Can’t my family and I just have a barbeque in peace?
As Memorial Day approaches, Americans will be dusting off their grills in anticipation of flame-broiling a few juicy steaks, hot dogs, and ribs.
But it seems like there’s always one guy at the party who asks for marinated tofu—which would be just fine if it didn’t come with a lecture.
It’s not hard to find animal rights activists bashing meat. There’s a whole litany of reasons they say we should all “go veg.” I’ve seen climate change attributed to cheeseburgers and cancer blamed on chicken. Even impotence is supposedly now a diet-related disorder.
Instead of buying the malarkey that sausage isn’t good for your…well, you know, it’s a good idea to be equipped with a few rebuttals for when you’re hanging around the meat smoker.
On Earth Day this year, one of environmentalists’ main targets was livestock farming, which they blame for global warming. So we saw a strange marriage of activism, as animal rights groups like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) pleaded with people to save the planet by eating less animal protein.
The nonsensical link between meat and climate change stems from a 2006 United Nations report, which claimed livestock production generates 18 percent of all greenhouse gases. The lead author of a 2009 report from the Worldwatch Institute has an even higher estimate, blaming animal farmers for 50 percent of the problem.
You can breathe easy, though.
Both the UN and Worldwatch reports used unrealistic, worst-case scenarios to generate their scary statistics. And they counted ordinary farming activities (like fertilizer production, soil tilling, and transportation) that are a part of life whether farmers grow livestock feed or broccoli.
Look at it this way: If everyone went vegan tomorrow, farmers would have to grow more vegetables and grains to fill the resulting food gap. (Crops grown to feed animals are generally unfit for human consumption.)
So a tofu-powered PETA utopia would still require tractors, plows, fertilizer, and fleets of trucks. Billions of new vegetarian meals would produce carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and other heat-trapping gases.
And the numbers are nonsense to begin with: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency publishes an annual inventory of greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, the entire American agricultural sector was responsible for just six percent of them.
Six percent. Not 18. Certainly not 50.
And that includes green bean and cauliflower farming. Animal agriculture accounts for less than three percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions. That hardly makes it worth switching to “vegetarian meat analogs.”
But what about cancer? Is your hamburger just a tumor delivery system? One animal rights group (the misleadingly named “Cancer Project”) has even sued hot dog makers over supposed cancer risks.
This too is all smoke, no fire. Grilling meat produces tiny traces of a chemical called “PhIP.” But it’s a compound repeatedly shown in scientific studies to pose no cancer risk to people at real-world dietary levels.
California's Attorney General even rejected the Cancer Project’s parent group's 2008 request to require warning labels on grilled chicken. Grilling meat, he wrote, “actually has the net effect of making the food safer to eat, i.e., killing bacteria.”
More generally, a 2006 Oxford University study found that vegetarians are just as likely as the rest of us to die from colon, breast, or prostate cancer. And in one 2009 study which tracked 63,550 British adults through the 1990s, vegetarians had a 39 percent higher rate of colorectal cancer than meat eaters.
What we really need is a balanced diet. Science shows that even people who eat the most cured meats don’t have any added cancer risk if they also eat lots of vegetables. In other words, make sure the shish kabob spears its fair share of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and zucchini.
There’s nothing wrong with being a vegetarian. But there’s also no reason to top your sirloin steak with a sizzling side of scaremongering. You’ll probably never convince tofu warriors to embrace bacon, but they shouldn’t try to limit your choices either.