Today we’ll to turn our attention from weighty matters (Texas coal plants, Fidelity and Darfur) to a more prosaic question–what should we eat for lunch? The recommendation, as surely you have guessed by now, is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
This comes to us from a clever new website set up to promote the environmental benefits of the PB&J. “Who knew it was so easy to change the world,” the site says. “The next time you pack this all-American sandwich for lunch, you’re helping the environment and making a difference in animal welfare.”
The PB&J Campaign, as it’s called, goes on to say that a PB&J sandwich will slow global warming by saving “the equivalent of 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions” an “average animal-based lunch” like a hamburger or chicken nuggets. The PB&J also saves about 962 gallons of water over a hamburger, and 12 to 50 feet of land from “deforestation, over-grazing and pesticide and fertilizer pollution.” The website cites sources for all this data.
One of its source is a 390-page report called “Livestock’s Long Shadow” published at the very end of 2006 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The headline-grabbing fact: That more greenhouse gases are produced by livestock than by planes, trains and cars all around the world. The report’s summary says:
The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.
The trouble with the PB&J Campaign website is that it’s not clear who’s behind it. An email I sent to the site was not answered. The site was called to my attention by Rebecca Carter and Jeff McIntire-Strasburg, who write for an excellent new website called Green Options. I’m wondering…PETA? The Georgia Peanut Producers Association? Smuckers?
It’s amazing how long we humans have been debating whether or not to eat meat. A new book called “The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times” by Tristram Smart, a British scholar, chronicles the debates at length (656 pages!). Although the word “vegetarian” was not coined until the 1840s, arguments about the morality of meat-eating are as old as the Bible. Environmentally-driven vegetarianism is at least 200 years old–Adam Smith recommended potatoes over pasturage because he thought land given over to farming could feed many more people than land devoted to grazing. And yet, as a review of the book by Steven Shapin in The New Yorker notes, none of this is simple:
It has been estimated that forty per cent of global grain output is used to feed animals rather than people, and that half of this grain would be sufficient to eliminate world hunger ifâ€”and itâ€™s not a small ifâ€”the political will could be found to insure equitable distribution.
Yet the energy-cost argument is formidably complicated and cannot by itself support refusing all forms of meat in favor of all forms of plant matter: shooting and eating the deer chewing up the tulips in your garden may turn out to be more environmentally virtuous than dining on tofu manufactured from Chinese soybeans, and walking to the local supermarket for a nice hanger steak cut from a grass-fed New Zealand steer may be kinder to the planet than getting into your Toyota Prius to drive five miles for some organic Zambian green beans.
And you thought this was just about peanut butter and jelly…
By the way, if anyone knows of a good FORTUNE story about big ag and the environment…pass it along to me, quietly, please.
UPDATE: Right after this posted, I had an email from the creator of the PBJ campaign, Bernard Brown. He writes:
I live in Philadelphia, PA and I’m 30 years old. I’m trying to think of
a vague but accurate way to refer to my employment; for the blog let’s
say that I am a federal government employee who works with anti-poverty
programs and leave it at that.
Bernard tells me he produced the website on his own, using public sources of information. Impressive what one creative and resourceful guy can do. Somehow, I knew it wasn’t the Ga. peanut farmers.