Sunday, October 4, 2015

Cowspiracy Movie

Cowspiracy Movie Review

As often is the case, things are just not as they seem.  This movie highlights the "elephant in the room" by demonstrating the devastating impact of modern day agricultural on our world.  Environmental and government agencies are seldom targeting animal agricultural practices that ultimately are causing climate change, huge water loss and destruction of the rainforests.  So why the silence?  This movie proposes a conspiracy with cows at the forefront.

Overall this movie highlights many important considerations despite its underlying goal of promoting strict vegetarianism.  However, to the movie's discredit, two major separate issues appear to be consolidated and presented as just one:

1.  Destroying the planet
2.  Feeding the planet

Destroying the planet by conventional animal agriculture is a huge legitimate concern.  Feeding the planet is a separate but equally legitimate concern that needs different solutions.  A strict vegan diet would extend the years that our planet could sustain its exponential population growth but the conclusion is still the same - we build houses over agricultural land until we run out of space to grow food.  Growing up on a farm where we had a large produce garden, I'm not convinced that a roof top garden on nearly every house in the mega cities of the future will feed our planet.

Feeding the planet is an economic problem where, at least in Canada, we encourage population growth and our economic development almost entirely hinges on the population growth of cities.  We indirectly encourage other countries to grow too beyond their means by opening our arms to immigration (our population doesn't grow fast enough on its own to continue economic growth so we import in from others' excess).

When both destroying the planet and feeding the planet are not distinguished as two separate issues, the strict vegetarian diet conclusion of Cowspiricy works.  When separated, what remains is yet another oversimplified answer to a complex problem.

Furthermore, Cowspiracy argues some other premises that need to be exposed.  First of all, the calculations the movie makes are made on the current USA average meat consumption which certainly needs to go down, and this would make space again for grass feed meat as a viable option.  More importantly though, comparisons between animal and vegetable agriculture are represented as a weight of food per acre.  This is quite problematic as 10 lbs of meat is significantly more protein and calorie dense than 10 lbs of any vegetable and 10 lbs of meat would feed a starving person for a lot longer period of time.  Calculating this way I suspect would put meat from grass fed animals significantly more comparable to vegetable produce on most aspects.

On this point of grass fed animals, the movie does not consider a land-food matching process either.  Some places can grow grass to feed cows but the soil constitution, including volume of stones in the topsoil, makes vegetable produce farming unsuitable.  Grassed sod is also a carbon sink and significant producer of oxygen just as forests are whereas vegetable agriculture has to be cultivated.

Finally, as a Naturopathic Doctor, I realize that most people eat significantly too much meat and meat from the wrong sources.  On a daily basis I am encouraging people to eat more vegetables and fruits.  At the same time, grass fed meat can be a very important medical food for many of my patients.

I'm not saying I agree with New Zealand professors Brenda and Robert Vale who propose it is time to "eat our pets" as we're all basically competing for the same land to grow our food.   However, strict veganism is not the answer for everyone either. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Where are Alberta's priorities?

My grade 8 patients learn about ecosystems and their importance not only to the environment and wildlife but our health too.  In the real world in Alberta, it seems these grade 8 lessons are long forgotten.  As such, this brings to the surface the increasingly popular question of, "can we be healthy in a sick world?"

This example is highlighted right at the end of our street (click to enlarge photo below - taken March 1, 2015) where our town puts more priority on having 3 new houses built rather than preserving this aquatic habitat despite a research study that demonstrated its importance.  You can see the barrier wall of earth that was started last year dissecting the wetland shortly to be filled with earth.

On a similar note, how are we planning to feed a growing world with so much of Alberta's farmland for sale? I took these photos below last year as I was alarmed at the volume of agricultural land for sale.

Alberta is changing and I cannot see how we are heading in the right direction.  This will be a public health issue sometime in the near future if not addressed quickly.