Where is the grain going?

Opponents of biofuels say that using corn as ethanol is causing grain prices to rise. That’s true, but there is another side to this issue that is completely ignored. Meat consumption has been rising in developed and developing countries, increasing demand for corn and soy animal feed. Now that ethanol and biodiesel claim more and more of the corn and soy harvests, the price of meat is going up. Is the solution to stop research on biofuels? Perhaps not. If every person consumed less meat, then more grain would be available for biofuels (because it takes less land and fewer resources to produce an equivalent amount of vegetable protein). It just makes sense. Why is it that so few people can make that connection?
The image-rich January 2008 NY Times article “Rethinking the Meat Guzzler” covers such issues as the problems of supplying livestock with grain and of disposing of animal waste. Basically, those who are concerned about the environment should consider their “meat footprint”. This article is one of the few (aside from those on vegetarian websites) that emphasizes the link between meat consumption and environmental impact. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) study “Livestock’s Long Shadow” from 2006 was all but ignored, despite the frightening statistics.
So, why do I bring this up now? I recently bought Good, the magazine “for people who give a damn”. I purchased “the food issue” because I’m very interested in why people choose the foods that they eat. Unfortunately, much of the magazine was cheerleading for meat. Apparently, they haven’t read “Livestock’s Long Shadow”. While it’s true that pasture-raised beef is better for the environment (and the animals) than factory-farmed, the writers didn’t bother to state that feeding the world on pasture-raised beef is impossible, given current per-capita meat eating. There just isn’t enough land. They also imply that vegetarianism is not healthy, and that vegetarians should just eat meat already. They have a 4 page spread on “America’s Tastiest Streets” that includes a whopping zero vegetarian items (unless you include fried cheese). It seems like Good might be for “people who give a damn” about justifying their bad-for-the-environment meat-eating habits.
Then, the writers have the audacity to say that “little fish” are going to be the next sushi because they are “ethically preferable”. Tuna, dolphins, and other carnivores of the sea eat those little fish. If tuna are to avoid extinction, they are going to need food. A far better way to sate a desire to eat fish is vat-farmed tilapia.
In their favor, the March/April issue of Good does have an article on Tofurky. I can’t get it in Iowa, but it’s said to be a fine meat substitute. Additional kudos for naming bibimbap as one of the next food crazes (I learned to love it while stationed in Korea). However, offal was also on the list for “The Next Sushi”. Plus, they don’t mention any vegetarian MREs, incorrectly state that all MREs come with Tabasco (sadly, they don’t anymore), and condemn raw food diets in their “What We Eat” article. I’ll keep an eye on their website, but I’ll certainly think twice before buying Good next time I’m in Borders.
I’ll conclude with a quote from Mark Bittman, author of “Rethinking the Meat Guzzler” and the wonderful cookbook “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” that encourages people to eat less (but not necessarily zero) meat:

If price spikes don’t change eating habits, perhaps the combination of deforestation, pollution, climate change, starvation, heart disease and animal cruelty will gradually encourage the simple daily act of eating more plants and fewer animals.

Ok, that wasn’t really about GMOs at all. I’ll get off my soapbox now.


  1. Little Fish

    Here’s a link to a Discover Magazine article from 2001:


    I haven’t looked into the matter recently, but a few years ago this small fish — menhaden — was quite threatened. It is essentially mined for protein and oil, which can be used as animal feed (for those factory farm operations) and fertilizer (natural fertilizer, fish emulsion, for those who don’t want to use chemicals). Sadly, the entire web of life inhabiting the oceans depends on this small fish. It once filtered debris and plankton from the water and served as food for huge schools of cod and, of course, numerous other species.

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