09/13/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

What Does It Mean To Be An American?

Watching the Olympics with the TV controller in hand, ready to hit the mute button on a moments notice to silence the seemingly endless stream of commercials, has given me a lot of time to ponder what it means to be "An American."

Does it make me less of an American because I care more about America's roles in this world, both good and bad, than how many medals American athletes win? I heard Dan Rather spout a rather shocking statistic last week--that three million people in New York City, roughly one third of The Big Apple's occupants, are having a hard time putting food on their table. He interviewed several hard working Americans who had sucked in their pride and waited in long lines at food banks to supplement the groceries that their meager incomes were able to buy for their families. The fact that the cost of food, gas and rent is increasing at rates far exceeding the rise in the average salary, is pushing the average American family towards the breaking point. Does it make me more or less of an American because a family medical emergency combined with a couple of significant business loses has placed me in a the same category as roughly 50% of Americans--with credit cards maxed out, using caller ID to screen annoying computer generated harassment calls because I was late on a few monthly payments? Does it make me more or less of an American because I care deeply about my country doing the right thing, and feel that the motto, "My Country Right or Wrong!" is anything but patriotic? Does it make me any less of an American because I was sickened to discover that the democratically elected leader of Georgia (located at key crossroads in oil and gas pipelines), armed and trained by American and NATO military specialists, led a pre-emptive military strike on civilian targets in the Tskhinvali, the capital of the autonomous region of South Ossetia (also located at key crossroads in oil and gas pipelines), killing over 1,500 civilians?

The fact that our media glosses over this disgusting criminal act and focuses on the Russian military response that resulted in a couple hundred civilian deaths smacks of dirty politics and media manipulation akin to those fabricated "weapons of mass destruction" that helped suck Americans into supporting the War in Iraq. I think it is time that we Americans started acting like the Americans of old, like Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and John Adams--doing the right thing and caring more about things that matter most rather than things that matter least.

Raising the livestock needed to produce the 276 million tons of meat consumed in 2006 was responsible for almost a fifth of total greenhouse gas emissions.
--The Worldwatch Institute, Vital Signs 2007-2008

Green tip for the day: Health and environmental impacts from the agribusiness production of meat range from massive destruction of rainforests for cattle grazing to methane pollution and the consumption of huge amounts of pesticides, oil, fertilizer, water, vegetable protein, and topsoil. Fisheries are collapsing across the planet due to annual catches that far exceed the sustainabile rate, combined with destructive practices, such as the use of huge driftnets. Eating less meat and wild fish helps the planet!

Matthew Stein is the author of When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency from Chelsea Green. For more information, visit and