Eating veggies
can help save energy

Simone Spearman
29 December 2002

While we bemoan the energy crisis, pointing fingers at Governor Gray Davis and the big utility companies, some even looking to nuclear power, an ancient and less-than-radical practice presents itself as a viable solution: vegetarianism.

The meat and dairy industries depend on inordinate amounts of natural gas, electricity and fossil fuels to house, warm, ventilate, water, feed, clean, transport and slaughter billions of animals destined for our dinner tables.

People in this state are preparing to read by candlelight and wash clothes by hand. Understandably, many Californians are demanding to know who the biggest energy hogs are. Agribusiness should be definitely high on that list.

Washington state, Oregon and California lose 17 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity to livestock production. With this kind of power, every home in the United States could leave the lights on for a month and a half.

John Robbins, author of the book, "Diet for a New America," reveals some interesting statistics on America's production of animal flesh and fluid:

The Environmental Protection Agency identifies 60 percent of U.S. rivers and streams as having impaired water quality, and wastes from animal agriculture create three times more organic water pollution than all other industrial sources combined.

This, all for bacon, eggs and a glass of milk?

In a letter to Davis, the California Cattlemen's Association and the Western United Dairymen, among others, plead for special consideration regarding the energy crunch. They have asked the state to consider using "available electricity supply sources," and they have encouraged the "refining of diesel fuel within the state by easing restrictions and providing tax incentives."

These groups and companies have admitted to their hog status -- insisting that energy is "more vital" to food production than to most industries, and that "this is compounded by the fact that agricultural cultivation and husbandry often require a number of necessary steps that are energy-intensive."

These "steps" include extreme measures to house and maintain factory-farmed animals. No longer do animals frolic in green pastures on small family farms. Instead most animals are kept in confinement, while conveyor belts bring in food and water and remove waste.

Poultry and dairy workers must wear gas masks to avoid breathing dangerous methane and ammonia fumes. To keep chickens alive and breathing in these toxic facilities, egg producers must blow chilled air constantly.

There are so many energy-wasting practices connected with eating animals. We can ease some of our own burden by adopting sensible eating habits.

Simone Spearman is a frelance writer who lives in San Francisco She also has taught English at Sequoia High School in Redwood City.

San Francisco Chronicle
Friday, June 29, 2001

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