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Sustainability needs to extend to the menu

cowpsiracy

Have you seen the documentary Cowspiracy? It’s an informative, well produced film and is widely available on streaming platforms such as Netflix. If you haven’t seen it yet, carve out some time this weekend. I had the chance to see the film again recently as part of WMEAC’s Film Series. I was again reminded how powerful the narrative is in this film.

If you have seen it, you know the drill. To save the planet we need to take action individually in our own lives. Yes, we need to be conscious of our water usage. Yes, we need to consider alternatives in transportation, and find other ways to reduce carbon emissions in our daily choices. But most of all, eating a plant-based diet easily has the biggest impact that we, as individuals can have on the environment. I won’t go into all their facts as to why in this post, but watch the movie and check out the site where they lay it all out.

Sustainability is quite the buzz-word these days. Visit many of our wonderful local businesses in GR and you’re sure to hear it.

Let me be clear about this before continuing this post. I truly believe that “perfect is the enemy of the good.” Meaning that any steps to help the environment are great, but if a business is going to tout themselves as sustainable, we need to understand what that means and they should be held accountable to that standard.

The impetus for this post comes from a wonderful article in the most recent edition of Rapid Growth Media. A local entrepreneur, Stanley Samuel, has come up with an ingenious way of helping smaller craft breweries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions that are produced naturally as part of the brewing process. Awesome! Love to see Grand Rapids become greener. There are plenty of ways we constantly hear local restaurants getting “greener.”

You produce zero waste…. Wonderful.
You’ve reduced greenhouse gasses released at your business to zero…. Amazing.
You installed a rain garden… Fantastic.

But here’s the thing. If you’re serving 20,000 cheeseburgers every year – even from a local, “humane” farm – you’re not an environmentally sustainable business. Period.

Eating one pound of beef is equivalent to showering for ONE YEAR. And a new study shows that you’re better off eating vegetables from Argentina than red meat from a local farm.

More than one of our local breweries, companies that are likely working with Dr. Samuel (and presumably spending a pretty penny to tout the reduction in these gasses from their operations) are serving so much meat and dairy they have an enormous carbon footprint and they’re ignoring that part of their sustainability story entirely. They’re not adding in the results of the consumption of their animal agriculture in their sustainability reports and that’s wrong. Sure, sending your spent grain to feed cows is great, I guess since that grain doesn’t end up in a landfill. But surely we can find other ways to turn that spent grain into something useful, instead of attempting to justify an insatiable hunger for meat?

These businesses also might try to tell you that they’re “offsetting” the agriculture emissions by saving in other areas, but that’s just willful ignorance. Also, in case you think grass-fed cows and carbon sequestration is the future, there’s plenty of evidence that shows that pastured meat is actually worse than their industrialized raised counterparts. And we certainly cannot convert our supply over to grass-fed and continue at current consumption levels as we just don’t have enough land.

We know, without a doubt, that animal agriculture is a leading cause of man-made climate change. Our seemingly unstoppable hunger for meat and dairy is killing our planet, and killing us. As you’ll learn in Cowspiracy, cutting back consumption of meat and dairy is one of the most impactful things we can do to save the world.

I’m a dreamer, but I’m not naive. I don’t expect any restaurant to go fully vegan overnight (not that such a thing is unheard of). But I surely do hope they will question their stewardship to the environment that they so dearly say they love. As Howard Lyman says in the film, “you cannot call yourself an environmentalist and eat meat.”

And finally, let’s be real about what vegan food means today. It’s not all lettuce and sprouts (not that it ever was). It’s inventive, filling, delicious, nutritious and award winning.

Hey local restaurants, looking for some inspiration? Try The Garadene Swine in LA and Vedge in Philly to start (there are plenty of other examples, if you need them). You might be surprised how you can not only meet your goals as environmentalists, but also please your customers.