By Debbie Cook
Special to the OC Voice
When asked to write about why I am a vegetarian, I was initially reluctant. Years ago, in an OC Register editorial, I was gratuitously referred to as a “strict vegetarian.” Potshots come with the territory of public office but what a person eats seemed to cross the line. But I accepted this assignment, in part, to clear the record.
There are many reasons people choose to be vegetarian. They run the gamut from environmental to social to moral to health to religion. My primary motivation comes from a long held belief that the only solution to our calamitous collision course between growing populations and shrinking resources is for the individual to be the change that is needed. There is a transition coming and it is better to act forward than re-act in the rear-view mirror.
This past March, the Chief Scientist for the UK warned that, “shortages of food, water and energy will come together in a ‘perfect storm’ by 2030.” Good for the UK to have a Chief Scientist willing to connect the dots between these interrelated issues and warn the public, but 2030?!!
By 2030 it is projected that the world population will be 8.3 billion. By 2030, just to keep oil flowing at current rates of consumption, the world will need to find and exploit another 4-5 “Saudi Arabias.” World oil discoveries peaked in the 1960s; even finding one more “Saudi Arabia” is highly unlikely, some might even say delusional. Those two ideas cannot be held simultaneously—population growth with diminishing energy resources. Something’s got to give.
Most people are unaware of the important role that oil plays in food production. Virtually every process in modern food production is dependent upon cheap, abundant fossil fuels. The entire supply chain, all its inputs and outputs are dependent upon fossil fuels: planting, irrigation, feeding, harvesting, processing, packaging, and distribution. All of the infrastructure supporting agriculture is dependent upon fossil fuels: farm machinery, processing facilities, storage, transportation, and roads. The energy inputs for food production alone are estimated to be 400 gallons of oil equivalents per American per year.
The era of cheap and abundant food is ending with cheap and abundant oil. According to the International Fertilizer Industry Association, the past 10 years has seen demand for cereals, 40% of which is fed to livestock, mostly exceed production, leading to record low and declining stocks. I willingly accept the need for conservation and efficiency when it comes to energy and water resources, so why not food consumption. Eating lower on the food pyramid, eating less meat, is one response to feeding the 2.5 billion humans who survive on less than $2 per day.
It’s easy to sit here in Orange County, surrounded by abundance, and ignore the rising chorus of questions regarding food, food safety, genetic manipulation, rising cases of salmonella, soil erosion, a potential phosphate crisis, obesity, and world hunger. It is also easy to sit behind a computer screen and proscribe what others should do or the reasons they should do it. That is not my intent. My intent is to educate people about our energy future and empower them with choices that will lead them on their own path to freedom.
Organizations and communities around the world are beginning to experiment with what a world beyond fossil fuels might look like. I have noticed a growing interest in Orange County in subjects like permaculture, water harvesting, community-supported agriculture, bicycling, and re-localization. The skills and knowledge that respect our part within nature, rather than separate us from nature, are the ones that will empower and add resilience to community.
I am a vegetarian for the same reasons that I have a garden, a compost pile, a wormery, solar panels, an electric bicycle, and one son. I strive to be a leaver, not a taker. What you choose to do is your choice but let’s hope it is a choice for a happier future.