Roger Clarke: Where's the lack of beef, Greenest City Action Team?

By Roger Clarke

Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Team released its preliminary report last month, and I have just one question: Where’s the lack of beef?

Despite a letter from a coalition of environmental and animal-rights groups pointing out the research showing a clear connection between animal agriculture and climate change, the GCAT’s “Quick Start Recommendations” make no mention of reducing our city’s consumption of animal products.

The team does recognize that our food choices have environmental consequences, which is part of the reason for encouraging “consumers to purchase more locally produced food”. So why not also encourage consumers who want to go green to eat less meat?

Of course, the report is full of sensible suggestions, and I’m glad to have a municipal government that takes environmental stewardship seriously. But I have to wonder just how serious the commitment to environmentalism really is when the GCAT ignores one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways of fighting climate change, preserving forests, and saving endangered species.

After all, it’s not like the team members aren’t aware of the consequences of animal agriculture. The David Suzuki Foundation recommends that we eat less meat, and David Suzuki is on the team. Despite the aforementioned letter from environmental and animal-rights groups, which was sent to all of the GCAT members, the team has made no mention of the environmental impacts of meat, eggs, and dairy.

And before you start thinking I expect the city to do something crazy like ban meat within the city limits, keep in mind that all anyone’s looking for from the GCAT on the subject is a recommendation that Vancouverites try to reduce their meat consumption. Nothing binding, nothing extreme. It would make a tremendous difference for the better if we all just tried to replace our regular meals with meatless meals two days a week—that would amount to the 25 percent reduction the letter suggested.

Vancouver wouldn’t be the first city to make such a recommendation to its residents. The city of Ghent, Belgium, just recently inaugurated “Veggie Days”, encouraging residents to—you guessed it—go vegetarian one day a week to help save the planet.

We wouldn’t be the first city in North America, either. The number-one food-related recommendation of Cincinnati’s Climate Protection Action Plan (sound familiar?) last summer was “reduced meat consumption”, to be pursued through public education about meat and the environment as well as meat-free days once a week in city schools, with vegetarian options every day. That’s Cincinnati, in the heartland of America, not especially known for drum circles and hacky sack in city council. This is not a radical proposal.

An interesting feature of the Cincinnati report is that it found that the change in school menus would actually save the city money—the report finds that the plan would be “at least cost neutral by year three”. So the reason the GCAT avoids recommending reduced meat consumption can’t be money—managed right, we could reduce expenses and meat consumption at the same time.

The GCAT isn’t avoiding the meat question out of ignorance, they aren’t avoiding it because they’re afraid of being too radical, and they aren’t avoiding it to save money. So what gives? Where’s the lack of beef?

Roger Clarke is a director of Liberation B.C.



Peter Fricker

May 29, 2009 at 2:21pm

It is hard to believe the GCAT would fail to recommend eating less meat as an action to counter climate change and other environmental problems. The chair of the International Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri, has been calling for a reduction in global meat consumption for some time. - he should know what he's talking about. Why aren't more environmentalists following his lead?

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May 29, 2009 at 2:28pm

I think this is a good point. Considering that animal products are so detrimental to the environment, it shouldn't be that hard to at least reduce our consumption a LITTLE, and the Green Team should recognize that.

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May 29, 2009 at 4:34pm

I am not entirely sure why the GSAT team is ignoring an obvious option to help reduce emissions. The whole point of the recommendation is to provide individuals with the best options to reduce their carbon footprint; why would they not make the recommendation for people to reduce their meat consumption when it is such an obvious choice? IMO there must be someone on the board who is either a meat farmer or is related to a meat farmer or has a friend or a financial supporter who is a meat farmer and they just don’t have the backbone to go against such people. After all most of us are aware of what the meat farmers do to the animals in their care, what do you think they would try to do to people who threatened to reduce their profits?

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Dave S

May 29, 2009 at 8:03pm

As a scientist, i am amazed and tremendously discouraged that our politicians are so timid that they cannot rise to lead us in a campaign to stop one of the worst crises that life on this planet has ever faced. They can't even find the strength to pass half-measures. Realistically, we must reduce our GHG emissions by greater than 90%. Google James Hansen, Lovelock, Goodall, Monbiot for some indication of just how bad this all is. Realistically, we must drastically reduce our driving, our flying, our flitting around the planet. And yet completely eliminating all fossil-fuel driven travel cannot accomplish as much dropping animal products from our lives. The FAO puts transportation as responsible for something over 13% of GHGs; animal agriculture, they point out, is responsible for ~18%. Either we wake up and take action on all of this (don't forget dramatic reduction in fossil-fuel driven electrical generatiion as well - and substantial increases in birth control) or it won't be more than a very few generations before humankind accomplishes something no other species ever has on its own...the near decimation of the planet.

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May 30, 2009 at 8:23am

I think having a "Veggie Day" one or two days a week is a great idea! We recycle, use energy efficient light bulbs and appliances, car pool and use cloth grocery bags in an effort to help save the environment. So why not go a step further and reduce meat consumption as well.

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Jim Green

May 30, 2009 at 1:01pm

Yes, I absolutely agree with all of the comments on here. Why hasn't council banned meat products from the cafeteria at City Hall for instance? Or banned meat products from the city-owned cafes in the parks? Last I checked they still serve hamburgers at all park vendors.

And why not ban milk drinking while they're at it? Who needs milk??? my mom makes me drink it and I hate it!!!

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May 30, 2009 at 6:04pm

People tend to see cutting down meat consumption as a sort of deprivation, but opening our eyes to the plethora of vegetarian choices out there can actually expand our meal repertoire. Take it from this hedonist - veggie alternatives can be delicious and pleasurable - both physically and mentally, while simultaneously contributing to a cost-conscious, environment-conscious lifestyle.

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May 30, 2009 at 10:54pm

Great article, Roger, and comments from others. The meat issue continues to be a difficult one even for environmentalists, many of whom still default to the objection that 'meat-reductionists' want to take some kind of basic human right away from meat-eaters. But most campaigns simply suggest voluntary reductions. Besides, virtually all of us in this society agree that we can and should discourage and even regulate behaviours which are detrimental to the common good, whether smoking or exceeding the speed limit. On the meat issue, we all need to keep talking about it, maintaining empathy and diplomacy. The message will get through eventually.

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May 31, 2009 at 8:57am

They're not encourging to eat less meat because they see through the underlying animal-rights bullshit behind this recommendation. It's a matter of production that's the issue, not eating less meat. For animal rightists, it's "don't eat my animal friends; I will use whatever methods I can use to prevent you from doing so", this "coalition letter" being one method. Has Liberation BC ever heard of the phrase, "Grasping for straws", Roger?

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