts Moby, "basically saying that getting people to drive a hybrid car isn't that difficult. Getting people to give up animal products is almost impossible."
I agree. However, I also argue that the greatness of our world and the potential of the human race is only truly revealed when the "almost impossible" is achieved.
One hundred years ago a woman's right to vote was "almost impossible." Fifty years later the thought of an African-American man becoming President of the United States was "almost impossible." 20 years after that, the idea that a small box with a processor and a screen would redefine our culture and forever change the way we receive information was... well, "almost impossible."
And yet each of these "almost impossible" ideas sprouted and blossomed into magnificent truths, leaving many to wonder why they were ever so hard to imagine in the first place.
If we as a society are willing to recognize that our purchases and lifestyle choices have an impact on the planet, then we must also recognize that our sandwiches do too. Like the delicate tartar or the peppered pork belly served that evening, change also comes from a recipe: one part education mixed with two parts action. And it's our responsibility to get cooking - even if sometimes it seems "almost impossible."