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by Worldchanging Chicago local blogger, Megan Milliken

You’d be hard-pressed to find a Chicagoan who doesn’t appreciate the occasional Italian beef, hot dog, gyro or sausage-lover’s deep-dish pizza garnished with fried bacon. It would be equally as difficult to find a person in this city who didn’t care about making it a better place.

In a recent 400-page report entitled "Livestock's Long Shadow", the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations presents an inventory of side effects produced from the world’s meat industries. A nice write-up by Geoffrey Lean, the environment editor for The Independent, can be found here. The long-short of it is that the infrastructure and its resulting effects to support the world’s 1.5 billion cattle - burning fertilizer to grow feed and the clearing of vegetation for grazing, coupled with the gas and manure emitted from said livestock - is responsible for 18 percent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. In addition to this increase in greenhouse gases, there is also ranching-induced deforestation, which turns a fifth of all pastures and ranges into desert; pesticide, antibiotic and hormone polluted drinking water; and dead zones (low-oxygen areas in the world’s oceans that support little to no life partially caused by an excess of plant nutrients from fertilizers and sewage).

As developing nations race to catch up to first world economies, so does the practice for raising livestock, and our current consumption rates are far from sustainable. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that, "each U.S. citizen consumes an average of 260 lbs. of meat per year.? And as the previous examples illustrate, these rates are not without dire costs. The Food and Agriculture Organization report concludes that unless drastic changes are made, massive damage done by livestock will more than double by 2050.

So what is a green Chicagoan to do? Should we collectively throw in the meat-sweat drenched towels and go vegan? I’d like to suggest an alternative: baby steps, Chicago. We don’t have to give up on meat, but if we collectively make a decision to reduce our meat consumption it would substantially reduce the burden on our natural resources.

As the annual Taste of Chicago testifies, Chicago has a lot of good eats; and you won’t be relegated to the salad portion of the menu either. A cursory search on Google Maps for vegetarian or vegetarian-friendly restaurants in or near Chicago, IL yields 2,796 hits, and most main-stay eateries boast a few veggie-friendly options. Not sure where to start? The veggie-connoisseurs are out in full swing, eating and rating the best vegetarian eateries in the Chicagoland area. Just try Chicago Citysearch, The Chicago Reader, the Chicago Tribune’s Metromix and PJ Chmiel's Blog for reviews and best-of lists of Chicago’s veggie-friendly destinations. (Note: the Metromix hyperlink has a great article on the best faux-meats Chicago has to offer!)

With the current environmental and social challenges that face our society, I am reminded of the “greatest? generation (WWII era.) As adversity loomed, social prudence was taken up on a massive scale. Victory gardens, rationing of materials and war bonds were all aimed at alleviating resource pressure and ensuring a prosperous future. My own grandmother told me about her adolescence in London where, at the time, all nylons were donated for making parachutes and other wartime goods. Far from being discouraged, she and other friends gladly donated their stockings to the war-effort and came up with their own fashion solutions. They used pens to draw on the back of their legs, creating the illusion of stockings where there were none.

This brand of creativity can and does translate to modern Chicago. Cutting down on meat-heavy traditional fare presents a great opportunity to explore new types of cuisine and neighborhoods. Venture north to Chicago’s own Little India on Devon Avenue, where many Indian and Pakistani restaurants boast cheap, delicious veggie cuisine. Don’t feel like leaving your cave this winter? Get to know your neighbors and host a veggie heavy potluck. Feeling a little more adventurous? Hit the Chicago’s Green City Market at the Noetbaert Nature Museum and try your culinary talents with the 100-Mile Diet. Tailgating for the next Bears game? Throw some veggie brats and Portobello mushrooms on that grill. What about the little ones? Be the coolest mom or dad around town and pack your super-kid a vegan lunch box.

Like generations before us, we face a daunting challenge. But we are a capable and imaginative people who will undoubtedly create unique and amazing solutions. It falls on all of us to live in a way that will ensure that future Americans can enjoy a bright, green future. And once you try the BBQ ‘Bacon’ Burger’ at The Chicago Diner you could hardly call this transition a sacrifice.

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Just wanted to say it's worth noting that different meats affect the planet in different ways. Cattle are by far the worst, as they consume by far the most resources per pound of any of the meats, and produce the most greenhouse gasses. Pork is much better in both respects, chicken and turkey better still, and probably best of all, the vegetarian meat: fish!

Ultimately, it's about doing what's in sync with the planet, and not a list of absolute right and wrongs. Be moderate! Eat wisely! And enjoy the holiday Salmon ;-)

Posted by: neil on 24 Dec 06

Neil forgets the news that ocean "fisheries" will be emptied out by 2048 at the rate we're going -- faster still if people switch to fish from other meats.

Despite suggestions to the contrary, a vegan diet is ultimately the least destructive to our planet, especially as we propagate to a population of approximately 9 billion people. That's a lot of mouths to feed, and we're going to need to do it in the most energy-efficient manner possible, i.e., by eating lower on the foodchain. It's easier than ever, especially in big cities like Chicago:

Posted by: Eric on 24 Dec 06

Like many I could live with pleasure in a world without burger bars. But I wouldn't want to live in a world without cattle and sheep. I guess if you live in a town it's ok, but to live in silent countryside with no livestock holds no joy.

Think hard before promoting agricultural systems that increase the density of humans and decrease that of livestock as they might result in other problems. At least livestock don't make great demands on transport, education, health, etc.

Posted by: Michael Saunby on 27 Dec 06



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