By Amelia Levin Kent
Ready or not, 2020 is here. Along with the festivities of the New Year come the awards show season for Hollywood’s most glamorous. ‘Tis the season for the rich and famous from all over the world to travel to the west coast in private jets and rock the red carpet showing off exquisite gowns that will likely be worn only once.
Two weeks prior to the Golden Globes, organizers changed the menu to offer only vegan options in an effort to curb greenhouse gasses. Despite food orders being placed months in advance and the rigors of implementing such a large menu change with little notice, the chefs obliged. You can imagine ripple effects throughout the agriculture community as our products quickly became the target of a nationally televised social activist-type statement.
What’s most striking to me is the sheer irony of this effort to “encourage social awareness” of climate change. The short notice of the menu changes inevitably led to food waste. Why not focus on things that would have an actual positive impact rather than an impulsive reaction causing more waste? Most, if not all, of the attendees traveled to the event in low-occupancy airplanes, jets and automobiles. Most of the clothing worn that night will likely only be worn once. What about the electricity required to put on such a spectacle? The carbon footprint associated with transportation, energy and specialty clothing eclipses that of all of agriculture, let alone the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from animal agriculture.
While accepting his award for best actor in a drama at the Golden Globes, Joaquin Phoenix championed the vegan menu effort, amongst several other notable parts of his acceptance speech. He did make a jab or two at all of the private jets.
Hypothetically, what if the activists working to shut down animal agriculture were to succeed? Reducing the production of animal agriculture will have a drastic, negative impact for the consumer as less meat supply with consistent demand will drive up the price of meats. Similarly, if the demand for plant-based protein were to increase without having additional land in production, the consumer is facing a very parallel challenge with increased demand and constant supply, again driving prices higher. The rich and famous may not worry about things like this but these increased prices will drastically impact the food choices of a parent of three living off of $46,800/year (the average salary in 2018 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Going meatless in efforts to curb climate change also misses the mark when looking at ecosystems and best management practices. Over 80% of the land grazed by cattle is not suitable to produce other crops. The same land on which cattle graze today once was home to millions of buffalo. In many respects, the presence of cattle grazing mimics that of the buffalos’ presence in years past, which is in fact healthy for rangelands. With proper grazing and rest, the forage regrowth is quite beneficial to the natural environment. I’ve seen evidence of wildfires quite literally stopping at fencerows with ample forage on the other side of a barbwire fence, just because it was grazed properly. Possibly most important, rotational grazing and ample rest periods on grazing lands sequesters carbon from the atmosphere. While this research is relatively new, it is quite encouraging in both agriculture and climate change conversations.
Climate change is getting increased attention from many different directions, whether from Hollywood, activists or political candidates. According the EPA, in 2017 transportation was responsible for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions, generating electricity was responsible for 28%, industry 22%, commercial and residential sources 12% and agriculture represented only 9% of total greenhouse gas emissions that year. I’m sure every there is room for improvement in every industry, including agriculture, but as Hollywood’s awards season continues, I hope the rich and famous consider their own carbon footprint.